September 11th, 2005

A mind is a difficult thing to change: Part 6A (9/11: the watershed)

[On this fourth anniversary of 9/11, I am offering the following post. It represents part A of a projected two-part segment about 9/11. Parts A and B together will be the sixth entry in my ongoing series about intrapersonal political change. For links to earlier posts in this series, please see the right sidebar under the heading, "A mind is a difficult thing to change."]

INTRODUCTION

Although I’ve written in my “About Me” section that I was “mugged by reality on 9/11,” that’s really just a convenient and probably misleading shorthand description of a much more complex reaction, one that began that instant but emerged only slowly, over a period of several years. It’s probably still in the process of evolving and changing.

But the beginning wasn’t slow. Not at all.

It began in an instant, the instant I heard about the 9/11 attacks. Like most of you, I remember exactly where I was at the time and how I learned the news. My story isn’t a particularly dramatic one. I don’t tell it for that reason. I tell it to learn more about the process by which a mind is changed–sometimes, as in this case, through a sudden and dramatic event that sparks intense feelings and begins a cognitive process by which a person tries to make some sort of sense of that overwhelming event and those chaotic feelings.

9/11

I was having trouble sleeping that night. I don’t know why–I wasn’t in pain, I didn’t have a stomach ache, nor was I anxious about anything in particular. But I lay awake in bed for hours in a sort of unfocused but nevertheless unpleasant and restless agitation, until I finally fell into a fitful sleep from about 5 AM to 8 AM, and then woke up again.

I was visiting with friends, so I wasn’t in my regular bed. My work didn’t force me to get up early, so I tried to relax and sleep a bit more. But the strange wakefulness continued, and at about 10:15 I finally gave up and went downstairs.

My friend was at her job, but her husband John worked at home in a basement office. Since he was nowhere to be seen, I figured he was down there at his computer. I grabbed a yogurt for breakfast, and was engaged in eating it a few minutes later when John appeared in the kitchen.

John is one of the calmest people I know, almost preternaturally so. I’ve never heard him raise his voice, and never even seen him look agitated, despite the vagaries of raising two teenagers and assorted pets. Nor did he appear particularly distressed that day. He seemed to be looking through some piles on the countertops for something–a pen? some notepaper?–when I caught his attention and started to ask some casual question.

John stopped shuffling through the stacks, and gave me a look I can only characterize as quizzical. He seemed to be studying me. And what he said next are words that are burned into my brain, a phrase I never want to hear again, not ever: “You don’t know what happened, do you?”

I write it as a question, but it didn’t really have a rising inflection at the end. It was more of a statement, an expression of intense wonderment that anyone could be so ignorant of something so obvious. It was as though he’d said “You don’t know the sky is blue, do you?”

No, I guess I didn’t know what had happened, I said, and waited for him to tell me.

What did I suppose it might be? I had already sensed, somehow, that it was nothing good. But in the split second of innocence I had left to think about it, I might have thought John was about to say that there had been an auto accident, a bus collision, or a fire, an upsetting but ordinary and generic tragedy of some sort or another.

But instead, John’s calm words came out in one long run-on sentence, although their content was anything but calm, or calming.

“Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center, and the towers have fallen, and then another plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth one is missing, and a few others are missing, too” (the final destination of Flight 93 was unknown as yet, and a mistaken report had been issued that there were further planes still unaccounted for).

If John had told me that Martians had landed in Central Park, or that an asteroid was on a doomsday course towards earth and we had only a few hours to live, I could not have been more surprised. My body reacted instantly, before my mind did–my legs felt shaky, my mouth went dry, and something inside my gut was shaking, also.

I knew immediately and intuitively that a watershed event had occurred. I didn’t know the exact parameters of it, nor any details of the direction in which we were headed, but I knew that this moment felt like a break with everything that had gone before. Assumptions I hadn’t even known I’d held were dead in a single instant, as though their life supports had been cut. I didn’t know what would replace them.

What were the main assumptions that had died in that instant for me? They had to do with a sense of basic long-term safety. Some utterly fearful thing that had seemed contained before, although vaguely threatening, had now burst from its constraints. It was like being plunged into something dark and ancient that had also suddenly been grafted onto modern technology and jet planes–Huns or Mongols or Genghis Khan or Vlad the Impaler or Hector being dragged behind Achilles’ chariot–a thousand swirling vague but horrific impressions from an ancient history I’d never paid all that much attention to before.

I remembered having read articles within the last couple of years that had told of terrorist plans and threats, but managing to successfully surpress my rising fear and reassuring myself that no, it wouldn’t actually happen; it was just talk and boasting bravado. The nuclear nightmares of my youth now came to mind: the fallout shelters, the bomb drills, the suspicion that I wouldn’t live to grow up. I had suppressed those, too, especially in recent years when the fall of the Soviet Union had removed what had once been the likeliest source of the conflagration. It now felt like one of those horror movies where the heroine is chased by someone out to do her harm and then she gets home, feels safe, closes the door and breathes a sigh of relief–and then the murderer leaps out of the closet, where he’d been hiding all the time.

