What follows under the cut is my original thoughts from my personal web page at the time. I'm sure you've noticed that I don't just write about news and such, I use the web as a suppliment to my own questionable memory. Aside from a couple of snips here and there of personal data and length (obviously), this is what I was and what I thought at the time. I have changed nothing else. My opinions on somethings have changed, but I cannot in good conscience let my ego change what is basically a historical document of my mind. The past makes us what we are. To deny our own history, collective or personal, is to eliminate things that make us what we are and invites us to become hypocrites, heartless, or worse. So don't be surprised if you see some things in here you don't agree with. There's things in here I don't agree with anymore, and I wrote them. It's part of how we change overtime. This is part one, written in October.
We live. We go through life. We develop skills, talents, ideas, and streaks of luck, enabling us to master situations.
But every once in a while, life reminds us we are not so glib or untouchable as we get in the habit of thinking we are. It does it with moments that define, unequivically. If I ask anyone from my parents' generation where they were when Kennedy was shot, they can recall it clearly. I can ask anyone from my grandparents' generation where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and they can recall clearly. It isn't just a memory, but a moment in time, forever preserved not as a happening but an event that can be relived over and over again at will, every sight, every sound, anything that engages the senses, executed again. These moments also produce a helpless feeling, because they are as immutable as history itself. "If only...." proceeds a million thoughts among those living in the present.
My generation's "moment" occurred on September 11, 2001. The date is significant in that it is a little known holiday, the International Day Of Peace. Declared by the United Nations, it is also the first day of the General Assembly for that organization, and has been since 1981. According to the UN web site, "A minute of silence is traditionally observed to give positive evidence of a 'commitment to peace in all its viable ways.'" But the date also has a sadly prophetic ring to it. In American shorthand, the number of the month then the day is written. This works out to "9-11". 911 is the phone number for emergency situations requiring police, fire department, whatever. I was at work. It was just after the 8:30 break, maybe 8:40 or somewhere thereabouts. Andrew came up to me. He had just called his mother. "Peter, did you hear? Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center! My mom's watching it now!"
News hound blood runs through my veins, but it took a while to kick in. I just couldn't see it happening. This happens in bad movies, not reality. I decided to cheat. I went to the manager's office and found someone with an Internet connection. I tried calling up Yahoo! news on it, but every machine was running in slow motion. Everybody was accessing info on the 'Net. The warehouse has a DSL line, and it had never been taxed before. My manager, however, had just enough juice to bring up the first page of info. There, before my stunned eyes, was the first tower of the World Trade Center, a huge gaping hole with smoke spewing out, like out of a Godzilla movie. I was in such a rush to learn what happened, full shock didn't set in until later that night.
The timeline of events went something like this:
At 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time, an American Airlines jet, Flight 11 from Boston heading for Los Angeles and taking off at 7:59 a.m., smashed into the northern WTC tower, One World Trade Center. The buildings are 110 stories tall, and the plane hit about 20 floors from the top. 92 people were on that plane, a Boeing 767. News crews mobilized, and all networks, cable, mainstream, competing, all agreed to share info. People set up their cameras and got good shots of their reporters standing in front of the smoking tower.
Perfect camera angle. On cue, at 9:03 a.m. Eastern Time, United Airlines Flight 175, heading from Boston to Los Angeles, suddenly streaked across the sky and hit Two World Trade Center, the south tower. It was a Boeing 767 with 65 people on board. Dramatic footage like out of Armageddon or Independence Day became real. Fire, ash, and debris rained down, sending the reporters scrambling and screaming into the microphones like Herb Morrison, the reporter who had a front row seat when the Hindenburg exploded.
Watching the footage again and again took no effort. Not only was it everywhere, I couldn't stop watching. It was like something in my mind was searching for signs of blue screen effects, or pixellation from CGI, anything that would tip me off that what I had just seen was some elaborate prank by an overzealous media. But there was none. The horror and pain I saw were real. To this day, it takes an almost superhuman effort to keep from crying.
At work, I kept asking the security guards, zipping through the warehouse on their rounds, for updates. They were allowed radios in the guard shack, like the people in the offices, none in the rest of the warehouse. One woman I work with asked me if the WTC would collapse. I thought, no way. The towers are made to withstand the harsh elemental conditions, I argued. But the truth was I didn't think it could happen. That's only in the movies.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
At 9:31 a.m., President George W. Bush Jr. was in Sarasota, Florida. (NOTE: Since I will be discussing a lot of political history here, I am going to do something that might seem flip but is not intended to be. Part of what I write about will be the Presidential legacy of Bush's father, George H.W. Bush. That's two Bushes, Sr. and Jr. Just to keep things clear, I will be referring to Bush Jr., our current Commander In Chief, as "Shrub".) As he was being hustled on Air Force One to be taken away to a secure location, he stated to the media that what happened "an apparent terrorist attack." Now there's an update for the "No Shit!" Newsdesk. The two crashes happened at just the right time so television crews could get the full effect. Anyway, Washington was mobilized, with tabs placed on all of Shrub's Cabinet as well as Vice President Dick Cheney.
