And so 15 years later, just what have we learned from 9/11? In some ways not much…

September 11, 2016

Just like everyone alive at the time remembers where he or she was when JFK was assassinated, everyone remembers 9/11 the same way. For me, a lifelong current events fan, it was strange in that when I heard about it I rolled over and went back to sleep or at least attempted to do so. I had been up late visiting my now late wife at the hospital (she would live another almost nine years). I was at my mother’s house and just like when I was a little kid mom had the morning news show on blaring throughout the house.

She opened the bedroom door and told me that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. I don’t think I had ever heard of the World Trade Center. I knew about the Empire State Building. While I certainly thought that was big news, I was dead tired and figured I would catch up on it all when I got up. But then some time later she peeked in again and said another plane had crashed. I got up. And now having just written this I think I have answered the question as to did I see that second plane crash live or a re-run. Must have been the instant replay. But it is strange to me to think that I would not have instantly got up and rushed to the TV. I think my interest in current events stemmed from sharing a combination bedroom family TV room (at a different house) with one of my brothers. When I was as young as a first grader I would wake up to the Today Show with Dave Garroway blasting at me (well blasting due to the volume of the TV set, I think Garroway was soft-spoken himself). Mom always had the TV on loud. Once when I mistakenly thought I wanted to go into teaching in my application I wrote about how I was probably the only first grader to be up to date on the Suez Crisis.

Now can I say anything useful about 9/11?

I was somewhat astounded to read in a recounting of the events of that day by some key players with the president that you or I watching events on TV (well me once I got up) had more complete up-to-the-minute news than the president and his staff who were flying around in Air Force One with sometimes only intermittent and somewhat sketchy communication.  Of course they were still on the ground down in Florida when the first news from New York City hit, but relatively soon afterward took off in the president’s official plane not knowing where they were going, although the president reportedly wanted to get back to Washington as soon as possible. But his staff was not sure that would be safe.

And anyone who has followed the politics of the times should know that there were some people called “neocons” who were itching for the United States to take on a more aggressive role in the Middle East. Or to put it bluntly, they wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq. They had written a paper called Project For a New American Century and had suggested there needed to be a modern-day Pearl Harbor for the general public to be awakened and get on board to support a stronger role in the Middle East. With 9/11 they got their wish. Of course some have suggested it was all a plot by the neocons. I doubt it. Some have even suggested FDR knew about the Japanese plans for attacking Pearl Harbor and let it happen because he wanted the opposite of what the isolationists wanted. Doubt that too.

But back to the Middle East. I have not really studied the whole geopolitics of it all, but I know we vied for influence there, as we did everywhere else, during the Cold War. We wanted Middle Eastern governments to align with us and not the old Soviet Union. So what we basically did back then was try to be friendly with whatever dictator was in power and back him and if we didn’t like him we put in our own. We finally got called on that in the case of the Shah of Iran. He was overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists, and they never forgave us for installing the Shah.

We played the same game in Iraq and elsewhere. It was a lot easier when the threat was just the Soviet Union. We had one big identifiable adversary and in reality the interests of the two world super powers at the time, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, in some respects aligned. We both wanted to have hegemony over our own spheres of interests, keeping our adversary at bay and protecting our competing economic and political systems, capitalist democracies versus communist tyranny.

But why is the Middle East so vital? I would think oil is the major reason. Our whole modern way of life depends upon oil. And it just so happens the world’s largest reserves of oil are located in the Middle East. In addition, our world trade routes go through there. And as barren as we think of that region to be, one heck of a lot of people live there. Europe does a lot of trade with the Middle East, particularly for agricultural products. And of course it is the center of the world’s three major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

But with the collapse of the Soviet Union we faced a more diffuse and harder to identify enemy– Islamic fundamentalists who don’t wear uniforms (except now some have that all-black attire when they attack) and are not necessarily directed by individual nation states, and who are themselves factionalized. And they as a whole are, well to put it bluntly, crazy. The Soviets were not crazy. For all of their threats they apparently did not want to blow up the world. But the Islamic terrorists seem quite willing to destroy themselves and the world along with themselves. Much harder to deal with people like that.

And while our old arch-enemy, the Soviets, incited guerilla insurgencies, such as in Vietnam, the Islamic fundamentalist type organizations use worldwide terror.

So what can we learn from 9/11?

We are in constant danger but we don’t know quite what to do. Conventional military tactics don’t work well. We should have learned that in Vietnam.

But sending out unmanned drones and offing terrorists is problematic. We end up killing innocent people and breaking our own moral code.

I think the only thing we can really say is that the world has become a much more dangerous place when we face an enemy who can hide in the shadows and yet seemingly strike anywhere anytime.