But all these thoughts and images weren’t fully formed, they were a jumbled set of apprehensions that hit me almost simultaneously with John’s news. In the next instant, I had a sudden vision of the two WTC towers toppling over and falling into the other buildings in downtown New York, crushing them as in some ghastly game of giant dominos. So the first question I asked John when I could get my suddenly dry mouth to function was, “How did the towers fall? Did they fall over and smash other buildings?

John didn’t know the answer. The reason he didn’t know was that the family television set had recently been unplugged and stored away, deemed too distracting for the kids, who’d been having some trouble in school lately. This meant that John had no visuals, and so he couldn’t answer my question.

And then John left to get his daughter, and I was left alone with my thoughts.

I had always been glad I’d been born after World War II because I had a sense that the stress of those horrific war years would have taken a terrible toll on me. I had often wondered whether I could have handled such a lengthy time of deep uncertainty about whether the forces of good or evil (not that I really thought in those terms ordinarily, but WWII did seem to present a stark choice of that type) would triumph. I wondered about the sense of impending doom and personal danger that a worldwide war with so many casualties would have entailed, especially in those early years when it wasn’t going very well for the Allies.

I’d known war, of course–most particularly, Vietnam. But as much as that war had affected me personally by affecting those I loved, and as much as I’d been upset by all the killing and struggle, the actual fighting had been far away “over there,” and in a relatively small area of the globe.

From the very first moment that John had told me the news of 9/11, there had been no real doubt in my mind that the attacks had been the work of terrorists. There had also been no doubt that this was something very different from what had gone before.

But why was that difference so clear? After all, there had been terrorist attacks before that had killed hundreds of people at a time. There had even been a previous attack on the World Trade Center, and I had known that the intent of the terrorists back then had been to bring the building down. So, why this feeling of something utterly new?

Each prior terrorist attack had contained elements that had allowed me to soothe and distance myself from it, and to minimize the terrorists’ intent. Most of the attacks had been overseas, or on military personnel, or both. Or, if the attack had been in this country and on civilians (both were certainly true of the previous WTC bombing), the terrorists had seemed almost comically inept and bumbling. Each attack had been horrible, but the presence of one or more of these elements had kept knowledge of what was really going on at bay.

Those planes that had crashed into the towers and toppled them on 9/11 also had smashed the nearly impenetrable wall of my previous denial. These attacks had been audacious. I could not ignore the fact that the intent of the terrorists was to be as lethal and malicious as humanly possible. The change in the scope and scale of the project made it seem as though they did indeed want to kill us all, indiscriminately, and it gave their motives even less grounding in any sort of rational thought that I could fathom, or any real strategic end. The creativity of the attacks (and I do not use that word admiringly, but the attacks were indeed an instance of thinking outside the box) made it seem that anything was possible, and that the form of future attacks could not be anticipated or even guessed at. The attacks had imitated an action/adventure movie far too well, the type of thing that had always seemed way too improbable to be true. But now it had actually happened, and the terrorists seemed to have become almost slickly competent in the split-second timing and execution of the attacks.

After John had left the house, I did a few practical things. I called my family in New York, who were all safe, though very shaken (my sister-in-law had witnessed the second crash from her balcony, and their small yard was covered with ash and papers). I managed to get to a television set and watch the videotapes, and it was then that I learned that the towers had fallen neatly, collapsing onto themselves like a planned demolition.

And then I did something impractical. I went to the ocean and sat on the rocks. It was the loveliest day imaginable. I had been alive for over fifty years at the time, and I cannot recall weather and a sky quite like that before. It added to the utter unreality of the day and my feelings. The sky was so blue as to be almost piercing, with a clarity and sharpness that seemed other-worldly. It made it feel as though the heavens themselves were speaking to us; but what were they saying?

All this clarity and purity was enhanced by the fact that there wasn’t an airplane in the sky. There were boats of all types on the bluest of oceans, the sun beamed down and made the waves sparkle, and it all seemed to have a preciousness and a beauty that came with something that might soon be irretrievably lost.

I thought there might be more attacks, bigger attacks, and soon. So I might as well enjoy the sky. I wondered whether I should go ahead with a house purchase I was about to make. I wondered whether it mattered. But most of all, I wondered why the attacks had happened.

I’d studied human behavior for a good many years, but I can honestly say there was a tremendous and unfathomable mystery here. I had always been a curious person, but the amount of time and effort I had spent studying world history or political movements had been relatively minor. I’d been more interested in literature and art, psychology and science.

Now, and quite suddenly, I wanted to learn what had happened, why, and what we might need to do about it. In fact, I felt driven to study these things, in the way that a person suddenly faced with the diagnosis of a terminal illness might want to learn everything possible about that disease, even if they’d had no interest whatsoever in it before. Samuel Johnson has written that the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. A terrorist attack on this scale had focused the mind wonderfully, too. That was, perhaps, its only benefit.

Even on that very first day, as I sat on the rocks overlooking the beautiful ocean that I loved so much, I thought we had entered a new era, one which would probably go on for most of my lifetime however much longer I might live. The fight would be long and hard, and there would be many many deaths before it was over. Perhaps it would result in the end of civilization as we knew it–yes, my thoughts went that far on that day. This war would encompass most of the globe. I had no idea how it would work out, but I knew that we were in for the fight of our lives.