Immediately, suspicion shifted to a man called Osama bin Laden, who had received $43 million from the US in May of 2001. bin Laden is a former Saudi national and Muslim extremist. This particular branch of the Muslim faith sprung up in recent years. Women are abused and hidden away, forbidden to learn to read or write. And they like making America "The Great Satan." Part of the problem is the unintentional humanist propaganda my country produces. Women on TV may not be complete equals, but they are closer than the radical's women are. Shows like Xena: Warrior Princess are shown in Iran, with the picture changed to only show Lucy Lawless's character above the shoulders to keep from showing her cleavage. But the show still runs and is popular. Stories of individuals allowed to be themselves or bucking the system to follow their own path, with resolutions affirming they made the right choice go out worldwide. There is also the whole "Land Of Opportunity," encouraging immigrants to come from far and wide, told in our foreign policies and letters home from those who came to build a better life for them and their families. Immigrants who enter illegally are turned back rather than killed, and our imperfect justice is still remarkable. We present ourselves, and are accepted by developing nations, as an example of what the world can be like. These principals violate the rigid system advanced by power mongers like bin Laden. Seeking to keep their subjects in line, they vilify America. Admittedly, this happens between countries all the time, with Americans making French jokes and the English calling Americans fat and stupid. This is usually the extent of expression, though. bin Laden, however, wants to become an icon, something his followers can point to to keep allegiances where they suit their purposes.
bin Laden got his start by leaving his family in Saudi Arabia, taking an estimated $3 billion fortune with him. He was heading for Afghanistan, the site of a bloody war between the Soviet Union and that country. Here's a crash course in the history of the country: Afghanistan isn't an actual country so much as common ground for several tribal groups. During the 19th Century, Britian had a commanding presence in the region thanks to India, and Russia was fighting to make its own. Afghanistan became a buffer between the two political interests. Historically, the culture is fiercly independent, eschewing any attempt to draw them under outsider rule. In the late 1960's/early 1970's, the King of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, was deposed from power and sent into exile after ruling for forty years. The country has known nothing but civil war and unrest since. Russia, seeking to expand their territory, smelled an opportunity and they invaded in 1979. Afghanistan would not only move them closer to the coast of the Indian Ocean, but the mountains and other environmental factors made it almost impossible to invade. An ideal place to garrison forces and launch attacks. But it was this very difficult environment they had to trek through to claim the country. So a war started. The US, in the midst of Cold War emotionalism, began funding mujahedeen rebel troops and training them with aid from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (let me guess--hindsight is 20/20?). This started in 1979, under the Jimmy Carter Presidency (I may hate President Ronald Reagan more than anybody you know, but I will not stick the man with a bum rap). bin Laden was one of the people the US trained and supplied weapons to in the ensuing ten years running through the Carter, Reagan, and Bush Administrations. In 1989, Russia threw up its hands and pulled out. Afghanistan celebrated, and the US lost interest as various subfactions of the mujahedeen rebels fought amongst themselves to rule the country. In the mid-1990's, students of Islamic religion from around the Pakistan border started a rebellion. Calling themselves the Taliban, they seized about 90% of the country and drove out the Northern Alliance, their opposition.
Back to bin Laden. The problem is, one you achieve your goals, what do you do? The US figured bin Laden would be content to be a hero. But bin Laden hadn't achieved his goal. He wasn't a big enough hero. He needed another enemy to fight, and lucky us, he picked America. Muslim extremists had already scored a number of successes against the US. In 1982, Muslim extremists ran a car bomb into US Marine barracks in Beirut, prompting Reagan to pull the troops out. Flush with success, the extremists realized the US could be bullied and began plotting their next move. On bin Laden's hit parade (with other events in the interest of completeness)--in December 1992, a hotel in Yemen used by US military personel is bombed. In February 1993, the WTC bombing, the first Islamic radical attack in US. In December 1994, the French authorities disrupt Algerian hijackers' plans to crash an Air France jet liner into the Eiffel Tower. It is stopped when commandos storm the plane and shoot the hijackers. The group was the Armed Islamic Group, busy in Europe and Algeria. In November 1995, a group of radicals, inspired by bin Laden, attack a US military training camp in Saudi Arabia, killing 5 Americans. In June 1996, 19 Americans were killed and almost 400 injured in apartment complex attack used by US military in Saudia Arabia (it should be noted no one is really sure who is behind this attack, it's not automatically bin Laden). In November 1997, a bus in Luxor, Egypt, is attacked, killing 58 tourists, mostly of European discent. Credited to Egyptian Islamic radicals seeking to overthrow the government there, not sure if there is a tie to bin Laden. In August 1998, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are bombed. 257 killed, thousands injured. Clinton responded with missile attacks in Sudan and Afghanistan. It didn't work. In October 2000, in port in Yemen, the USS Cole is attacked by bin Laden's men, nearly sinking it. 17 killed, 39 injured.
Bush didn't do too well in changing the perception of America in the terrorists' eyes. The Persian Gulf War accomplished nothing. A magazine article I read back in 1992 sticks out in my mind. It reported that Bush's history with Sadaam Husein was a bit complicated. According to the article, in 1980, after Bush became Vice President under Ronald Reagan, he lobbied to have Iraq taken off the list of terrorist nations. Remember, in 1980, Iran had just released the US hostages. Iran was a nasty enemy, locked at the time in a war with Iraq. The US was anxious to keep Iran in check, and giving aid to Iraq was seen as a good idea. Presumably, the arms-for-hostages thing was for Iran to make sure Iraq didn't get too big from the aid. Anyway, the article says, Bush pushed through a $500 million loan package for Iraq, then a $600 million loan package. It was ostensibly for agricultural development. In 1982, the CIA, the organization Bush was the head of years earlier, came up to him and said they had proof Iraq was using the money to develop chemical and other weapons. The next day, Bush pushed through a $1 billion loan package for Iraq. (This is why I lay the blame for the Gulf War squarely at Bush's feet.) Anyway, Bush urged the Kurds, Iraqi Christians who were persecuted by Hussein to take arms against him but gave no aid. The liberation of Kuwait was all that was necessary, Hussein was under no threat.
