RantList Archive

Sunday, September 23, 2001

What Do You Have To Say For Yourself Now?

There is a healthy dissent in America about our current course of action, a dissent that is not only intrinsic to our values and our freedoms, but intrinsic to the checks and balances that keep us from drifting to extremes. I don't always agree with dissent at times like this, but I sure as hell welcome it.

The bad news is, we are on the verge of something awful, and once it happens the dissent we hear will become quickly polarized. This polarization is likely to become a serious issue, serious enough that it might soon be impossible for people on opposite sides of the fence to talk civilly with one another. This is the time, right now, to make your decision and stand by it.

If you believe, like I do, that the path we are on is the right one, admit the bad news right now: there is going to be blood and horror to come, on both sides. We will be hit again, and our losses may mount into the thousands as they have before. We will lose soldiers, perhaps quite a few of them, and some will be captured and tortured and displayed on CNN like bloody flags. There will be 'collateral damage', perhaps on a scale that the civilized world has not tolerated in a very long time. Personally, I understand that this is coming, and I still believe we are doing the right thing. When these horrors come home to roost I will not doubt myself and wonder if I should have supported something else, because they are already part of the package I've agreed to buy.

If you believe, as some on this list do, that our military should turn back, I ask you to take responsibility for your choices just as I have, and state publicly what, exactly, you think we ought to do, and what, exactly, you expect to follow from it, both good and bad. I'll post whatever you want and make it available to everyone.

Why? It's easy to say "don't do that", but much harder to say "do this instead", because only when you suggest what to do, can you be held accountable to the consequences. If you think we should not hit back, what should we do instead, and what will you say if that leads to further strike against our people? It's not enough to say "we should stop making others angry, we should stop burning oil, we should stop being capitalists" and I certainly don't want to hear "we should look deep inside ourselves". I want to know the realistic, specific plan you think we ought to follow, and I want you to own up to it.

Be willing to answer your critics; show that you have thought things through and will accept the consequences. In short, be intellectually honest. Honest dissent is fine, but whining is going to look pretty cowardly once the shit hits the fan and I won't have any patience for it.


Four news items have caught my attention lately.

1) A man arrested in Boston, described as a 'close associate' or as 'lieutenant' to Bin Laden had recently received a license to drive trucks full of hazardous materials.

2) Boxcutters and razors were found discarded in two Delta jets. These planes were in the air when two United, and two AA jets were hijacked. These Delta planes were diverted to Canada and landed immediately.

3) Among the items found in the possession of suspected terrorists arrested in the US were manuals for the use of cropdusting planes.

4) At least some of the identities used by the hijackers, and even used by the folks who bombed the WTC several years back, seem to have been obtained in a chilling way. Young Arabic men with legitimate Western ties were located in Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion, and they and their families were killed and their identifies stolen.

There are lots of rumors going around now, and I would not be surprised to learn that some of these stories were either exaggerated or even untrue. However, I have little reason to doubt that there are additional terrorists in place in our country, and that they will attempt to execute further large-scale attacks against our people. Furthermore, I will bet serious money that these attacks will be timed to occur when our military begins its work overseas, or when we celebrate our first success, or when we mourn our first failure.

That's when the war really begins.

Friday, September 21, 2001

Bush's Speech

For those of you who missed it, President Bush gave an historic speech last night that was, quite frankly, pretty goddamn good. You can find the full text at http://www.nationalreview.com/document/document092101.shtml

Excerpts are included below:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro Tempore, members of Congress, and fellow Americans, in the normal course of events, presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the union. Tonight, no such report is needed; it has already been delivered by the American people.


We have seen the state of our union in the endurance of rescuers working past exhaustion.

We've seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own.

My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of union, and it is strong.


Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.


Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking, ``Who attacked our country?''

The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda. They are some of the murderers indicted for bombing American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and responsible for bombing the USS Cole.

Al Qaeda is to terror what the Mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money, its goal is remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.

The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.

The terrorists' directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children.

This group and its leader, a person named Osama bin Laden, are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries.

They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction.

The leadership of Al Qaeda has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country. In Afghanistan we see Al Qaeda's vision for the world. Afghanistan's people have been brutalized, many are starving and many have fled.

Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough.

The United States respects the people of Afghanistan--after all, we are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid--but we condemn the Taliban regime.

It is not only repressing its own people, it is threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists.

By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder. And tonight the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban.

Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Quaeda who hide in your land.

Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens you have unjustly imprisoned. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. And hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities.

Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating. These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion.

The Taliban must act and act immediately.

They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate.

I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.

The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.

The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.


Americans are asking ``Why do they hate us?''

They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa.

These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us because we stand in their way.

We're not deceived by their pretenses to piety.

We have seen their kind before. They're the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies.


From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.


This is not, however, just America's fight. And what is at stake is not just America's freedom.

This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.

We ask every nation to join us. We will ask and we will need the help of police forces, intelligence service and banking systems around the world. The United States is grateful that many nations and many international organizations have already responded with sympathy and with support--nations from Latin America to Asia to Africa to Europe to the Islamic world.

Perhaps the NATO charter reflects best the attitude of the world: An attack on one is an attack on all. The civilized world is rallying to America's side.

They understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens may be next. Terror unanswered can not only bring down buildings, it can threaten the stability of legitimate governments.

And you know what? We're not going to allow it.


We're in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.


I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity; they did not touch its source.

America is successful because of the hard work and creativity and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11, and they are our strengths today.


Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time, now depends on us.

Our nation, this generation, will lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail.

It is my hope that in the months and years ahead life will return almost to normal. We'll go back to our lives and routines and that is good.

Even grief recedes with time and grace.

But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day and to whom it happened. We will remember the moment the news came, where we were and what we were doing. Some will remember an image of a fire or story or rescue. Some will carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever.

And I will carry this. It is the police shield of a man named George Howard who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others.

It was given to me by his mom, Arlene, as a proud memorial to her son. It is my reminder of lives that ended and a task that does not end.


Thursday, September 20, 2001

Bold Prediction

Anybody want to know what's going to happen?

I've been struggling with this one for weeks, trying to understand how air power could be put to reasonable use, how a landlocked, rugged Asian country could be subdued in a credible way, how support from our more civilized allies, both internal and external, could be sustained in the face of a prolonged and bloody conflict.

Then I stumbled upon the following article from our friends at the London Times. I don't know why, but when I read it, the little voice in my head said "Yep, that's it". So, without further introduction, here's my call on what's going to happen:


AMERICA and Britain are producing secret plans to launch a ten-year “war on terrorism” — Operation Noble Eagle — involving a completely new military and diplomatic strategy to eliminate terrorist networks and cells around the world.

Despite the mass build-up of American forces in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, there will be no “D-Day invasion” of Afghanistan and no repeat of the US-led Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991, defence sources say.

The notion that a US-led multinational coalition would attack Afghanistan from all sides for harbouring Osama bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi dissident leader and prime suspect for the terrorist outrages in New York and Washington, has been rejected in Washington and London. The sources also say that the planned campaign is not being focused on just “bringing bin Laden to justice”.

The build-up of firepower by the Americans in the region, notably the two aircraft carrier battle groups that are to be joined by a third carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt, is seen as a major display of available military capability. While it is important for these assets to be in the right place in case of a political decision to launch a strike, there are no plans for a “short-term fix”.

The dramatically different anti-terrorism campaign is being planned to meet what is now regarded as the most dangerous threat to global security, known as asymmetric warfare. “We’re expecting it to last from five to ten years,” one source said.


Old doctrines for fighting wars, based on lining up tanks and artillery and layers of troops, are being thrown out and replaced by a more subtle and wide-ranging doctrine which seeks to defeat the enemy at its own game. “The aim is not to go for the enemy’s strengths, but its weaknesses,” one source said.

American and British planners are working on the basis that military strikes will take place only as part of a broader global counter-terrorist operation, embracing every other type of international action — diplomatic, economic and political.

Most of the focus of the ten-year campaign plan, the sources say, is on using military action as a potent back-up to all the other strands of Operation Noble Eagle.


British officials said the whole focus of the long-term American approach was being driven by Richard Cheney, the American Vice-President, and General Colin Powell, the Secretary of State. The combination of the two highly experienced men was guaranteeing a well-coordinated strategy. “Everyone now knows it’s going to be a long haul, not a spectacular single strike,” one official said.