The legal actions of the past–the puny trial after the first World Trade Center attack, for example–no longer seemed like an effective response. It seemed, in retrospect, to have been almost laughably naive. The situation didn’t even seem amenable to a conventional war. Something new would have to be invented, and fast. And it would have to be global. It would have to have great depth and breadth, and it would probably last for decades or even longer.

So for me the day began with an emotional intensity–a stunning shock that very quickly was matched by a cognitive intensity as well. It now seemed to be no less than a matter of life and death to learn, as best I could, what was going on. I knew it wasn’t up to me to solve this; I had no power and no influence in the world. But still something drove me, with a force that was almost relentless, to pursue knowledge and understanding about this event. The pursuit of this knowledge no longer seemed discretionary or abstract, it seemed both necessary and deeply, newly personal.

[Trackback to this Mudville Gazette post featuring photos of the World Trade Center on 9/11.]

[ADDENDUM: for Part VIB, go here.]

37 Responses to “A mind is a difficult thing to change: Part 6A (9/11: the watershed)”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Anon 8:15;

    I get the impression you were trying to be serious, however you ended up being unintentionally quite humorous. If, however, your post was meant to be satirical you can ignore my response.

    You make the satement, “big showy events always impress the simple folk”. So I take it that you are so “complex” that 9/11 was like any other boring day to you… Really? And you dare to admonish others that they neeed to “grow up and learn to think and act more rationally.” The irony is priceless!

    “Fear is the mindkiller”. Hey, I think I got that fortune cookie too. I got one you might like, “A life without fear is a short one.”

    You have the rambling dissociated writing style of a juvenile. (Just thought I’d point that out in case none of your English profs ever did.)

    If you are a teenager (or English is your second language), I apologize for being so condescending. You will mature, and writing English gets better with practice.

    If you are an adult, native English speaker, all I can say is, oh my… (Anything else would be rude).

    But please continue to post. The terrified, trembling neos need a good laugh now and then.

    Gotta run. Need to go light candles at my Bush altar. If I don’t, he’ll send the 9/11 boogey-man after me! >;)

  2. Anonymous Says:

    After reading this article, I can only conclude that you neocons are pretty much a bunch of weak, insecure, frightened little rabbits, not to mention living in a bubble if you previously thought death and destruction a la “9/11″ could never affect your lives, despite the fact that thousands of people undergo similar life-changing trauma every day everywhere in the world. But big showy events always impress the simple folk. And when people are afraid, they don’t think clearly and rationally. And angry people will lash out at the nearest target. So the scared and angry US invaded Afghanistan and the Taliban was taken out. Good riddance. But how many utterly innocent Afghani men, women, and children, died or were maimed for life in the attacks on that country? And how about the thousands of dead and wounded innocent Iraqis, and all the lives uprooted and shattered for no good reason? Do you ever think about that and feel bad for the unspeakable horror and trauma they and their surviving relatives face? Or do only American lives matter to you? And, by the way, did the invasion and attack on Afghanistan result in the arrest and punishment of the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, Osama himself? Wasn’t he going to be smoked out and brought to justice? He isn’t on the radar much anymore, is he? I suspect he has served his purpose as the Bush cabal’s bogeyman. He’s no longer needed since all it takes to keep you neocons scared and hiding behind Bush’s skirts is to keep saying “9/11, 9/11″.

    I think you all need to reexamine your psyches and try to figure out why you are so easily manipulated, and then maybe you can grow up and learn to think and act more rationally.

    Fear is the mindkiller.

  3. benning Says:

    Neo-neo, when is the next installment due? This is as bad as waiting for Rowling’s next installment of Potter!

    I enjoy your blog and visit it often! Write On!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    The most damaging result of 911 is that it has turned so many reasonable Americans into fascist reactionaries who think that any response (Iraq) is better than no response, effectiveness and appropriateness (not to mention unintended consequences) be damned.

    I welcomed the invasion of Afghanistan. It was appropriate and effective. But Bush foolishly played into the hands of the enemy when he attacked Iraq. What a fool. He is Bin Laden best weapon.

  5. strawman Says:

    The reason why Al-Qaeda has not activated their cells in America, giving us time to seek and destroy them, is because Al-Qaeda cannot afford to lose the support of the Syrian, Iranian, and certain Saudi Arabian elements.

    I’m trying to understand this argument. Are you saying that if Al-Qaeda were to attack America now, they would lose support of their allies?

    By the way, I do understand how my comments here may seem to be both unpatriotic and giving support to our enemies. However, I think my views are fairly representative of a large number of Americans who want the best for their country just as you do.

    It’s rare the two sides ever exchange ideas rather than insults. I hope we can keep it on that level.

  6. strawman Says:

    Given that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz signed the letter urging Clinton to invade Iraq in 1998, I think I’m correct in saying that invading Iraq WAS an agenda of the Bush administration. It wasn’t technically “secret” because the information was available, but it certainly wasn’t made public.

    I hope I’m wrong, but I think the American economy is actually pretty fragile. We don’t have the manufacturing capabilities of other countries, we’re losing our technological advantage, we are in debt to our competitors, we’re competing with countries who are NOT at war, and our economy is highly dependent on cheap oil.

    I’m not trying to be gloomy, I’m just trying to be realistic.

    I shed no tears for Saddam Hussein, but I still maintain that:

    1) he was not particularly a threat to us, and our leaders knew it.