bin Laden picked up on all this, and during the Bill Clinton Presidency, began building his own legend. He started big in 1993 by getting followers in the US to plant a bomb in the World Trade Center tower. The building had already dealt with an inferno within its structure and other dangers. The bomb went off collapsing a few floors and killing a handful of people. New Yorkers responded by proving the stereotype about them wrong. People cooperated, helped, did all they could, crossing religious, racial, and gender lines in a show of common humanity (it was this sight that inspired Roland Emmerich to come up with the movie Independence Day). bin Laden was determined to be guilty, but he sat happily in Afghanistan, a "guest" of the Taliban, the country's ruling body, since 1996. (side note: Peter Fitzgerald was the New York prosecutor who potted the bombers themselves. He is the current US Attorney for my section of Illinois.) From there, bin Laden further calculated attacks on two US Embassies in Africa in 1998. Then, there was an attack on a US Naval vessel called the U.S.S. Cole. The explosives almost sank the ship. To each of these attacks, Clinton's response was the same: nothing. Not a goddamn thing. He did launch cruise missiles into camps in Afghanistan, but no direct involvement. And when Clinton declared war on terrorism, his efforts to enhance airport security included having boarders asked if anyone else packed their bags and were they in their possession at all times. Boy, that worked out great, didn't it?
Shrub was originally supposed to return to Washington. But during this time, at 9:40 a.m. Eastern Time, American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 with 64 people on board that had taken off from Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. en route to Los Angeles, crashed into the Pentagon, home of the US Military Command offices. With this, Shrub was not allowed back in D.C. He was sent to a military base in Louisiana, and he would say a few words once he touched down and figured out where to go next.
At 9:50 a.m. Eastern Time, the second of the WTC towers hit, Two World Trade Center, collapsed. The World Trade Center towers were built with what is called a "tube structure". There is a central shaft column consisting of the elevator shafts, with a ring of columns on the outside of the building, and the floors woven between them. The weight of the plane, and the burning fuel, caused the structures to heat up, expand, and weaken. The floor collapsed, all weight falling on the one below it, and that continuing down with acceleration due to gravity.
When I heard tower had collapsed, I thought it was just rumor. It just wasn't possible. That's only happens in the movies.
It was at this point, I heard something in the warehouse I couldn't believe. I heard a radio playing. I made sure my paths took me past it so I could get any info I could. What I learned was that a massive lockdown began. Federal buildings were evacuated, tours canceled, the Capitol and White House evacuated. The Cabinet was taken to a secure location, and Cheney was moved out, too, probably to Mount Weather. The Security And Exchange Commission shut down all stock markets. The UN was cleared out. The Federal Aviation Administration shut down all airports and declared the entire country a "no-fly" zone. Even crop dusters were grounded. By 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time, the US was tighter than a drum.
At 10:29 a.m. Eastern Time, One World Trade Center, the first tower hit, collapsed, becoming equal to its brother again.
At 10:37 a.m. Eastern Time, a United Airlines flight, Flight 93 that took off from Newark, New Jersey airport for San Francisco at 8:01 a.m. Eastern Time with 45 people on board, crashed southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in Shanksville. Rumors began that it was supposed to hit Camp David, but it's trajectory was nowhere close, it appeared to be heading for Washington, D.C. There were reports of eight planes hijacked, with one landing in Ohio and surrounded by every military trooper in the state. The number by the end of the night was four with no explanation of what the other four were.
That particular Tuesday at work, there was an employee luncheon. I had to go out to grab the paper and listen to the radio. I needed to know more. 10:30 a.m. Central hit, and I was out of the building, racing for my car and a source of information. Grabbing the Chicago paper, with news from the previous day, was strange. It was a completely different world being described to me by the ink and newsprint. Michael Jordan's comeback was front page news. California Congressman Gary Condit was under investigation. It couldn't have been more alien to me if the front page had pictures of the winner of the Pokemon Cup and the Federation reaching a peace accord with the Klingon Empire. Listening to the radio, the sheer horror and shock in the voices of the people reporting the news was heart wrenching as I listened for any scrap of info I could grab. Shaking my faith to its foundation was that some people were told by the hijackers to call their loved ones on their cell phones and "tell them you're about to die." Monsters.
I get back, and immediately switch into my Cecil Adams mode. Everyone around work knows how much I read and what a news hound I am. During the elections, people kept peppering me with questions about the events and the delays. I was ready to have people ask me for the facts. I got to the luncheon, a table of people waved me over, and I started reciting everything I knew. I even pointed out how the planes were all heading for Los Angeles or San Francisco--full of fuel, perfect to burn as hot and as long as possible. For almost an hour, I helped people make some sense of what happened, complete with historical information. I didn't eat anything except two hot dogs. Don't worry, I didn't mind a bit.
I also got an interesting eye opener. The armed forces were being mobilized and on alert. Ft. Bragg was mobilized. Ft. Knox (home of the premiere US training camp) was mobilized. The 1st Infantry, 1st Airborne, 1st Mech and the Big Red One were mobilized. Most telling, though, was the 1st Cavalry of Ft. Hood, Texas was 75% mobilized. The 1st Cavalry has an interesting reputation: they don't like war. It's not that they're pacifists, it just cramps their style. They would rather be home with their families. As a result, when they get sent in, they do it fast so they can get out and they do it right so they don't have to go back. You don't call them to action unless you are serious about kicking heavy duty ass. As of 11:45 a.m. Central Time, they were at Ft. Hood and just waiting for the order to move out.
During this time, Shrub landed in Louisiana. He did a short press conference, denouncing the cowardly attacks. Shrub was immediately taken to Strategic Air Command in Nebraska, headquartered under tons of granite. Shrub was there long enough to teleconference with Cheney and his Cabinet. He then headed for the White House. He refused to stay away from it, feeling a stronger statement would be made by staying there. He did, and addressed the nation that night just before bed. He tried to reassure even though he too was clearly shaken by what had happened. Shrub did make one very distinct statement, though. "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."