And back to conventional military tactics. While they do not always work well and are cumbersome they may sometimes be called for. Even the terrorists need a base from which to work, and while it is difficult to find them always in say Paris where they may be hidden within the protection of our own Western culture and in the throngs of Middle Eastern immigrants (and they also of course have recruited non-Middle Easterners to some extent), the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) has actually gone the more conventional route and has taken physical territory. It can be fought by conventional tactics.

I was appalled when I heard Hillary Clinton the other day vow in no uncertain terms that she would never insert American ground troops into the Middle East. How can she know she won’t face the fact she might have to? And I am sure she would if she thought she had to. But you give potential adversaries encouragement when you announce ahead of time that you will only go so far and then give up. So far, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Hillary have made that grave error.

You can’t pin Donald Trump down on what he would do, but talking tough is of little use too, I think.  Actions speak a whole lot louder than words, and saying too much ahead of time limits your options.

What did we learn from 9/11 again?

Not enough, probably, and that there are no easy answers. And that we lack leadership. And maybe the American public itself is conflicted as to what it wants, other than for it to all go away, which it will not.

p.s.

Yes, leadership. Now that I think of it, the nation seemed united with resolve in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But then it faded and George W. Bush went astray and seemed to go the wrong direction, invading Iraq, a country whose leadership had been belligerent to us (even though we had just previously backed it) but who had no known direct or even indirect involvement in 9/11. And although we seemed to at first have success in invading Afghanistan from where 9/11 was plotted, that fizzled too with a leadership that could not seem to determine how far to push and where and who wanted to hide the real cost of military victory from the public and in so doing failed to achieve it.

And some have argued the whole idea of war over 9/11 was wrong. It was not an aggressive act by a nation-state but by a band of terrorists and should have been handled as more of a law enforcement investigation.

And I forgot to mention the lingering suspicions that the Saudis (our oil-rich ally) were complicit in 9/11. Well then it would be an act by a nation state.

It is all so complicated.

p.s. p.s.

And just watched something on PBS about the fact that many of the 9/11 planners or persons suspected of being involved in the plot or operation (obviously not the hijackers who all died or Osama Bin Laden who was killed by our own commandos) are in custody at Guantanamo but have not been prosecuted 15 years later. I don’t know, something about they can’t be brought to the mainland U.S. to our courts due to an act of Congress. Gee, why do they have to be brought to the U.S.? We didn’t hold the Nuremberg trials in the U.S. and we didn’t hang Gen. Tojo in the U.S.

 

 


Comparing JFK assasination to 9/11, and have our own security concerns turned us into a police state we’ve always fought against?

November 4, 2013

I’m not sure what has been the most momentous thing to happen in current events in my lifetime, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the 9/11 attack on the U.S.

With the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination coming up (Nov. 22) I was thinking of those two events. In my life, perhaps, the JFK assassination has had more significance. I was a freshman in high school. I paid attention to current events and read a weekly news magazine and watched Huntley-Brinkley and Walter Cronkite newscasts on TV. I knew that not everyone loved JFK even if the hype in popular culture seemed to indicate otherwise. Still, he and his family were something different and exciting for much of the public. The president was relatively young (in his 40s), when compared to the previous presidents, and I guess JFK and wife Jackie and children Caroline and John John were the first mediagenic first family. And JFK had that strange but fun-to-listen-to Boston/Irish accent where he pronounced Cuba as “cuber”, and in his press conferences, of which he held many, he would flash that magic, magnetic smile, often along with some expression of wry humor often via innuendo, which to any guy seemed cool and probably to any girl or woman, well, whatever…

But when it came to things like the Cuban Missile Crisis when the nation was actually concerned that it might end up in nuclear war at any second with the standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, he presented himself as a steady reassuring hand as he soberly addressed the public. He just seemed to say the right thing.

They say he was not a top student at Harvard (I don’t know, maybe he kept up the “gentleman’s c”) but he was eloquent in speech and always seemed to make the well-reasoned and convincing case.

He was staunchly pro-civil rights but had to deal with the political realities of the times. It would take the older and much more seasoned congressional wheeler-dealer Lyndon Johnson, JFK’s vice president, to push the civil rights legislation through after he assumed the presidency, upon the assassination of JFK.

The assassination of JFK blew our whole world apart. While he had his detractors much of the nation seemed enthralled with him and his family. They were like royalty almost. And maybe that is what someone or ones were afraid of.

I’m not a conspiracy buff by any means. But I have to wonder if his assassination was not a CIA job. That theory has been posited before of course. I have a book by some woman who claims to have been a lover of Fidel Castro (I mean one of his lovers) and who claims that she was with the CIA and that they were mad about JFK’s abandoning the Anti-Castro forces in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs operation. I think her book is rather obscure and she may have well been just trying to make some money. You think? But still…

We know that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin. We also know that he did not just pop up out of nowhere. The CIA and the FBI already knew about him and yet why did they not make sure where he was that fateful day in Dallas? Well, back then maybe we did not have that much capability in tracking people? (We had a hard time finding Osama Bin Laden is nearly plain sight.)

