Random Thoughts

Just a few immediate reactions to todays attacks on the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon...

(Although I will add to this piece over the days, I will not edit any previously written words in it, ever. I want this to be a document written and preserved in its spontaneity as it was conceived - Huw)

First, my sympathies go out to those who will carry the scars of this tragedy... the friends and relatives who will mourn and miss those who died and support and heal those injured... the people who must face the fears brought on by this incident in the course of their lives... and those for whom the shock will never truly lift. A cloud hangs over us all and I hope we can come to cope with it as best as we can.

Huw Powell

9/11 (top) - 9/12 (what we need) - 9/13 (the speech) - 9/14 (nationalism) - 9/17 (endnotes)

One thing that came to mind almost immediately as I was hearing about this attack and becomes more and more strange as the hours pass - no person or group or nation has claimed credit (that we know of) for it. I would have thought that anyone perpetrating such acts would also desire the attendant publicity for their ideas or cause, however thought out or irrational they might be, to come at this time of public concentration.

I also am amazed at the sophistication of the execution. That not merely one but two airliners could be caused somehow to collide with their civilian targets within an hour, and a third its military target, speaks of an incredibly well planned and dedicated effort. It would not only require complete secrecy in the planning, but a wide knowledge of security, architecture, and procedures, and how to obtain access to the required equipment and locations.

Which two points lead so directly to the question that must be on all our minds once we get past the horror of this tragedy - who was responsible?

Sadly, it is possible to come up with a fairly long list of potential parties who might have wanted to do this. The combination of the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers lowers the odds of a few, I suppose. It would be nice to be sitting here wondering who could possibly want to engage in a terrorist attack either within or against the United States, but of course the list of aggreived parties is rather long (whether their greivances are legitimate or not is another matter entirely).

  • Religious zealots from overseas.
  • Disgruntled ex-military loners.
  • Opponents of U.S. trade imperialism (either domestic or foreign).
  • Opponents of U.S. militarism (either domestic or foreign).
  • Any group from terrorist ravaged areas who wish to "make" the U.S. see how they live.
  • Deranged people who want to "make a mark" with no concern for their victims or the meaning of their act.
  • White South Africans with a grudge against U.S. efforts to end apartheid.
  • Anyone from anywhere angry about U.S. stands on their local issues - whether or not the U.S. stand is humanistic or imperial.
  • Bored college students... no, that's pushing it.

Any way you look at this, so many specialised skills would be needed to perpetrate an attack like this. Planning, knowledge of the buildings under attack, knowledge of airport, airline and airplane (on board) procedures, the ability to pilot the vehicles used, even the willingness to die for whatever cause prompted them to do this would be required.

We will probably never completely understand todays events, never be certain in any way that justice is served on those deemed responsible, and most sadly, our civil society will probably never be the same.

I sincerely hope that this tragedy does not provide excuses and justifications for an undermining of the civil rights and individual liberty of Americans in the years to come. I also hope I never sit down to write a file named "terror2"...

9/11/01 6:30 PM

9/11 (top) - 9/12 (what we need) - 9/13 (the speech) - 9/14 (nationalism) - 9/17 (endnotes)

What we all need now...

In parallel...

1. We need to know who did this, how they did it, and most importantly, why. Justice may or may not be possible. Revenge should not be within the range of American expression - we are a modern, humane and just nation and revenge is for barbarians.

2. We need leadership! Not jingoistic speeches of fake sorrow and angry vengeance.

We need and want a schedule. Something like this...

  • Announce a national period of holiday and mourning. Close government offices, minimise economic activity, and talk to each other. This period should last until about Sunday 9/16. While we gather our collective spirits...
  • Get the lost planes and passengers home or where they were heading.
  • Get the airlines and airports open again, ramping volume up over a few days. Since security is a big issue, make them secure. Put a martial arts-trained FBI agent or something on every plane until a long term working solution (undercover security on every plane) is established.
  • Only after the skies are once more open, let Wall Street go back to work and open the Stock Exchange - the goal targeted and acheived should be Monday morning, 9/17. We are America, the richest nation ever on this planet, surely we can take a week to catch our breath without a silly, unnecessary crash?

9/12/01 10 PM

9/11 (top) - 9/12 (what we need) - 9/13 (the speech) - 9/14 (nationalism) - 9/17 (endnotes)

The speech I wish we could be led by (poorly written but heartfelt nonetheless):

"This is the voice of America. We are Americans, proud of our land of the free and our beloved home of the brave.

At this most critical hour in our nation's history, it is our mandate to be brave in order that we might remain free. We will fly again, for no one can scare us out of our own airports. We will trade again, and do business, for no one can stop our economic spirit.

We will be vigilant in defense of our liberties, scrupulous in the pursuit of those who would try to assault them, and dignified in our meting out of justice to all. We will stand as an example for the world, and the coming century, as we hold our heads high in this time of great sadness. We will show that mankind can live together without vindictiveness, pettiness, or prejudice.

We will not stoop to racism, to profiling, or to blind vengefulness. We will stand for justice and liberty. Justice will be served as we have learned to pursue it, based on clear and compelling evidence and an orderly presentation and consideration of the facts. Punishment will be harsh if necessary but humane. Liberty will not be compromised - in fact, at this time, I call on all Americans to rise to the challenge of Liberty!

