In the most devastating terrorist onslaught ever waged against the United States, knife-wielding hijackers crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center yesterday, toppling its twin 110-story towers.
Like the rest of the world, I watched the pictures over and over: The slow curve of the jet as it banked into the tower. The spread of the fireball as the jet disintegrated into the building. The cloud of smoke and ash as the buildings dissolved into the streets below, certain in the knowledge that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were dying as I watched. Repeated viewings did nothing to numb the horror of the visuals. Fantastic…
I don't use the word "fantastic" in the sense of "wonderful", or "terrific", but in the sense of something being so extreme as to challenge belief. I marvel at the simplicity of the enterprise, at the efficiency of the result, at the creation of maximum terror and impact with a minimum of effort. I don't mean to trivialize the sufferings of those who died or were injured in the attacks. Nor do I wish to praise the persons responsible for these acts. On the other hand, I am quite impressed by the events, and I need to explain why.
Aircraft have been hijacked for years, although the last hijacking in the United States happened over a decade ago. Had the perpetrators of this heinous crime simply stolen a plane and crashed it into the ground, the story might have been news for a few days, condensed to a weekend review, and quickly forgotten. But the audacity, the sheer pluck of stealing four aircraft, and using them as flying bombs to attack the symbols of American Capitalism, killing hundreds, and destroying billions of dollars worth of real estate in the heart of America's financial and media empire is just incomprehensible. The destruction comes not only to the buildings and the lives lost, but also in the change, the loss of innocence (or possibly ignorance) of the American people. That cost is beyond measure.
One can't help but admire the political statement that has been made. America can no longer be complacent with its place in the world. In one fell swoop, we've been reminded of the cost of our involvements in Palestine, South Africa, the former Soviet republics, Vietnam, Central and South America, the two Chinas, and who knows where else. As of this writing, there is no identifiable villain that we can seek revenge upon. Oh, of course we have rolled out the "usual suspects". I have no doubt that we can actually choose a likely perpetrator (as many already have) and use that person to be the personification of all that is evil in the world. Remember when Saddam Husein was a modern Hitler? Or when Mummar Gadaffi was the sum of all that was wrong with the world? Well, now we have bin Laden set up to be our straw man. Hell, he might even actually be guilty. But I can't help but think that we jump to this conclusion at our peril. Yet there will be calls to bomb his compounds, to seize his assets, to have him assassinated. Hell, there's already a five million-dollar reward for his death, and yet he lives. America has an intractable enemy, whomever he is.
Our lives will now change. The least change will be that checking into an airport will now involve tedious searches, and great inconvenience. Already there are calls to reduce civil liberties, including the government's tracking of many innocent citizens, in order to avoid acts of terror. The FBI has already visited several Internet server companies, seeking to put the Carnivore spy system on the data gateways, ostensibly to monitor Internet traffic for information on terrorists. We will see our precious freedoms erode as we seek safety in a very unsafe world.
Again, let me state that I have no sympathy for the perpetrators of this monstrous series of crimes. Yet I stand in awe of the power of a few dozen individuals who are willing to die for what they believe in, striking a blow against the very heart of my country. I don't have to condone their action to recognize how brilliant their sacrifice was. America has been wounded, and will never recover.