The war on terrorism could be likened, they said, to the war on drugs or poverty, and the best way to undermine and eventually dismantle the terrorist structures around the world was to use the method of “hearts and minds” — encouraging foreign governments and people to join in the “war” so that terrorists would be isolated and identified.

Some of the most dramatic achievements, the sources say, might come, not from military action, but from political pressure on foreign governments to turn their backs on terrorism and to hand over the organisers of terrorist networks.


However, sources in Washington say there are no plans to deploy huge numbers of US troops to Pakistan, which would only inflame Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the decision by President Musharraf to grant US access to two air bases in the country.

While I suspect something is going to be blown up soon - public opinion demands it - I don't think we are going to invade Afghanistan, I don't think we are going to see a prolonged air war, and I don't think we are going to see even a fraction of the innocent casualties that people seem so conditioned to expect. (By the way, can someone explain to me why so many people have this unquestioned belief that America is prone to lashing out at innocents in time of crisis? Who did we lash out at when they killed 240 Marines in Lebanon, or when they dropped that Pan Am jet into Lockerby, or when the Khobar Towers or the US embassies in Africa or the USS Cole were bombed? Even the Gulf War set an historic standard for military restraint.)

Maybe I've got this wrong, but I think that the hardest challenge that will be demanded of us is patience. Personally, I'm happy to trade patience for blood, just so long as it fucking works. We'll see what happens.

Monday, September 17, 2001

Odds & Ends

I think I might be the only person in America saying this, but I don't think that there was any failure of our airport security system this week.

On the one hand our system is terrible compared to most of Europe, and everyone I know, including myself, has seen a few of the numerous holes and occasionally even penetrated them. On the other hand, there is no denying that it's worked pretty goddamn well over the past 20 years, and I believe that it worked especially well on Tuesday. Take a look at the threat we faced - three to five men on each plane, with such a high level of preparation and training that they each had a certified pilot among them. Yet even an adversary as formidable as this resorted to penknives and the razors from their shaving kits to seize control of the aircraft, because they didn't want to the run the risk of bringing real weapons on board the planes.

Our system worked exactly as designed, but it was simply not designed to deter suicidal terrorist pilots. That's easy enough to fix, by hardening the cockpit doors (perhaps with lightweight kevlar mesh) and arming the cockpit crew (which the FAA already allows). This will not stop a group of suicidal men from dropping an airliner of their choice, but it will certainly prevent the future use of an aircraft as a guided missile.

There's no doubt that it's also distressingly easy to bomb an American jetliner, and there is room for improvement here as well. However, even the stringent European methods will not help you if your bomber is willing to ride the plane into the ground, especially if brings this level of technical ability to the task.

However, it is not necessary to shake down every passenger for anything with an edge or a point on it, or to ban the use of plastic cutlery in the airport, or to turn every backwoods regional airport into a military base. We run the risk of really screwing up our economy if we get too crazy about this stuff. Sure, Europe has managed to turn it's airports into armed camps, but remember, your average European country is about the size of just one of our fifty states, and they mostly use trains to get around anyway. We have a very different situation here and we have to find a different solution.

The bottom line? We can protect ourselves from most forms of attack with some fairly straightforward security upgrades, upgrades that do not have to be insanely expensive or troublesome. Nothing can protect our aircraft from suicidal, technically sophisticated attacks, but we can help protect the people on the ground.

But banning plastic cutlery and setting ourselves up for a four-hour boarding delay for every fight? Give me a fucking break.


On a similar note, the next time I fly to LA you can bet I'm going to carry something - perhaps a fancy metal ballpoint pen, perhaps the angled tip of my pocket flashlight - which I can drive deeply into a fellow human being if the circumstances demand it. Sure, the odds are infinitesimal that anything like that would arise, but it would sure as shit make me feel better.


Here's a nice quote that pretty much sums up the reason for my support of the use (or credible threat of the use) of military force, from http://www.nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry091701.shtml

Syria, for instance, at the moment appears to be begging to be part of our antiterrorist coalition. Is this because Syria's leaders suddenly realize the value of innocent life? Because since Tuesday they have read the U.N. charter and brushed up on international law?

