Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Usually there’s nothing remarkable about a twelfth anniversary, but this year September 11 has taken on more meaning than usual.  Maybe it had to do with the way the “Million Muslim March” crashed and burned in D.C. (reportedly 21 showed up, including gawkers), compared to at least 75,000 bikers who came vastly closer to their intended Two Million Motorcycle March.

For whatever reason, this month provides reason for reflection:

I must have been one of the last people in America to learn of 9-11.  Dad and I were winterizing the trucks at the ranch that morning and I didn't return to the house until later to see the World Trade Center impacts on network continuous loops.  My first impression was shock but not a lot of surprise because the method was well known if only in fiction.  In fact, Tom Clancy and I both had written novels featuring aircraft diving into political targets.

My second immediate impression: "they" had put together a supremely well executed plan that had to be months in preparation.  I fully expected a Stage 2 step-down tactic such as shooting up a mall or blowing up a school, but obviously all the rotten eggs went in the same baskets. It turned out that I knew/know 3 Pentagon survivors from that day and was acquainted with one of the passengers on Flight 77. 

I've asked WW II folks to compare their impressions between 7 December and 11 September. They seem split as to which was the greater shock but apparently Pearl was moreso because we didn't have 30+ years of conflict with Muslim extremists to set the stage.

Some fellow Boomers think that 9-11 had the greater effect, but that’s from our perspective, not our parents’.  The conventional wisdom holds that few Americans knew where Pearl Harbor was, but I believe more were aware of it than we suspect.  After all, it made news in 1940 when President Franklin Roosevelt ignored professional advice in moving the Pacific Fleet base from San Diego to Oahu.  In fact, he fired the four-star admiral commanding PacFleet and replaced him with Admiral Husband Kimmel, who had the conn on 7 December.

In the 9-11 aftermath, any politician within arm’s reach of a microphone was quick to deride the hijackers as “cowards.”  Terrorists, certainly.  Mass murderers, absolutely.  But cowards?  Consider this:

The 9-11 killers believed in their warped philosophy so fervently that they prematurely sacrificed their lives (the eldest was 30, the youngest were 20) for what they held dear: the jihadist cause.  How many politicians have ever placed themselves on death’s pathway for whatever they claim to believe in?  Has any politician left the Beltway and his accumulated perks to join the military or otherwise participate in the defense of Western Civilization?

In early 1942 numerous congressmen plus governors and judges responded to Pearl Harbor by joining up or seeking activation as reservists.  Many were motivated by politics, knowing that FDR would recall them to Washington in time for the fall elections.  But at least they went rather than running their mouths in sound bites.

Surviving Japanese suicide pilots (there are such, oddly enough) expressed resentment when some Americans compared the 9-11 perpetrators to WW II kamikazes.  The Japanese aviators held that because they were defending their homeland as military men, they did not merit comparison with Muslim terrorists who represented no nation-state.

Yet the distinction is minimal.  Whether Arabic or Japanese, the airborne suiciders chose to end their lives in the service of a cause.  The causes were certainly not admirable—a brutal empire and a homicidal zealotry—but we badly need some objectivity.  In dismissing the courage, initiative, and daring of such enemies from 1945 or 2001, we inflate ourselves at risk of enabling a repetition.  As the 9-11 commission astutely noted, the main American flaw was a lack of imagination.

In denigrating out enemies, we’re only setting ourselves up for another fall…..


For another perspective, I received this from my colleague “Boom” Powell, former naval aviator and commercial airline captain.  The flight he describes here was about two weeks after 9-11.

I saw Ground Zero last evening.  Marie told me to look for the hole.  I said I did not think anything would be visible.  Weather was poor, flight path not close.  I was wrong.

After flying mostly above the clouds from Norfolk while the sun set and a gray and turbulent descent, visibility underneath was crystal clear with urban lights glowing off the cloud base. The Verazzano Bridge was a positive fix. To the west, the Statue of Liberty was lighted with her torch and crown shining gold even at a distance. Up New York Harbor the buildings of lower Manhattan rose like dark cliffs from the water. Emanating from the ground in their midst was a bright light, volcanic in intensity.  The source of the light hidden by the dark sided buildings.  Unearthly.  Strange.  An apocalyptic radiance of catastrophe. Its brightness made starker by the dark shadows of the standing structures. Ground Zero indeed.  An opening to hell… except for the light’s color.

The light was pure, clear, white.  White; all colors, but no color.  White; the color of heaven, the color of snow, of summer cloud, the color of hope.

I stayed with my face against the airplane window until the vision was well past. There were glimpses of the arc lamps illuminating rescue and reclamation efforts – almost blinding in the night, but then the source was shielded again and only the fountain of light flooded up and out making the clouds as white as day. The rain had restarted when we got off at La Guardia and the wind was cold, biting, from the north. The summer of 2001 is gone.  And there is a lighted hole in Manhattan and our country’s soul.