I was urged to get gas, since prices always jump in a war and there are worries about a supply cut-off. Lines two blocks long dotted every gas pump in the area. But along the way, interesting news came up. Illinois Governor George Ryan got calls from citizens about 10 a.m. Central Time that gas stations had upped the prices of gas to about $5 a gallon. Ryan sicced the Attorney General on it. While the Gov was bitch-slapping gas suppliers, Jim Ryan, the Attorney General began investigating. Before going to bed, it was announced that he was filing a lawsuit against Casey's General Stores for price gouging at 20 of it's Illinois stores, all in downstate Illinois. By that Thursday, Casey's parent corporation said they would pay back $50,000. Owners have the ability to adjust prices without notifying the home office, and they would be talked to. To be fair, the customers were acting like dickheads, too. In Topeka, Kansas, a 78 year old man was thrown in the slammer for pulling a pellet gun on another customer. Cops were watching at the gas stations in my town, making sure no one got out of line.
My Christian beliefs are independent, I haven't been to an establishment church in at least ten years, probably longer. About 6:30 p.m. Central Time, I walked to my local church, kneeled at the pew (without the padding to kneel on, I might point out), and just meditated, fighting back tears. I wasn't expecting an evening service, but one started at 7. I stayed. At home, I called Mornblade to talk. He wasn't home, I got his answering machine. He told me my voice sounded like a ghosts. His mom had left a message before mine, and she sounded the same. Afterwards, with privacy as my refuge, I cried. I cried like never before in my life. Even if the words existed to expression the shock, pain, turmoil, and anger I was feeling at that moment, they would have been irrelevant.
After the attack, proof came that Islam isn't the only religion with assholes seeking the spotlight. Jerry Falwell, the founder of the inappropriately named Christian activist group "The Moral Majority" (I have a bumper sticker that says, "I love the Immoral Minority") and who, in the 1980's, signed a "Declaration Of War" against "the evils threatening America" (at the time, he told his followers, "A massive homosexual revolution can bring the judgement of God upon this nation," and his needle's been stuck there ever since), said, among other things, "God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve." Pat Robertson, who runs the 700 Club and occassionally engages in the Christian equivalent of stage magic psychic visions and faith healing, said, "Jerry, that's my feeling. I think we've just seen the antechamber to terror." Wow. Remind me not to play Scrabble with this Mensa member. Falwell and Robertson were also agreeing that the American Civil Liberties Union has "got to take a lot of blame for this." (What the fuck?!?) But they didn't heap it on the ACLU, they also said abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians, and People For The American Way, groups Falwell and Robertson base their carreers and political movements on bashing, were also culpable. Falwell said, "The abortionists have to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really beleive that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For The American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'" Falwell has since issued an apology. I've said it before and I'll say it again:
Part of the problem with this bullshit propaganda Falwell and Robertson spread is that it makes Christians doubt their faith beyond repair as they ask, "Why did God allow this to happen?" Allow me to clear this up for you, folks. God didn't allow this to happen. The hijackers allowed it to happen. The security guards who weren't paying attention allowed it to happen. US Intelligence allowed it to happen. God gave us brains and free will. Our lives are ours to live. God is not our babysitter, and He is not our bodyguard. We have to have some culpability for our actions. If we truly have no control, there's no point in things like confession, pennance, and redemption. God didn't allow it to happen, so please let Him off the hook.
Don't think it's just the holy rolling Jesus junkies spouting this bullshit. Studs Terkel cast his reputation into serious doubt when he said on September 14, on his radio show in Chicago, that US militarism turned most of the world against the US and is responsible for millions of innocent deaths, because the US is "the only country in the world that has been fighting a war since 1940." Proof? "Count the wars. Count the years. We've built up a body politic of old men who look upon military service as a noble adventure. It was the big excitement of their lives." Mr. Turkel should talk to my dad if he really believes this crap. He also said the US "knocked off a lot of women and kids" during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Admittedly, it is estimated that 2% of deaths were innocents, but there were plenty of people, not just women and kids. Remember, 37 Americans also died from our own ammo. However, other countries have screwed up big time, but he inadvertently absolves them of guilt by not mentioning Russia's role in the Chechnyan War, the Balkan Islands conflict in the early 1980's England was involved in, and other things. Remember how Russia's Joseph Stalin made 40-60 million people "disappear" in his country? Turkel also rambled off on tangents, saying the Cold War "had a hell of an effect on us and it still does," (no shit, Captain Obvious) and Americans "suffer from a national Alzheimer's disease." He said, "A declaration of war is the idea of loonies--lunatics who should be locked away." I'm sure George Washington et al. appreciate that. According to the Turkel Doctrine, the terrorists responsible should be tracked down and "put away". I'm sorry, but warehousing those who did this, giving them food and sustaining them until they die seems like more of a reward than a punishment to me.