No. Syria wants at least to appear to be forthcoming because its leaders go to bed every night with visions of its capital city in smoldering ruins. This vision, held in the heads of leaders throughout the Middle East, will be America's chief asset in getting its way in coming weeks and months.


I have been hard at work trying to figure out what, if anything, we did as a nation to engender so much legitimate hatred in the Middle East that an attack like this would be launched against us. The primary item on everybody's list is America's support for Israel.

I am no fan of Israel, but I am a fan of American democracy, and let's face facts here; there is no way that America can just stand back and let the Arabs overrun the place. Jews are a powerful political force in this country, as they have every right to be. If we are going to be a democracy that listens to its citizens, then we are going to support Israel.

You want me to apologize for that? Blow me. What the hell are we supposed to do, round up our Jewish voters into concentration camps to prevent them from angering the Arabs?

The second item on everybody's list is the Gulf War, a war which was distinguished by the lack of force we applied to the enemy homeland. As I recall, most of the neighboring Arab states were pretty goddamn happy to have us there (Saudi Arabia was our primary staging area) and I defy you to find any example in history were an army of that size was destroyed with as little collateral damage to it's homeland.

Sure, I would have preferred we didn't fight at all - what the fuck do I care which totalitarian Arab is running Kuwait, they still have to see the oil to somebody - but I can appreciate how an new and powerful Iraq might have destabilized the region, and I acknowledge that things are never quite that simple. So, we fought for our interests, we fought for the interest for most of the Arab states in the region, and we spilled as little blood and left as little in the way of permanent political change as was humanly possible.

You want an apology for that one, too? Guess what.

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Guest Rant: Lawrence Jackmin

[Note: I posted an earlier version of this via direct email. This is a later, and better, revision]

As I watched the events of the day unfold I, too, experienced a wide range of emotions and thoughts.

First and foremost was rage. Rage that someone would do this to us. The kind of rage that enables a father to lift a car from a crushed child, or perform super-heroic acts as he defends his family. Goddamn it, you don't kill innocent people like that, you miserable bastards!

No matter how ugly human kind can be, no matter what we have done to each other over the years we have a tendency to try to put limits on atrocities. The Geneva convention gives some rules to the conduct of armies at war. While we realize there are limits to that protection, it is a model for what we as a species hope will be limits to the horrors we will perpetrate on each other.

When 4 commercial airliners are hijacked and 2 are used as fuel loaded missiles against purely civilian targets in a crowded city, killing perhaps tens of thousands of people - that line has been crossed. Breached forever. How can someone be so crazed by hatred and religion to do this to anyone? These were people, for Christ's sakes. Innocent men, women and children. None of who needed or deserved to die. There was no reason for their deaths. By killing them, nothing was accomplished. Nothing. Well maybe something, but not what they wanted.

They, not us, have just erased the line between the military and civilians in time of war. If, in this time of global terrorism civilian targets are just as tempting as military targets then that rule now fairly applies to both sides. What has protected terrorists in the past is our reluctance to apply military actions in areas where civilian populations would be endangered and also our attempts to deal with terrorist acts as crimes, not as acts of war. When someone blows a commercial airliner out of the sky, they were tried as criminals with all the protections designed into our system. Not very efficient, but it kept with our system of law.

However, since now there is no distinction between the miliary and the civilian populations, there should be no problem at all responding to this incident as we would in war time. Mr. Bin Laden, If you don’t care about our civilians, than we are justified in returning the favor to you. You have just unshackled our war machine. You have unleashed it upon yourselves. You have awakened the sleeping giant.

Now, when a US bomb goes off track and hits a school in Afganhastan there should be no cries of protest or sympathy. When we vaporize a tent city and learn Bin Laden wasn’t there -oh well. No longer should our people put political pressure on the military to prevent collateral damage while insisting on surgical strikes with pin-point precision. This is war, you started it and we will end it. Guess what, it may not be pretty, either. Israel, I think we finally understand.