    2) reducing our dependence on foreign oil should have been the priority.

    Estimates I’ve seen show ANWAR providing maybe a year of oil at best. It probably will be drilled eventually but rather than despoiling more wilderness, why not first raise fuel economy?

  7. Ymarsakar Says:

    I’m not saying that because we’re at war in Iraq we can’t do anything else, but it has drained our resources and been a huge distraction.

    I would have thought most Americans would have wanted the terroists to be distracted from attacking America.

    It’d be stupid to do a straight line thrust at an enemy without 1 or 5 feints.

    And the pro civil rights people, the Libertarians, should also be pleased, because less attacks on American soil means no fear mongering to remove civil rights.

    All wars are a distraction. It all depends on what particular part of your life was distracted. If you were a terroist, it would be one thing. If you were British/French/German, it would be another. Iraq, still another. Iranian, still another. American, yet another.

    CIVIL TRUTH

    Unfortunately, our political leadership gives us mixed messages: on the one hand, they say we are at war; but on the other hand they fail to call for any sacrifice or change in our lifestyle, telling us to continue consuming away — like the world in the time of Noah, ignoring the warning, eating and drinking away until their doom abruptly came to pass…

    That’s cause Bush doesn’t want to seem like Hitler, giving rah rah KILL ALL THEM ARAB speeches.

    But why did we invade Iraq? Did we need to prove anything else to the Arab world?

    Ya, we did, we needed to prove we had the will to tell the parasites in the UN to pock off.

    Coincidentally, it also proved that if you had enough money to bribe France, Russia, and China, you could stall us long enough to go into hiding, cook up an insurgency, and remove any incriminating evidence as well.

    The reason why Al-Qaeda has not activated their cells in America, giving us time to seek and destroy them, is because Al-Qaeda cannot afford to lose the support of the Syrian, Iranian, and certain Saudi Arabian elements. When they saw us invade Iraq, they realized we weren’t just hitting back, we were launching a counter-offensive. With Afghanistan, everyone knew what we were going to do, and didn’t bother to stop us cause they didn’t care about Afghanistan. But they did care about a fellow dictator next to their borders. A lot.

    Frankly, if the Middle East weren’t the location of most of the world’s oil, I’m not sure we’d care about Israel anymore than we cared about Tibet.

    Only children, and child-adults complain about the state of the world. Adults face up to the world and do something about it.

    The often spoken “Life isn’t fair” was not meant for adults, but for children. In the hopes that children will grow up to be resposible adults, that while they may not like the situation, will focus their mouth on solving it instead of restating the obvious.

    A guy with chemical weapons, good or evil, will always have power over the farmer with some plows and sticks. That’s just reality, you don’t have to like it, you just have to accept it and find ways to overcome it. You may die in the doing, but that’s the risk of living.

    ANWAR is not a major source of oil in comparison, contrary to what many people think.

    Given that there’s no drilling there, of course. Oil in the ground don’t do us no good, contrary to what many people think, it needs to be refined.

    * It was a secret agenda of the administration before 9-11

    Honestly, that’s fake. Bush doesn’t have enough guts to plan a war ahead of time before 9/11, Bush doesn’t even have enough guts to tell Governor Blanco to to resign and take over her state before the hurricane hit, during the hurricane, and some time after the hurricane.

    And you’re telling me he had the guts to plan “a war against a foreign country” before 9/11?

    Oh, the military comes up with war plans all day long, but it sure as heck wasn’t no “secret agenda” of the Bushies.

    * It has left us more financially strapped than before

    Heard that before.

    4% of our national GDP…=financially strapped. Haw haw, tell another one.

    Given that we were spending more than 25% of GDP in WWII, the phrase “it has left us more financially strapped” is dubious. When you say before, you must mean before when it was lower than 4%, like in Clinton’s days.

    The military and the CIA warned against it, and were ignored by leaders with no military experience

    If you value the military and the CIA so much, why don’t you elect them to run the government instead of civilians like Abraham Lincoln?

    It has bolstered the claims of Osama that we’re an imperialistic force that doesn’t care about Muslim lives

    It has bolstered world wide good will among Muslims and other freedom loving people, such that when 9/11 happened, everyone snickered and felt secretly pleased. But when Katrina happens, everyone is now sending us AID.

    Eemphasizing the enemy’s accomplishments like we’re been sitting around eating twinkies, may not be the wisest of actions. For one thing, it kills morale, and without morale, nobody wants to fight.

    “I shot him because I suspected he had a gun and was planning to shoot me” wouldn’t hold up in court as a defense without some very good evidence to support the claim.

    The War on Terror isn’t a police matter.

  8. strawman Says:

    >There is a planted axiom that the
    >war in Iraq prevents other
    >activities.

    It’s always interesting to discover that what you thought was an original thought turns out to be someone else’s talking point. However, I don’t think this idea was planted in my head. I’m not saying that because we’re at war in Iraq we can’t do anything else, but it has drained our resources and been a huge distraction. Army enlistment is seriously down. Our deficit is seriously up. I believe that our response to Katrina would have been more adequate if we weren’t in Iraq.