I didn't sleep well that night. Picking up the newspapers showed the horror in New York. The only thing that consoled me was the knowledge that Shrub was going to get whoever it was. There were several reasons for this supposition on my part. One is that Shrub may be distracted, but when he's focused, he becomes outraged and will fight back. During his campaign, the most upsetting thing that happened to him was when he was accused of being a racist. He obsessed over the charge for weeks and anger dripped from his voice that someone would call him that. The second was that it was his big chance. Shrub caught incredible fire just before the attack. After the tax break he pushed through Congress, the surplus in the budget vanished. In the new budget's worse case scenario, $9 bil from Social Security would be tapped. This had people up in arms and demanding Shrub's head. The Republicans in charge of his party wanted Shrub to pass a capital gains tax cut, benefitting the party's rich benefactors. The money to make up for it would have to come from the working class, and would move touching Social Security to balance the budget from a longshot to a certainty. If Shrub could find those responsible for the bombing and slam the hammer down on them, he will be the hero of the day. The party can't make demands of him that would cost him re-election, the populous would stop yelling at him about the budget and the accusations about "stealing the election" would vanish. Victory over the terrorists will buy him that one thing any politician would kill for: backbone. Oh, yeah, I knew Shrub was in this for the win. Avenging his father's legacy from the Persian Gulf War? Icing on the cake.
The next day, footage of Palestinians celebrating the attack was on the news. This prompted some people to theorized we earned the attacks, had them coming, because we were so unpopular. Uh, no. Bullshit. When we don't like what other countries do, we deal with their leaders. We don't send suicide bombers in. I have problems with some American policies, and my protest is to get the policy changed, not attack people who can't fight back. This is the difference between peaceful people and pacifists. A peaceful person wants peace and understands he may have to fight for it, while a pacifist just lets the world roll over them. I have no patience for them right now. We have been sent a message that it's them or us, they will keep killing us every chance they get. They have declared war on us, and will keep it up whether we like it or not. If there is a third option, I'm not seeing it. We either let them keep doing this to us, or we fight. I'm choosing fight.
A war of sorts broke out in the culture of America, too. Arab Americans were under attack, with Arab cabbies being beaten. In Palos Heights, that wonderful bastion of tolerance, an Arab was attacked in his gas station. A guy pulled up and fired 22 shots through the inch-thick glass. The owner ducked and survived, only getting cuts from the falling glass. Elsewhere in the Chicago area, Christians formed human barricades around a mosque so the Muslims inside could worship in peace. I've sworn to oppose all racism, and my job just got serious. I'm still arguing with my mom, who wants to kick all the "foreigners" out. Even though I have shot everything down ("You know how many Muslims and Arabs there are in this country that aren't plotting the violent overthrow of the government?!?"), she still clings to that belief. Sheeee-yit!
Can I also appeal to people to stop calling this the "Pearl Harbor Of Our Generation?" We didn't lose military targets, these were civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time. This wasn't part of war, this was a massacre. And where was US Intelligence? This isn't some isolated attack, this was massively coordinated and took years to plan and implement. The director of the CIA is George Tenet. He began in the post back in 1997 under Clinton. Shrub originally wanted to put Donald Rumsfeld in the post, but Rumsfeld became Secretary Of Defense and Tenet kept the job. I wouldn't trust that guy to work third shift at Dunkin' Donuts, let alone watch America's security.
Also during this time, international support appeared. People in St. Petersburgh, Russia mourned, leaving memorials at the US Embassy there. Australia, England, France, Canada, everyone everywhere paid tribute to the United States. Maybe it's because they could become targets themselves, since they aren't isolated by half a world like we are, but more likely, it was common humanity. Thank you and bless you all.
Wednesday, September 13, it happened and was carried in the next day's papers: the hijackers were identified. On Thursday, bin Laden was named Prime Suspect. NATO and former enemy Russia issued a joint statement of resolve. Maybe it's because of the multinational companies in the WTC, but for the first time in its history, NATO evoked Article 5. It establishes an attack on one member country constitutes an attack on all 19.
Also on Thursday, word got out about true heroes among us. United Flight 93, the one that crashed in rural Pennsylvania, a woman in San Francisco, California, Lyzbeth Glick, got a call from her husband, Jeremy Glick. "If we are going to crash into something...let's not let that happen. Our best chance is to fight these people, rather than accept it." Based on his discussion and that of Thomas Burnett, who called his wife in San Ramon, California, here's what happened: three hijackers were armed with box cutters, razors, and ceramic knives that couldn't be detected by metal detectors. They had a red box they claimed was a bomb. Of course, no one knows for sure if it was real. When told to call their loved ones and explain they were about to die, a plan to retake the plane was hatched. Over the phone, screams could be heard, but no one came back on line. Then the plane crashed. Honor these people and their valor. (Note: one of the heroes on United Flight 93 was Mark Bingham, a 6'5" rugby player who also happened to be gay. Take that, Falwell.)
By Friday, everything suggested we were going to war. The Marine Headquarters across the street from the warehouse had a full parking lot and a troop transporter out front. I had never seen more than three or four cars there at any given time. Also, officers were activated. If you are an officer when you leave the American armed forces, they still have a ten year window in which they can recall you to active duty. That happened Thursday night about midnight.
The US began making battle plans as evidence against bin Laden started to mount. Shrub's declaration that they would attack countries that harbor terrorists sent shockwaves through the spines of leaders in the area. Most Arab nations support terrorism to advance their goals. In cases like Iraq, which is developing chemical and biological warfare, complete with the money and scientists needed to do it, and Iran, which is developing nuclear weaponry and has the resources to realize it, this is Big Time Trouble.
It was then that Shrub did one of the smartest things I've ever seen a President do in my lifetime, and my hat is off to him for this. During the campaign, there was the question of who was really running the show, Shrub or his staff as Shrub floated easily through life with them taking the speed bumps. Despite some major growling from his staff, Shrub opted to wait and plan his attack. Many wanted a fast retaliation, but the problem with this is, while the effects are measurable ("We've taken out this, let's go home for a beer."), they aren't permanent, as Operation Desert Storm proved. Shrub was building evidence and presenting it to other countries. Surprise! Some, like Saudi Arabia, pledged their support to us. Most surprising was when Pakistan, the country directly south of Afghanistan, offered to help the US. This was a no brainer on their part. Pakistan has hated the US, but they are between incoming troops and Afghanistan. The bullets would take them out first. Pakistan and the Northern Alliance, a rebel faction in Afghanistan, cautioned the White House not to do anything to make it look like a war on Islam, and Shrub listened. He presented evidence so clearly, about two weeks later, even Egypt, which hates us for our defense of Isreal, was on our side. Iraq sided with Afghanistan about the same time evidence came out that it might have been Hussein's ties and money that got the suicide bombers in the county. The list of countries in play went something like this:
India (warring with Afghanistan for a long time)
If I missed anyone, assume they are neutral. The hard fact is Afghanistan has only one ally. And it's Iraq.