US citizens now have an inking of how it was to live through the London Blitz or the bombing of Berlin. Perhaps we now know what feelings went through the minds of the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the first flash occurred. Yet these were incidents of declared war in a time of defined borders. Time and technology has since empowered small groups of political ideologues (or madmen, depending on your views) to become true and deadly enemies capable of delivering the mass destruction of a formal army from the security of a non-defined existence. We need to restructure our thinking to enable us to defend against them.

In my opinion, the most embarrassing and disgraceful moment of the day was perpetrated by a group of our politicians. Standing on the steps of the Capitol building a hundred or so pasty faced photo opportunists sang "God Bless America". What was ostensibly reported to be a show of solidarity and resolve was nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt for self serving politicians to be seen. I can only imagine how they piddled and ran when for one brief instant they thought they may be in danger. Once the all clear signal was given the makeup and hair spray went back on, the red ties were adjusted and the choir came out. Shameful. I actually found myself hoping the terrorists had another plane in reserve and wondered if they could possibly send it to the capital steps for me.

This same bunch of mealy mouthed politicians, once the planes stopped falling from the sky, angrily demanded the President return to Washington to reassure the American Public. Well, you morons, he was where he was supposed to be in time of an attack. In Air Force One, surrounded by fighter jets and headed for a safe bunker in the central part of the US. As were the 3 officials next in line for command. Perhaps they would rather he and the others be killed ensuring our government and military was shut down.

Already there are clarion calls for increased security. "What are you doing to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future" ask worried looking moderators to government guests. Well, ladies and gentlemen, as frightening as reality may be, all the security in the world can not prevent such attacks. The best we can hope for is to make it a little more difficult to pull off. It will happen again. Maybe not soon, but it will happen. Perhaps another plane will fall from the sky, perhaps a cruise liner will be sunk, maybe a large commuter tunnel will be attacked and people in the ensuing traffic jam strafed, gassed or whatever. It will happen. Be prepared. Be prepared to show resolve as we necessarily respond with all the ugliness of war.

I hope our intelligence community has some idea who is responsible and where they are. Undoubtedly those responsible in any way for this must die by our hand. If we kill dark skinned innocents in our quest for revenge, are we any better than those who did this to us? How much collateral damage will our culture accept as we avenge our dead? I argue the rules have changed. And it wasn’t us who changed them.

I agree, we will have to wait and see what the intelligence and military professionals come up with. I hope it's good. Very good. And I, like most American Men, have my hand up just in case they need help.

Is This A Time For Vengance Or Restraint?

I've received a lot of comment about my recent call to arms, comment which was invariably well-reasoned, rational, and mature. For the most part, under most circumstances, I would agree with my critics; it is not good to lash out in anger, not good to meet brutality with brutality, not good to lower yourself to the level of your tormentors.

Not good, unless you are at war.

The point I had hoped to make yesterday was that this is a special time now. The ordinary rules, so useful and necessary in ordinary times, are inappropriate here. I can make this point very plainly with the following example:

Suppose the Iraqi airforce used biological weapons against New York City and killed thousands of people. None of us would hesitate the support the instant and overwhelming retaliation that would surely follow, a retaliation that would kill many thousands of people who had nothing to do with the attack. Normally, we would not inflict those sort of losses upon innocents, but it is a practical reality of war. In war we are willing to inflict collateral damage on a scale that would otherwise be intolerable, even criminal, in ordinary times.

There is a reason for this. War is something that you simply must win, and you are compelled to do whatever it takes to win. This is hideous stuff, the very antithesis of civilized, mature behavior. It is abhorrent, it is dangerous, it is an invitation to make the most enormous and damaging mistakes that humans are capable of making. It puts all of us in danger and it lays the seeds for generations of hatred.

And it is sometimes necessary, despite its cost.

What happened yesterday was not terrorism, it was a military attack on the United States mainland. The enemy retains the capability and the motivation to inflict continued attacks of this magnitude, attacks that cannot be tolerated any more than the destruction of the Pacific fleet could be tolerated. It's not like we get to just clean up the mess and go on with our lives. We are in a real fight now with an enemy of strategic importance.

I think many people simply don't believe that. They think that only nations can wage war, and that this is something else, something smaller, something which calls for a more measured and careful response. Perhaps I'm wrong about this, but I think we are well past that threshold, and we are going to get hurt if we don't wake up quickly to the rules of the game that has been thrust upon us.