    The idea that we should be invading countries before they become serious threats to us is very old school. If we’re going to do that, I think we need to be prepared to plunder openly – otherwise we’re not going to be able to financially support the many invasions needed to take out our enemies, or economically compete with Europe and Asia (which are not spending their resources on war). There’s also the danger that we overextend ourselves and leave us open to attack, or will be made vulnerable by another natural disaster.

    There are many fanatic Islamic terrorists who want to kill us. There are also many more moderates who want peace. On the one hand, appearing weak in the face of attack will encourage the fanatics. On the other hand, pre-emptive strikes by this country would seem to push more moderates towards becoming extremists. A few extremists can cause a lot of damage. I don’t see a simple answer to this question, and so tend to err on the side of that that doesn’t kill people and leave us financially strapped.

    Back to oil. It is a limited resource (the idea that it’s always going to run out 30 years from now is a bit of wishful thinking), its use seems to have dire consequences on the environment and the people who live in it, we are dependent on it to the point where it’s a national security issue, and most of it is in other countries. For many reasons, we need to end our reliance on petroleum. We could become a model of conservation and alternative energy sources, selling cheap solar panels (invented here) to the world, or we could just keep putting our energy into trying to police the oil-rich states in the Middle East and buying oil from anti-American facists like the Saudis. Before invading Iraq, the President could have announced a Manhattan project to break our dependence on foreign oil. Now, after Iraq and Katrina? People are feeling far too pinched.

  9. Richard Aubrey Says:

    There is a planted axiom that the war in Iraq prevents other activities.
    In fact, we are doing various things about harbor security.
    Search for “Caspian Guard”, and see a couple of items.
    We are fighting, one way or another, in eighty countries.
    The oil reserves always are about thirty years out. That’s because it does not pay oil companies to look for more reserves than that. However, it’s been thirty years for about sixty years.
    One part of the Downing Street memo tells us that the British commanders were concerned about the use of WMD and its effect on the tempo of operations. They took it seriously.

    The only thing that our operation in Iraq has made difficult is an invasion of Iran. If we had, alternatively, invaded Iran, we’d be stuck worrying about Iraq’s capacity to bother us in Iran, and their plans for WMD of various types.
    We don’t have enough ground forces to invade both at the same time.
    I don’t know what we’ll do about Iran. They lost so many guys against Iraq that they did what the soviets did after WW II, and for similar reasons. They provided financial incentives for large families. The result is a huge percentage of the population just becoming young adults, and they’re unhappy with the theocracy. Hoping they can take care of business is possibly a useful hope, but I hope we have a Plan B.

  10. strawman Says:

    I’m not sure if I do agree with the concept of pre-emptive strikes. “I shot him because I suspected he had a gun and was planning to shoot me” wouldn’t hold up in court as a defense without some very good evidence to support the claim.

    Nevertheless, in some cases I can see how it is justified – Israel attacking nuclear facilities in neighboring countries, for example. Can’t really argue with the practicality and justification for that.

    On questions of policy, I think there are shades of gray.

    There doesn’t seem to be much justification for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. I actually expected them to have WMD, and I still thought the cost would exceed the benefit. The Downing Street memos show that the people in the know didn’t believe Iraq had WMD. The CIA estimated before the attack that invading Iraq would increase rather than decrease the threat of another terrorist attack against America.

    My conclusion is that the invasion of Iraq was far from a “last resort”, but was driven by the ideology of the PNAC, which is all about maintaining America’s military and economic dominance.

    I see this as a losing battle, and one that leads us away from our moral compass. Invading Iraq sapped our strength. We have massive debt to China, and they are rapidly building up their own military. We may in fact be a fading superpower.

    So what should be our response to all of this? Nothing? Curl up and die? Just wait to get hit again? That’s not what I’m suggesting.

    First, we’ve heard for years that a nuclear bomb could be smuggled in through our ports. Buy some damn geiger counters and hire some people to scan containers. In other words, put our resources into security where it counts.

    Next, global climate change is likely to be a bigger threat than terrorism – this according to the Pentagon. We may not be able to stop it, but we should prepare for it. Dead is dead, whether through a terrorist attack or through drowning. We have a limited amount of resources to prepare ourselves with.

    Back to oil. One was in which we encourage anti-American Islamic facists is to buy their oil. Most of the 9-11 hijaakers were Saudis, let’s not forget. It’s going to take a while to wean ourselves off oil, and I think we need a national effort.

    How about this for a tone, “we’re mad as hell, and we’re going to do everything we can to stop buying your oil.”

    Actually, fossil fuels were formed over hundreds of millions of years. The industrial revolution is pretty young, and we are by most estimates halfway through our petroleum reserves, with demand accelerating.

    People were warning about the end of oil in the 70′s. Their estimates were off, but their point remains. And fuel economy on average hasn’t increased since then. So we’re not paying attention, and we’re dependent on a resource that is mostly in other countries controlled by people who are hostile to us. This isn’t good.

  11. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Either you agree with the concept of pre-emption or you do not.

    If you do not, then we must always wait to be hit, and must then meter our response so that we only strike back at the actual perps, leaving whatever situation that sent them in place.

    If you do, then the only question is what justifies pre-emption, which is a prudential question, since we’ve already dealt with the morality and philosophy.

    Bush and his advisers believe we are at risk as long as militant Islam has a series of tyrannies in which to hide, and tyrannies which breed the fanaticism.
    You either agree or you do not.
    If you agree, you agree that we need to move first in various ways, or, if you do not we, although knowing what’s coming, must wait until it comes.