On a personal note, I had been in shock since that Tuesday. That Saturday, for the first time since then, I played a video game. Escaping to the fantasy realms seemed inappropriate up until then, so I guess I was recovering. Also helping was an e-mail from a friend of mine in New York. He was safe, and sensing I needed a joke, he quipped in the message, "And you want to know the worst part of the attack? They missed Madison Square Garden." Ah, basketball alleigences know no bounds.
Afghans became accutely aware the US was ready to grab bin Laden and the Taliban was not going to be an obstacle (it was around this time the Guardian in the UK unearthed a communique between Shrub and Russian President Vladmir Putin discussing plans for an interim government in Afghanistan once the Taliban was ousted). They began fleeing. The biggest market town in the country was absolutely deserted. Not even looters. Some Taliban soldiers also pulled up stakes. Iran responded by sealing its borders, while Pakistan took what it could.
On Monday, September 17, 2001, a Pakistani delegation went to Afghanistan to deliver a message: hand bin Laden over to the US, or your country will be turned into a cinder and no one will know where you were. "Time is short, and you should solve this problem," a Pakistani diplomat told the Taliban according to CNN. Afghanistan's response? "No." Shrub issued the famous line about, "There's an old poster out there, as I recall, that said 'Wanted--Dead Or Alive." At least he wasn't quoting the bullshit Bon Jovi song.
During this time, data indicated that the recession the US economy is in continued along. A jump in energy prices didn't help. On Saturday, September 15, Continental Airlines, the fifth largest airline in the US, announced it was laying off 12,000 workers, about 1/5 of its workforce. Nice synergy, huh? The reason? "These actions are a direct result of the current and anticipated adverse effeccts on the demand for air travel caused by this week's terrorist attacks on the United States and the operational and finincial costs of dramatically increased security requirements," read the statement from Continental officials. Part of this was to fortify cockpits, additional security measures, and the Sky Marshalls, armed law enforcement agents that keep a watch on the plane in flight. They first started in 1970 in response to a jump from 38 hijackings in 1968 to 82 in 1969. By 1973, only 2 US planes were hijacked, and the program was discontinued. Arming the pilots was also being suggested.
Besides the above reform to increase security, Attorney General John Ashcroft of the Justice Department suggested some others that were greeted with wariness by the US public. One was the "roving wiretap", which would enable the feds to tap any phone a person has rather than getting a court order for each individual phone. After all, getting "pay as you go" cell phones is a piece of cake, like buying disposable lighters. It would also enable the feds to use wiretapping authority across the US instead of getting a warrant for each individual state. While an overdue adjustment of reality, many critics felt the government would find some way to use it against the public's privacy. It wasn't that long ago it used heat scanners to detect marijuanna plants and had to go to the Supreme Court before being told to knock it off. But the second proposal was flat out wrong. Shrub's administration announced it was going to allow indefinite detention of legal immigrants. Currently, immigrants are only allowed to be kept for 24 hours while the government determines whether to charge them with a crime, visa violation, or let them go. The new rule would hold them for 48 hours, or as long as needed "in the event of emergency" without a court order or presenting any reason. The 48 hours, no problem. But the indefinite nature is where it becomes a violation of civil rights. The proposals haven't gone anywhere as of this writing.
On Wednesday, September 19, 2001, Boeing announced it was cutting 30,000 jobs, 20-30% of its workforce. United Airlines also announced cutbacks, maybe 20,000 people, 20% of its workforce. US Airways had already announced it was cutting 11,000 people. Northwest was also leaning towards cutbacks. The airlines, despite the fact that data for August showed attendance was already declining, requested a federal bailout, saying shutting down the skies and the recoil from the terrorist attacks are costing them between $250-300 million a day. Leo Mullin or Delta Airlines said the companies' needs fell in the vacinity of $24 billion. Legislation providing $15 bil was set to come up in the House of Representatives that day. The day before, $40 bil in aid for New York City was approved, and use of force was authorized.
American allies in Europe began getting cold feet. They announced solidarity behind the US, but that week, everyone started hemming and hawing. French President Jacques Chirac went to the White House to pledge support, but French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin cautioned that there wouldn't be a war "against Islam or the Arab-Muslim world." What the hell up to this point gave him that idea? Jospin also said France would not automatically support American military action against bin Laden and, more preposterously, that France's siding with the US "does not deprive us of our sovereignty and freedom to make up our own minds." I guess Amsterdam isn't the only place where you can have any drugs you want. The French have an iffy history with the US military. In the mid-1960's, President Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of NATO'S military command and US troops had to get their asses out of the country. Quote Dean Rusk, Secretary Of State at the time, "Does that include the dead Americans in military cemetaries as well?" During a raid on Libya in the 80's under Reagan, France refused to allow US fighter jets to fly over their country on their way to strike the country. During the raid, the US military, proving it could be more mature, dropped a bomb on the French embassy there. Way to build those international relations, guys. It's amazing people from either country visit the other at all. France isn't the only one wimping out. English Prime Minister Tony Blair, is one of Shrub's biggest supporters, but said military response must be based on "hard evidence" and Shrub did not have "a blank check". German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, coming from a country that, let's face, twice tried taking over the world, emphasized that his government would only support a "measured" response. Jesus, any time these places ask for help, we send people over before demonstrations can be organized, and here they are trying to remember what drawer they put their spines in. And this despite Shrub slowly building an alliance instead of playing Teddy Rosevelt. On the bright side, Russia said the US could put its troops in its republics in anticipation of the strikes. Thank you, comrades. The wild card at this point was China, supporting the US in exchange for a vote into the World Trade Organization and retaining Most Favored Nation trade status in the States. But up to that day, it was still sending weapons and tech into Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Sudan. Isn't anyone paying attention? Pakistan's leader, President General Pervez Musharraf pledged his government would support the US.