I'm sure our enemy has his reasons, and they might be pretty good ones, too, from his point of view. You average Axis soldier was not a monster either, just a young, patriotic man trying to do the right thing.

But it goes without saying - I hope - that we all understand that the United Sates has done nothing to deserve what happened to us yesterday, just as we did nothing to deserve the loss of our fleet at Pearl Harbor (despite what some revisionist Japanese historians have to say about it). It doesn't matter that innocents will be killed by our response, it doesn't matter that the people we are fighting might have reasons we would agree with if we could understand them. It matters only that they have forced us into a war, and that we are now compelled to win it.

Before you respond with a further appeal for restraint, consider Britain's Prime Minister Chamberlain, a man made famous by his reluctance to admit that this terrible line had finally been crossed. If you think we are not at war, I ask what it will take before you agree. One more hijacked jet? Ten?

Personally, I think four was quite enough.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Some New Kind Of Pearl Harbor

You all know the story by now. Many thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands, lie rotting under tons of concrete and steel, and I cannot imagine what it would be like to have a loved one missing at this hour.

My heart goes out especially to the rescue teams who raced to their deaths this morning, and to their colleagues, who will spend the next many weeks searching among their remains beneath the late summer sun. I believe that the task of dismantling that pile will prove to be the single worst job on this planet.


Things will never be the same.

This morning I awoke in a world where you just couldn't take a jetliner full of people and throw it like a child's toy at the biggest skyscraper around. I never really thought that the White House or a Yankee Stadium could, quite credibly, be destroyed in the coming weeks or months.

This is not terrorism any more. What happened today was no different than if a foreign airforce had bombed New York and strafed the people on the streets. It is, without exaggeration, war.


This is a Pearl Harbor of sorts, but probably not the sort that most people imagine. We are not at war with a nation or even a civilian population, we are at war with what probably amounts to no more than a few thousand men, unusual men who have the capability to carry their fight at a national level. Until today we could dismiss them as criminals and terrorists, tactical players of small parts on the world stage. This morning they became strategic players. I believe we are going to have a hell of a time wrapping our minds around this, but these towel-headed fucks are now no different than a medium-sized country in their ability to project power.

We can't bomb their factories, dismantle their air defenses, destroy their troops and go home. Their power is no less formidable but it is not comprised of factories and troops, contained by borders or even led by public figures. The classic model of war, and of victory in war, simply does not apply.

They can really hurt us, and they will probably continue to do so, and we may never be able to put a stop to it. Ask the Israelis how long a war like this might last.

Ask if they remember a day that everything changed forever.


I always try to look at both sides of things, especially when they piss me off. On our side, I can predict that we will soon slap Afghanistan around for harboring our attackers, and that we might have some luck in tracking and killing some of those who were directly involved. Beyond that, I have no idea what to do and quite frankly I'm eager to see what the professionals can come up with.

On their side, I have to believe that they must really hate us, and hate us much more than any of us would ever have guessed. This was such an evil, hurtful action, of such great scale an involving so many suicidal participants... is madness really so common and so easy to focus? What else could this be, but hatred?


The Idiot Parade will start soon. The usual suspects will climb from their holes, dust off their suits, and try to explain to us how wiretaps are a good idea now, how too much freedom is a dangerous thing that really needs to have some limits on it. Others will describe how we should broker for peace by offering concessions.

Remember that we are strong because we are free and unbowed, especially when threatened. Let the mice return to their little holes and be done with them.


My call? We are really in an honest-to-god war, even if it doesn't look like one. Deal with it.

On an international level we should do everything in our power - not proportional things, or accepted things, but every thing - to hurt our enemies, to harass them, to frighten their allies and bring fear to any who would help them. We should not hesitate to torture or kill foreign nationals who dare come too close to them, who rally support for them, who trade with them or supply them. We should make them pariahs and we should stop at nothing to drive them into the sea. And we should consider it a source of national pride.

We shot a lot of fucking Germans and Japanese without so much as a search warrant, and don't imagine that we didn't kill am awful lot of innocent people who were just standing around in the wrong place while we were at it. War is ugly and unfair, an incredible, irrational waste of everything precious, and we just had one dropped in our laps, from 110 stories up. History will remember our response. Let's give them something they will never forget.