    The Iraq op has some other benefits. Ghaddafi, watching SH pulled out of his cave, invited us to take his nuke program away, which included some hundreds of tons of mustard gas nobody knew about. Some of his nuke stuff was a surprise, too. It allowed us to “walk back” to this Khan guy frm Pakistan who’s the mad nuclear scientist running Nukes’rUS.
    Since Bush had taken the Homs option away–by threat–Assad had to let the Cedar Revolution go forward.
    The mad mullahs of Iran are in the saddle, but it’s shaky, although the EU’s attempts to stop their nuke production did exactly what you’d expect the EU to accomplish. But the society is roiling.
    Egypt had its first contested election in forever, and, although it was fraudulent, Mubarak has had to give, and will have to give more in the future. His son will have to plan for other employment.
    Without the Iraq op, the likelihood that this state of affairs would have come this far is small.

    I am reminded,when people talk of other sources of energy, of the stereotypical businessman who, when told a new development would take six scientists a year, said, put twelve guys on it and get it done in six months. I am also reminded of the law of conservation of matter and energy
    Not to mention the resistance to nuclear power.
    We are currently drawing, in coal, oil, and natural gas, on an energy bank laid down over tens of millions of years. We have enormous deposits–in several senses–from which to make our withdrawals. Anything besides nuclear power is drawing on today’s deposit for today’s withdrawal. The balance is not favorable. By “deposit” I mean solar energy. It causes rain which allows hydro, it causes wind which turns windmills, it grows plants which allow for, say, ethanol.

    Having a plan for taking out SH is not a bad thing. Many have said it should have been done in 1991, and they are right, although the practical issues were serious. To say that since he skated in 1991, we have to leave him alone in perpetuity is silly.

    The Islamofascists don’t want the west out of the Middle East. They want the world. Take their word for it.
    OBL spoke of the tragedy of el-Andaluz, which is how he thinks of the Reconquista. He wants it back. If they had it once, they have a right to it now. And they’ll kill you to get it.
    If they didn’t have it, they want it, anyway.
    It isn’t oil that causes Islamic fanatics to kill in the Phillipines, or to kill Christians and Buddhists in southern Thailand.
    It was the Australian role in stopping the Muslim on Christian genocide in East Timor that was the stated major reason for the Bali bombing.

    The neat thing about our current situation is that we don’t have to make stuff up about what our enemies want. They tell us. The problem is in believing them.

    I would say that the difference between liberals and conservatives on this issue is that the conservatives tend to believe them.

  12. strawman Says:

    Let me correct my last statement – that should have read “no combat experience.”

    Read the letter from the PNAC, and then this excerpt from the Downing Street Memo:

    “The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.”

    I have a problem with this.

  13. strawman Says:

    First of all, I appreciate the thoughtfulness you bring to this discussion and I respect your conclusions, although I don’t agree with them.

    9-11 was the work of religious and nationalist fanatics who want to drive the West out of the Middle East and are willing to kill innocent civilians to serve their cause. These are bad people. We need to stop them, and we need to stop bolstering their claims.

    Now, we needed to respond to 9-11 to show we can’t be hit without hitting back. Boom, we took out the Taliban. But why did we invade Iraq? Did we need to prove anything else to the Arab world?

    Here were the reasons that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz (among others) gave for invading Iraq back in 1998:

    http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm

    A large part of their argument concerns Saddam gaining access to weapons, but there’s also the phrase “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil” that keeps sticking out for me.

    Frankly, if the Middle East weren’t the location of most of the world’s oil, I’m not sure we’d care about Israel anymore than we cared about Tibet.

    Bush’s message to the Iraqi people included the words “do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people”.

    This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the U.S. is highly dependent on petroleum. There’s a limited amount, and we’re using it at a higher rate than ever before. The world wants it too. This is the wealth of the Middle East. ANWAR is not a major source of oil in comparison, contrary to what many people think.

    The downside is climate change, unless you believe in a vast conspiracy of climatologists not employed by the petroleum industry. The costs of climate change may make Al Queda seem like a pesky fly.

    My major problems with the Iraqi war are:

    * It was a secret agenda of the administration before 9-11
    * It has left us more financially strapped than before
    * The military and the CIA warned against it, and were ignored by leaders with no military experience
    * It has bolstered the claims of Osama that we’re an imperialistic force that doesn’t care about Muslim lives

    Sure, there are big upsides to it too. Saddam is gone, and Iraq has a hope of stability.

    Unfortunately, we’re kind of screwed. If we had taken the money and human-power that went into the war on Iraq and put it into developing alternative, renewable forms of energy, we wouldn’t be so dependent on the Middle East – or on Venezuela, for that matter. We also might be helping to stave off climate change. The time to work on this is yesterday, in my opinion.

  14. civil_truth Says:

    For me, 9/11 was the gut-level proof that real, objective evil exists in this world. That means then that the war of good vs. evil, right & wrong, is not simply children’s naivity.

    Too many continue to follow the fashionable illusion of believing that everything is gray, because that is the path of least resistance that lets us drift along in denial.