I call on all Americans to put away their differences and remember and honor their humanity. We have all suffered a grievous injury, but we will never be caused by mere acts of violence to relinquish our values - our values which we hold dear and hold before the world as a beacon to light the way to the future of mankind.

Freedom must be celebrated, even when it costs us dear. Although today we are stunned and pained by the cost of our freedom, we will not let one shred of it be torn away, in fact we will make our stand today for the freedom, liberty, honor and dignity of all humans all over the planet. We will fight to increase our liberty, not shirk its duties to be brave. We will look at ourselves; and I ask every one of you to look at yourselves, your neighbors, your friends, your loved ones and the strangers you encounter, and say 'to be free I must honor my brothers freedom as if it were my own.' We will look at ourselves as a nation of laws and decide, do we have laws that limit our freedom, to speak, to gather, to live and work and travel as we please? And if we find such foolish bows to security, we will undo them and restore our greatest might: To be the land that is brave enough to stay free.

Thank you."

9/13/01 3 AM

Dry your tears, America... but do not forget to shed them first. The solution here lies not with warlike bluster and hollow vengeance, but in reaching out, to every man, woman and child in the world. It is time we showed the world how much love, not hate, a free people can be capable of. Otherwise, what is the point? What is our point? What is so "right" about America if we cannot set an example of what grace freedom lets us live with? Freedom to be ignorant savages? Freedom to lower ourselves to our basest, hungry selves? There must be more to it or we are no better than those who smite us... can we not hold our heads high and say this is what man can achieve when he allows himself to be free. Dignity... please allow us dignity in our mourning that we may be dignified in our future. Those who would lash out in anger have not taken the first tiny step to earning and enjoying the freedom of which we are so proud, for they live in the chains of their least sensitive emotions. Let them keep their hate to themselves in this week of mourning, for we who have struggled to live as free people, free to be ourselves, must mourn. Now I think I know how the generation before me must have felt when John Kennedy was killed.

6 AM

9/11 (top) - 9/12 (what we need) - 9/13 (the speech) - 9/14 (nationalism) - 9/17 (endnotes)

I am getting a little nervous now. Today has seen a huge outpouring of nationalistic sentiment. Flag desecration is rampant (I just saw a flag draped from a car's open trunk lid down over its bumper, at night with no lighting...). This is a very fragile situation and could all too easily get ugly. I can only hope that a great deal of the energies are those of mourning for those who have and will suffer, and support for the rescue teams and those charged with getting our financial and air traffic systems operational again.

What I worry is that the baser elements of human nature will be encouraged too much by the political leadership in a cheap jingoistic grab for popularity and power. These elements, once fired up and solidified, will permit almost any atrocities to pass. The rounding up and internment of those Americans of Middle Eastern descent may or may not happen - a belated effort from the White House to minimise this sort of activity has at least come forth - the mass desire to seek retribution somehow, somewhere pushes for and allows a sort of clumsy, ill-thought out military adventurism that can only bring more problems to our world.

We cannot exactly send the Marines into Afghanistan to capture a man we think is responsible, especially if he is underground even to the Afghan leadership. We cannot police the world, we can only try to help anyone anywhere who is victimised as we were. We cannot prevent terrorism by killing, but only by helping defuse the worldwide political situations which lead to terrorist acts. Some of these, unfortunately, are even of our doing, whether intentionally or not. Others are the result of centuries or millenia old feuds, or desperate, modern struggles for survival in the "third world."

A poorly focused outpouring of national anger and desire for revenge is liable to create a world that is not safer but more unstable. I hope it does not come to this in the next few weeks...

9/14/01 11:30 PM

9/11 (top) - 9/12 (what we need) - 9/13 (the speech) - 9/14 (nationalism) - 9/17 (endnotes)

endnotes... since I am weary and emotionally exhausted from all this brouhaha...

  • Can we take it almost as a given that individuals of a Fundamentalist Islamic persuasion and probably Middle Eastern descent will be found, one way or another, to be the perpetrators? If so...

    • An old Arab proverb that I just made up goes "it is foolish to try to kill a flea in a rug with a hammer"

    • "God Bless America" may be a wonderful, feel-good sentiment, but that America is not the America that was assaulted or the America that must be defended. It is an America that actually justifies the terrorism. The America worth defending stands for freedom of conscience and religion, a country where no man fears to pursue his heart and his soul where he may find it. This might not include the "God" who is supposed to be doing this blessing... To take as a given and a first principle that some god approves and defends ones deeds and life is to feel exactly as those who committed suicide, murder, and mayhem aboard a few jet fuel laden missiles last week did about their cause.

    • Seen on a hand made sign downtown in Burlington, Vermont:
      "Timothy McVeigh was a Christian.
      We did not burn churches.
      Do not blame the innocent."

  • To stop the killing, we must kill no more. This must start somewhere, and this requires leadership. Unfortunately, the world we live in never provides an opportunity for such leadership to succeed. It is not the kind of world we live in, and it is also not what we as human beings are like. The killing will go on, life will never change. This may be a premature report, I must "look" into it further, but the sounds of people crying in the dark come from forever in the past and ever into the future... We must simply learn somehow to accomodate life to the sad reality of some aspects of what we are. To yearn for safety is dangerous, for maximum security requires a minimum of freedom - and often results in neither, as our experiments of the last century have shown. And a maximum of freedom tends to force us to live with little security. But at least this condition can yield a lot of freedom and some small securities.

A long pause for thought, people.

9/17/01 1:45 AM

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© Huw Powell

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