Tuesday, September 04, 2001

Racism, or Something Like It

A couple of news stories caught my eye this morning; first, the UN anti-racism splugefest in South Africa collapsed under it's own weight this weekend, and second, the Irish are at it again in an almost Saturday-Night-Live parody of their ongoing national tragedy. Taken together, these two stories combine to offer an interesting message or two for the observant reader.

Let's look first at the UN. As you probably know, the US withdrew from the conference because they refused to support the committee's 'final declaration' stating that Israel was a racist state, and that Zionism itself "is based on racial superiority." Long-time readers will note how little sympathy I have for either the Israelis or the Palestinians, but I think it's only fair to point out that racism is a rather simplistic explanation for what is going on over there. (The UN also triggered an irony alert at www.andrewsullivan.com, who pointed out, with only slight exaggeration, that "unrestrained anti-Semitism [is] the most poisonous form of racism that has ever existed").

The Palestinians are fighting because their homes and their freedoms have been stolen, because they are being treated like slaves, and because their most precious religious sites are crawling with infidels. The Israelis are fighting because they are surrounded by fanatics who would destroy them in an instant in the name of god, and they just went through all of that already in Europe, thank you very much. Religious difference play a big part here, as do cultural differences, unresolved historic conflicts, personal vengeance, economics, and political self-determination. But racism? Israel welcomes Jews from all over the world, including Russia, the Middle East, even Africa. It's hard to imagine that their distaste for their Palestinian neighbors continues to persist because Arabs just aren't white enough.

Now let's look at Ireland. Here are the money shots, from cnn.com:

In a display shockingly similar to America's own experience with racial desegregation in the south, we have police in riot gear escorting small, terrified children to school past a gauntlet of hate-filled, screaming adults. In America, racism was an easy and obvious label to use to describe what we saw. But here? Not only is everybody white, for chrissakes, but they have been neighbors since before the Romans came. They even worship the same god, albeit in slightly different ways. Race is not an issue here.

The similarity is so stark that it really makes you sit back for a moment and think. How can one incident, a virtually text-book example of racism, appear so incredibly similar to another incident in which race obviously plays no part whatsoever?


My call? Much of what we call racism is, in fact, a fear and hatred of another person's culture rather than a fear and hatred of their race. There are, no doubt, plenty of honest-to-god racists still crawling around out there, but they are vastly outnumbered on the world stage by the carriers of this far more common disease.

Culture is, almost by definition, a cohesive set of differences between groups of people, and cohesion is not always a good thing. Consider a bead of mercury, pulling back from the other beads on the surface of a table. The same cohesiveness that make this bead into a strong, independent unit also causes it to withdraw and isolate itself from it's neighbors. Again, almost by definition, people of different cultures dress differently, talk differently, believe different things and often have different goals and different values than the people around them. Not surprisingly, this can lead to seemingly irresolvable conflict.

Cultural conflicts are not trivial. Cultures deal in heavy ordnance - religion, politics, economics, and real estate. If your neighborhood falls under the power of an unfriendly culture you can expect at the very least that your religious beliefs, your freedom, your economic well-being, and even your home will be threatened. People fight hard to protect their freedoms and their way of life, and they don't quit and they don't forget, even when they have been temporarily beaten down. Imagine for a moment that the Nazis managed to keep most of Europe, and imagine the thoughts that would be ever-present in the minds of the children of those they first subjugated. The war would never be over.


Racism is an oversimplification of a larger, more pervasive, and more fundamental human problem. Off the top of my head, when I think of the most horrible, large-scale massacres in recent years - Pol Pot's Cambodia, Rawanda, even Kosovo and Yugoslvia - I see people killing people who look an awful lot like each other, and who have often lived together peacefully for many years. Even in the US, what passes for racism is, in my opinion, more often a response to each other's culture than race. The hardworking East Indian at the local convenience store has a very different view of America than the hard-working Hispanic kid picking beans in a field. If the Hispanic kid had the store and the Indian guy had the bag of beans on his back, would their race really be the thing that determined how they were treated by the rest of us?



Original Content Copyright 2001 Mike Spenis