That Wednesday, United Airlines and American Airlines each announced they would cut 20,000 jobs per. The bailout package became $17.5 bil, down from $24 billion with the biggest adjustment losing a request for $7.8 bil for fuel tax relief and persission to hold onto the ticket and cargo taxes they collect. The new plan included $5 bil in cash, at least $12 bil in loan guarantees, protection from lawsuits from the attacks, and partial payment for increasing security. They skimp on security, and the taxpayers have to support this? I wonder if I can get the government to spring for insurance on my video game collection. John Heimlich, director of economic and market research for the Air Transport Association lobby group, said, "This is not at all a bailout." Despite the fact that it passes the Duck Test, anyway. He said Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and rural communities around the country would take it on the chin if the airlines flop. That Thursday, Shrub offered $3 bil for airport security measures and $5 bil in cash. Congress was gearing up to override the proposal and offer more. (Note: Shrub was still asking for tax relief at this point, despite all the cash flowing for the military and relief funds. The Fed cut interest rates to generate some short term cash, but no new money is being brought in from extra jobs. This isn't a good idea, folks.) US Airways was already on shaky ground before the attacks, as was United, taking new aircraft deliveries more than a year after they started losing customers. Before the attacks, the industry was expecting to lose $3.5 bil and only had $10 bil in cash. I can side with Shrub's $5 bil for the shutdown, but beyond that, the airlines screwed up and are making excuses so they can get money to prop themselves up despite financial mismanagement. As Republican Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald pointed out, "The airlines were in asking for assistance even before the memorial service at the National Cathedral. We've got to guard against an industry that might take advantage of the generosity of the American people at a time like this." Fitzgerald felt the $5 bil in cash was too much and the terms of the loans were too loose. Combine it with the apathy towards the laid off workers despite insisting on the money. Fitzgerald continued, "They were really crying crocodile tears over that one." He pointed out that hotels, rental-car firms, and the general tourist industry would get squat. "They won't get anything. None of them has teh political clout the airline industry has." Screw those guys, all those in favor?
During this time, racial sensitivity took a preposterous turn. The Florida Gulf Coast University Library told librarians to get rid of stickers that read, "I'm Proud To Be An American" because they "might offend" foreign students. Jesus tapdancing Christ. Later that month, a Pittsburgh high school teacher was suspended for writing in the margin of a newspaper, "Osama bin Laden did us a favor," even though there was no context and he was actually quoting a news panelist on MSNBC. The school defended its decision. Not only are we getting Sky Marshalls, but a new branch of the Thought Police, too. Media critics complained about journalists wearing American flag pins on their lapels, saying it cast doubt on their impartiality. In Houston, Texas, a student was told the T-shirt he wore with the American flag on it violated the school dress code and had to be taken off. Over 100 students at Cal-Berkeley tried shutting down the student newspaper, saying an editorial cartoon it ran with two terrorists standing at the gates of Hell was "a hate crime" that "dehumanized" Arab students. Lehigh University in Pennsylvania ordered a bus driver to remove the U.S. flag from his vehicle because it might offend some people.
On Thursday, September 20, China, Saudi Arabia, and 16 European nations pledged support to the US. Japan also jumped on the bandwagon, and initiated measures to improve security for the 47,000 US military personnel stationed there. The Land Of The Rising Sun was also debating a new law allowing the country to take part in overseas military actions. That night, Shrub addressed the nation.
On Friday, September 22, 2001, Jesse Jackson grabbed some more headlines by saying, "My concern is that, as we fight global terrorism, we need a global coalition, which requires global diplomatic relations and a global set of intelligence, and sensitivity to global economic policy as it affects the poor nations with whom we want to build relations as allies." Also, "With Iran and Pakistan and other nations that we wish to form this fragile coalition with, we don't have diplomatic relations, we don't share intelligence, as we have economic sanctions against them. We can't just say to them, "Unless you are an ally with us, you are on the bad list and we are going to bomb you, too." Uh, most of these countries were condoning terrorist attacks against the US just weeks ago. Duh! Of course we aren't sharing intelligence, Einstein!
Also that evening, a telethon was held with celebrities manning phone banks to raise cash for relief. Also, Congress approved a $15 bil bailout for the airlines, $5 bil in cash and $10 bil in loan guarantees. The airlines are making sacrifices, like no salary increases for two years, but they keep their stock options. And the money they have now is astonishing. Fitzgerald was the only Senator to vote against the package, but he also did something slick. With the help of Jon Corzine, a Democrat from New Jersey, a provision was thrown in against the stock options: as they pull in more money from the recovering industry, part of it goes back to the government. A similar provision in a 1970's bailout package for Chrysler got a profit of $300 million for the Treasury Department. Is it any wonder I vote for this guy? I should point out taht Southwest Airlines has so much cash on hand, it didn't lay off a single worker and anticipates paying its portion of the bailout without losing its profit.