    Unfortunately, our political leadership gives us mixed messages: on the one hand, they say we are at war; but on the other hand they fail to call for any sacrifice or change in our lifestyle, telling us to continue consuming away — like the world in the time of Noah, ignoring the warning, eating and drinking away until their doom abruptly came to pass…

    Thus it falls to each of us as individuals to decide: “What then shall I do”

  15. thedragonflies Says:

    Unfortunately we are at war, and even more unfortunately the front line is the hearts and minds of voting Americans, and most unfortunately the front line warriors are Americans who are trying to keep America from defending itself. I can’t think of them as enemies, but they certainly are “useful fools.”

    Unfortunately.

  16. WichitaBoy Says:

    Judith,

    We’re our own worst enemy. The terrorists still swarming into Iraq can be swatted like a fly militarily–but they’re carrying their war into America’s bedrooms. They’re playing for the Western cameras. If the Western cameras weren’t so eager to destroy the West there wouldn’t be a problem. In all wars, it’s the perception of reality that really matters. The real war is here.

  17. Judith Says:

    PS I also want to say that it wasn’t a shock and I immediately knew it was Bin Laden because I had been following the slow but inexorable growth of Intifada II and antisemitism for the past year. I already knew about MEMRI and the fakeness of the Muhammad al-Dura shooting and Wahabism, etc.

    9-11 took place about 10 days after the infamous UN Durban conference.

    So I was enraged and sickened by the enormity of it all, but much more frightened by the sheer amount of head-in-the-sand apologist spin, which began less than 24 hours after the event. I thought, now everyone will see what has been going on, and way too many people still refused to see. I did not expect that to be SO pervasive, and that gave me more of a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach than the actual attack did.

  18. Judith Says:

    “You don’t know what happened, do you?”

    I had a similar experience. I am a night owl and was working at home, and I don’t have a TV. I get on my computer about 10:30 AM and a friend calls to tell me that an evening class at our synagogue we were both taking had been cancelled “because of what happened.”

    “What happened?” I asked.

    Later I had to return something to Best Buy anyway and I stood in front of 20 wide-screen TVs for 3 hours watching the news.

  19. paulfrommpls Says:

    Anonymous referred to the work of the internal morons as “termitic.” It’s an image I’ve thought of before, in the context of comparing the damaging effects on their respective political parties of the religious right and the anti-American left.

    For the Republicans, the worst elements of the religious right are like the crazy aunt in the attic. Everybody knows she’s there, she’s largely under control, she’s even charming in way as long as you keep an eye on her.

    But for the Democrats, the anti-American left’s useful fools are, yes, like termites, of which the homeowner remains bllissfully unaware, in spite of signs they really should notice. In particular, the termites have eaten into the philosphical substructure of the house so much, there really is almost nothing left.

    Of course, the harmfulness of the drift is by definition, for the adherents, impossible. They’re intelligent. They’re compassionate. They’re never not those things. What is everyone talking about?

  20. gatorbait Says:

    I was working at our ATC facility at the time. When then the first plane hit , we thought something had happened to his altimeter. When the second one hit, we knew it was an attack. Withing 4 hours of the first impact, we had the skies cleared. Not until maybe the day after did we have the time to absorb it ,. Most of us are vwets from a long time passed and all of us were ready to go. We were told stay in place,we were needed on phones and radios and radars. Not until Katrina hit us have I ever been as busy in my air traffic career.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    Like “meander”, I too fear we lack the will to prevail. The rot within is far advanced, and in saving ourselves we perforce save the rotten to continue their termitic work.
    I have lived through a golden era of astonishing progress in medicine and fear I have lived to see the end of a golden era for mankind as well. My poor children.

  22. Michael Babbitt Says:

    You describe the emotions and their historical imagery so well. I too split with my Leftist past on that day. Leftism today does indeed seem like a mental disorder based upon a dogged denial of real threats and the corresponding lack of ability to prioritize and appreciate threats. Thank you for your lucidity and ability to articulate so well.

  23. Fred Says:

    Beautifully stated, Neo-neocon.

    I wouldn’t say that 9/11 meant a political conversion for my part. However, it did sharpen my convictions about combating totalitarianism in whatever shape it may occur.

    I live in Sweden, and I too remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the terrible news. That whole evening (we got the news in the afternoon in Sweden) I felt we (I guess the West or even the civilized World…) were under attack. I truly felt as though World War III had begun, and that we (again, as children of Western-style democracy with roots in the Enlightenment)now were in a state of war.

    The thing that shocked and horrified me the most after the atrocity itself, was that only a few days after the USA was attacked, people around me and in the media started saying things like: “they had it coming”, explaining the bloodshed of innocent lives as the justified reaction of the victims of “US imperialism”. Now, as we all know, this kind of cant has only grown (especially in connection with the Iraq war)in both the US and Europe.

    It makes me sad, frustrated and angry that so many people (and not only the loony Left and religious Right — but also otherwise sensible people on the liberal Left)still trot out anti-Western, anti-democrati and objectively pro-fascist, pro-terrorist and pro-totalitarian propaganda.

    This is why it’s so good to know that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of blogs like this around the world. That we are not alone and that we can make our voices heard.

    I agree fully with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (one of the greatest statesmen of our time), who after the 7/7 attacks in London said that 9/11 was a wake-up call for many people, but that too many turned over and went back to sleep again.

