Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Abroad in search of monsters to destroy
By David Veksler
When a friend called me with the news about Manhattan early Tuesday morning, I dismissed it as a sick joke until I turned on the television and realized that this was no joke. Certainly, I had many times thought of the possibility of something like this happening -- after all, the towers rival only the White House as a symbol of American Capitalism and its global presence. But isn’t our government the most powerful nation in the world? Shouldn’t it protect us from terrorists blatantly terrorizing our skies? As the news got worse and worse throughout the day and the politicians pronounced threat after threat on an invisible enemy, I felt the urge to help my fellow Americans. I will give blood tomorrow when the lines here at Texas A&M University are shorter than an hour, but first, I needed to understand what happened, how this happened, why this happened, and what lessons we can learn from this horrific tragedy. What follows is my response, based on answers I found by looking beyond the front-page news and opinions I have previously held.
As most people know, the evidence so far points to a hijacking organized by an international network of terrorist cells, well-funded and well-organized, planned long ago, by men who were determined to send their message of hate to Americans. Their attack was planned to do the maximum amount of damage, as the jets were flown with a deadly accuracy, a maximum load of fuel for an intercontinental flight, and detailed knowledge of the structure of the buildings, timing of the New York traffic, and the security measures present on the planes themselves. The two towers were designed to withstand a direct hit by a small plane (which is why they did not tip over), and the tempered steel designed to withstand a fire for two to three hours while the occupants evacuated, but the dozens of tons of highly explosive jet fuel combined with many tons of paper and flammable materials in the buildings to quickly overwhelm the structural integrity of the buildings, which then collapsed downward under their own weight within an hour. The towers and the thousands of occupants inside them never had a chance.
It is hard to imagine the many thousands likely dead at the site of the bombing, as the numbers have no faces to most of us, but it is not hard to imagine what nearly 100,000 New Yorkers went through as they waited throughout the night for a loved one that had not come home, hoping desperately that he or she was still alive under the rubble or unconscious in some hospital. Having many relatives in New York myself, I received news early on that my own relatives there were ok, and this provided some relief as I heard stories of men and women buried alive and jumping in desperation from the top of the collapsing towers.
As serious as the toll to human life has been in New York and the Pentagon, perhaps an even greater toll will reciprocate throughout the United States and the world, as the economic effect reverberate and affect every one of us. The anonymous workers at the trade center towers facilitated the movement and creation of a huge amount of wealth that daily sustained our welfare. As horrible as the loss of life at the Pentagon is, the loss of whatever services were provided in the destroyed sections of that compound certainly do not compare to the unrewarded and for the most part unknown contribution that the traders, financiers, entrepreneurs, and thousands of other workers daily made to our economy. To compound the problem, the grounding of all flights by the FAA (except government flights, of course) will cause millions of tons of cargo, packages, and postal mail (they carry an estimated 10% of the total US daily economy) to be undelivered, not to mention canceled business trips, conferences, vacations, visits to see family and friends, lost school time, and untold other economic damage.
The reaction from politicians was immediate, but it did very little to comfort me. I heard President Bush say “Terrorism against our nation will not stand,” but it has stood, and all the trillions of the CIA, the FBI, the ISA, NSA, and all the other agencies that took our money to protect us from terrorism have completely failed us. Numerous airport security checks and the scanners, the safety regulations, the air traffic control network, the F16’s (Why were they 10 minutes too late?) the government snooping of telephone, cellular, internet, and all other forms of interference in our civil rights could not stop a bunch of determined and well-funded thugs from carrying out their plot. I suppose I should not be surprised. The FAA can stop guns from getting on a plane and perhaps after doubling the normal hassle associated with flying it will even be able to prevent knives from getting onboard, but a half dozen of desperate and unarmed men, with nothing to lose could still overpower a lightly loaded plane and send it down in a maelstrom of destruction, leaving the FAA powerless to stop them.
What makes men so evil as to kill thousands of innocent civilians? I hear people talk of being unable to comprehend the mindset of the terrorists who perpetrated this, and the Palestinians who cheer and fire guns up in the air in joy at the news of this tragedy. Perhaps I can provide a clue. As a disclaimer, I must admit that I am Jewish myself, and my entire extended family is divided between Israel and the New York City metropolitan area, so many people assume that I support U.S. involvement in the Middle East. However, while I strongly support Israel and the cause of Zionism, I strongly oppose U.S. involvement in the Middle East conflict, and consider it partly to blame for the current tragedy. Former president Bill Clinton made his role in the conflict between Israel and Palestinians the showcase of his presidency, trying to get his mug in as many photos of Palestinian and Israeli leaders as he could, while hiring lobbyists to get him the Nobel peace prize, but what has he achieved? Israeli forces and armed Palestinians are involved in a long and bloody conflict, with the blame being shifted to the United States, and our country becoming an enemy to a score of Middle Eastern countries, who otherwise could be our peaceful trading partners. I do not think that the United States should stop being an ally of Israel, as Israel is the only democracy in the entire region, but our continuous entanglements in the affairs of other countries and imperialistic policy have easily made us an enemy whose size makes it easily vulnerable to attack. The United States military, stretched thin in a global deployment exerting an influence unprecedented in the history of past empires is unable to defend itself or our own country, while Congress and the President send our troops to yet more battlefields in Somalia, Iraq, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, infringe the rights of China, all for some vague moral duty, or, much more likely, the political advancement of our political leaders. Meanwhile, the Palestinians and their allies fight back in the only way that is possible in a conflict with a military superpower—through acts of terrorism.
There is no doubt in my mind that we must find and decisively punish the cold criminals that organized and planned this crime, as well as their financiers, who expected to get away with their part in it only a few dollars poorer. However, the thousands of lives lost in this tragedy will be in vain if we do not learn the lesson that George Washington first taught us and instead continue our path of global policing and imperialism. As Washington said, we must keep "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”