Arabs and Muslims started telling the Taliban to get ripped, we aren't supporting your "crusade" against America.
On Sunday, September 23, Afghanistan said they would not hand over bin Laden because they didn't know where he was. No shit. This guy living on their dime for five years suddenly became Casper. Rumsfeld didn't bother to hide the derision in his voice. "They know where he is." Also, the exiled King of Afghanistan, Muhammad Zahir Shah (remember him?) met with leaders of the Northern Alliance. He refused to accept a return to power, but he would help advise the creation of the new government. Actually, that's pretty smart, since the King could be viewed as only a puppet of the US government. Former deputy secretary of state for Clinton, Strobe Talbott, said we should try to understand the terrorists. "If people are really poor and really desperate, they're going to be angry." Zay N. Smith of the Chicago Sun Times countered, "Osama bin Laden's worth is estimated at $300 million."
On Monday, September 24, a demonstrator shouted for Arabians, even naturalized citizens should leave the country. His logic? "Their ancestors weren't born here." Here comes the Clue Train! Whoops, there it goes. A newspaper reader suggested that, "The best way to prevent airline hijackings is the banning of all carry-on bags, and everyone must fly nude." This might have merit, depending on who else is on the plane. Heather Graham, sure. Me with my thrity pounds overweight ass? Nope.
bin Laden got some headlines by sending a fax to an Arabian television station. "We are steadfast on the path of jihad for the sake of Allah [see previous notes on rules for a jihad --G]...with the heroic, faithful Agshan people, under the leadership of our fighter emir, who is proud of his religion, the prince of the faithful, Mullah Mohammed Omar. We ask Allah to make him victorious over the forces of infidels and tyranny, and to crush the new Christian-Jewish crusade on the land of Pakistan and Afghanistan."
On Tuesday, September 25, the UN got into the act, calling the attacks "crimes against humanity" and that they had "crossed a line." So all those terrorist attacks I mentioned towards the beginning were within acceptable bounds? Fuck! Other interesting news items of the day was Carmine Angelo, a New Yorker doing time for mob activities, offering the use of his metal-shredding machine to help dispose of the beams from the World Trade Center. The Saudis also threw their lot with the US, establishing a near-monopoly on sentiment in the region.
During this time, the Taliban extended an invitation to Jesse Jackson to act as an envoy for a peace deligations. Jackson thought about it, since it would give him some good headlines after getting hammered for having an affair with a staffer. But Shrub's staff reminded Jackson of the Logan Act, which forbids private citizens from engaging in diplomatic missions. Jackson continued to consider until he was threatened with federal time. The days of going to jail under protest are long gone from him, and he packed it in.
Things went along these lines for over a week. Then, on September 30, the Taliban announced it had bin Laden in a safe place. Boy, they found him quick. On Tuesday, October 2, Tony Blair held a press conference, declaring the US evidence was clear that bin Laden was behind the attacks and Afghanistan better fork him over. Outlining the US evidence was a 16 page document. Among the highlights: bin Laden and al-Qaida had the will and resources to carry out those and other atrocities, the close alliance with the Taliban regime helped them carry it out, 3 of the 19 hijackers were linked to al-Qaida, the WTC and Pentagon attacks had similarities to other bin Laden operations, videos encouraging Muslims to attack Jews and Americans were distributed in the months before the attacks--videos were distributed before the US embassy bombings in 1998 along the same lines, one hijacker was identified as key figure in the US embassy bombings in Africe and the USS Cole attack, bin Laden was bragging just before September 11 that he was planning a major attack, in August and September bin Ladned associates were being told to return home by September 10, one of bin Laden's closest and most senior associates came up with the details for the attack plan. The Taliban told the world to drop dead. The Taliban had maintained innocence for weeks. Then, it threatened the dreaded jihad with the US if attacked. This week, they started appealing to the citizenry of America, asking us to follow our example of democracy and make our leaders stop. This reminded me of the scene in The Mummy where the one guy, confronted by a freshly revived Imhotep, started holding up a variety of religious icons and reciting appropriate prayers until one finally worked. This only increased my respect for Shrub. Ever since bin Laden began his campaign of terror, no one has ever worried about a retalitory strike, even during the missile attacks following the bombings of the US embassies in Africa. Now, the Taliban is freaking out big time, something Bush or Clinton never did.
Uzbekistan, the former Soviet country, approved US troops on it's soil, putting us on the northern border of Afghanistan.
Shurb urged Americans to get back to normal. On Wednesday, October 3, a passenger on a Greyhound bus got up from his seat, slashed the driver's throat with a knife, and caused the bus to go off the road, killing six people, including the perpetrator. I don't think that's what the President meant.
On October 7, 2001, the noose tightened and the US began attacking Afghanistan. As of October 12, Shrub gave Afghanistan another chance to hand over bin Laden or we'd keep striking. The Taliban is still saying no. Also, there is a rash of powder being sent around the country in the US mail. The powder contains anthrax. First, the building housing the National Inquirer was hit, apparently placed on the keyboard of an employee. One person died, the other two were treated early and are none the worse for wear. One envelope of powder went to the NBC building in New York City. One employee hit, treated early and none the worse for wear. One went to the Microsoft offices in Nevada. One employee hit, none the worse for wear. The feds are saying it is not tied to terrorism, and I believe them. It doesn't fit the terrorists' MO. After grabbing airplanes and killing about 6,000 people, a bacteria that has only killed one person, and that was due to negligence, sent through the mail where it risks getting lost instead of dumping it into, say, the building's air intake? I think it's someone with a very sick sense of humor. And I don't mean Trey Parker/Matt Stone sick.
Further reports as developments warrant.
Thank you for reading.