    It isn’t over yet. Our democratic and humanistic values which have evolved for the past 300 years or so cannot be taken for granted. They must be defended in all times, at all costs.

    And I believe that our fervent belief and strong convictions will in the end prevail.

  24. meander Says:

    A very compelling and evocative post….can’t help but take a reader into their own set of memories of that day.I was in the routine of riding my horse between 9am-10am and I made myself do it after watching some television coverage. It was such a stunningly perfect day weatherwise and as we trotted through fall kissed trails in our woods, I kept thinking of the desperation and horror that made people jump and found tears blurring my vision. It seemed so wrong that I could do what I was doing.Had to return to the barn, put the horse out to pasture,and go inside and watch and watch and think.I don’t believe the survival instincts of our citizenry were activated enough and, deep down, I’m not sure we’re going to win this one. It seems like half the country and much of the MSM doesn’t really get it and that does not bode well. In fact, much of the world is an enabler of islamic fascism because of the complicated ties of financial interests. After we fight the good fight and are in a respite, the unending wave of Chinese will probalbly get us.I worry for the younger generations.

  25. Paul Says:

    I think that Katrina will impact our nation for years to come and in fact may alter the political landscape in Louisian and Texas due to refugees. This natural disaster and human disaster will shake the halls in Washington. A lot of people will be painted with Katrina’s brush. The response to the storm has some Americans asking hard questions that will not go away and this calamity cannot be managed by political spin doctors. Federal, state and local officials are going to have their feet put to the fire before the smoke clears.

  26. an unrepentant kulak Says:

    Thank you, Neo. Reading others’ stories of the day certainly seems to help the healing process. I look forward to Part B.

  27. chris Muir Says:

    Clearly said.

  28. Richard Aubrey Says:

    It is said that August of 1914 was particularly beautiful in Britain, as was September of 1939. And many say the same of our 9-11.

    Rebecca West mentioned something about it, making it even more poignant seeing people stop to look at roses or children, as if thinking, “This is how it is. This is how to remember it when we go down into the dark.”

    She also said that, even after having been taught to be pacifists and appeasers, they picked back up their old courage and found it handled well, as if–said another–it was an old and well-known spear.

    Try her “Black Lamb and Gray Falcon”. It’s a good weekend’s read. If you stick to the preface and suffix.

    Gavin Lyall said that courage is a wasting asset. Better combine fatalism and a determination not to die of stupid. The bastards are going to have to work for it, and the (few, if any) survivors among them won’t think it was worth it.

  29. Promethea Says:

    My reaction to 9/11 was similar to yours, neo-neocon, and I too was in an idyllic place that seemed laughably far from the beginning of WW3.

    My greatest regret, since that awful day, is to discover the huge numbers of idiotarians and anti-Americans who work ceaselessly in the MSM and Democratic party to undermine the war effort. (Writing here as a lifelong Democrat until 2004 election.)

    I also regret that we haven’t made it clearer to our enemies, of which we have many, that the U.S. is “no better friend, and no worse enemy.”

    The leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, etc. still don’t believe this. They should be more afraid of us than they are. We’re doing something wrong. Looking weak and wishy-washy will only lead to more violence and destruction.

  30. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    My political conversion had taken place earlier, but I remember thinking “This might be the beginning of the death of us,” meaning, I think, my culture as personified in my children.

    Let’s not pick on poor Vlad, though. He learned the shock and awe method of intimidating one’s enemies with heads on pikes from his years of living with the Turks. His dramatic intimidations were in response to the continued invasions by the Ottomans in the 15th C.

    The Crusades actually went on for a thousand years (700-1700), and Europe played defense for 95% of it. The countries of SE Europe, Romania particularly, absorbed many Arab invasions. Both Vlads are remembered as heroes in Romanian history. They labored thanklessly as far as Western Europe was concerned.

  31. TmjUtah Says:

    PIMF -

    I meant “Johnson”.

  32. TmjUtah Says:

    It was indeed a watershed – and the common thread I see connecting many neo-type cons is the realization that neo mentioned here: that our responses to the previous attacks stretching back over decades were indeed insufficient to the threat.

    Nice of you to mention Johnston, too. There is no crime in clinging to innocence in one’s youth but the marker for adulthood is accepting the world for what it is, and then functioning within it. That so many purported adults (many of them in politics and on the national stage) even today cling to a world that never existed outside their wants, wishes, or ambitions is pretty sad.

    We’ve got to beat fundamentalist Islam. It will take beating our eternal children, too, to make it stick.

  33. Steve J. Says:

    The situation didn’t even seem amenable to a conventional war.

    Correct. That’s why there is no reason to be in Iraq.

  34. Richmond Says:

    Great post. I believe that Sept. 11th was the catalyst for many changed minds — I only hope that our will remains steady….

  35. Tom Grey Says:

    You write so emotionally about rationality, and emotions, and their interaction; it’s truly beautiful. (I’m so jealous).

    “Perhaps it would result in the end of civilization as we knew it–yes, my thoughts went that far on that day.”

    I’m sure it will be an end “as we know it” — it will become a World Without Dictators.

    It’s a long, hard, fight for freedom and responsibility, so as to gain self-respect.

  36. colagirl Says:

    Great post.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    Peace.

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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