And what made me think of all of this is the recent and ongoing revelations as to how much our own government via the National Security Agency and other intelligence branches is spying on its own citizens — eavesdropping on phone calls, emails, and other world-wide web data. It is also spying on friendly foreign leaders and in the process the president himself (which he claims not to have known about — and that is bad either way). I mean what possible reason or justification is there to spy on our allies? And is not an agency dangerous if it is spying on the president? J. Edgar Hoover, the late director of the FBI, was infamous for blackmailing high officials with the dossiers he held on them.

And then to 9/11. In the first direct attack on U.S. soil since the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a group of terrorists pulled off the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, hijacked four airliners, and ran one into the Pentagon. And the baffling thing is that our intelligence agencies had the names of these guys and I guess their descriptions on their watch list and yet they were allowed to board airliners. Okay probably too paranoid conspiracy-centric here, but did someone want this to happen? We know that forces behind the rather dim-witted former president George W. Bush were pushing for war in the Middle East and even published a paper that opined we needed a new Pearl Harbor to wake the electorate up — and along comes 9/11 with the numbers of dead very close, close to 3,000 in each.

The death of JFK put LBJ in office. I have no doubt that he had good intentions, but he was perplexed over what to do about the ongoing situation in Vietnam, threatened by an ongoing insurgency that would result in a communist takeover of South Vietnam. And it was simply understood at the time that we had to stop communism anywhere we could. While JFK was trying to keep from sending actual American combat troops there, while supporting the anti-communist side nonetheless — we only had military advisers in the theatre — LBJ eventually sent as many as a half million U.S. troops there, even though he knew from almost the start that the situation was hopeless. But ever since China was lost to the communists in 1949 during a Democratic administration, Democrats had to be on guard not to lose anything else. The fear of being weak in the face of the communist threat forced President Harry Truman to send troops to save South Korea (a highly unpopular move at the time).

And the lives of so may young Americans (and the their loved ones) were forever changed by LBJ’s actions. I probably would not have gone into the Army if it were not for the Vietnam. In some kind of twisted logic I joined the Army, figuring I would be drafted soon enough anyway. The draft lottery had not been put into place at that time. But I was sent to Germany. But one of my brothers was grabbed by Uncle Sam and put into the Army and sent to Vietnam. Fortunately he did his tour and came home safe and sound. But such was not the case for nearly 60,000 American troops who died and thousands more who were gravely wounded. And besides that: all the lives torn apart. Wives who lost husbands and parents who lost children and so on.

(Even though I joined the Army I was not much of a soldier, but I am glad I served if for no other reason than I can say I served. I am proud that all the boys in my family served. My oldest brother served 20 years in the U.S. Navy.)

So, anyway, the 9/11 disaster was used as a pretext to get our nation into war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. We all know what that has wrought, nearly 7,000 dead Americans over a decade (thousands more wounded) with no discernible good to have come of it and trillions of dollars drained from our treasury. But of course we can’t afford to guarantee health care to our own citizens, the troubled Obamacare program notwithstanding, and have to cut back on aid to the poor, and we fail to invest in our infrastructure.

So, it is hard to choose as to which event was more momentous, the JFK assassination, or 9/11. There is no correct answer. It depends upon your age, really, and your own personal situation (you may have lost someone in the current wars).

And then again, with the result that intelligence agencies have been so emboldened to turn on the public they are supposed to protect, maybe 9/11 is the more momentous.

We are all so accustomed to giving out our Social Security number and our email address and we are so wired-in now with commercial interests knowing our personal tastes and information and every move, that we almost do not notice that we have become something close to a police state worthy of the old Soviet Union or East Germany or Hitler’s Germany. So far, no discernible ill effects, but overnight that all could change, the apparatus for the evil of control over all humans by a minority is already in place.

There is talk (or maybe it has already happened) of domestic use of drone aircraft by local law enforcement. We may not fear it as much when used elsewhere, but here?

We really need to pause and think about all of this.


Nine Eleven was not Pearl Harbor; we made some missteps; Bush may have had one thing right, though

September 11, 2011

Pearl Harbor, 9/11 was not. But it was a tragedy, and I have come to think, maybe just today on its tenth anniversary, that President George W. Bush was at least partially right in his reactions to the event — maybe. But first:

Well 9/11 or 9-11-11 is all but a done deal now and thank goodness, as I write this, nothing yet. (Well actually there was an attack by the Taliban in the ongoing Afghan War over the last 24 hours, with many Americans — at least 77 — injured, but nothing in the homeland, as it has been called, particularly since 9/11 ).

I also want to interject here before I go further that regardless of what I think of the War on Terror I felt sad and outraged when I heard an interview on NPR in which a National Guardsman who served in Afghanistan said he got into a fight in a bar here at home when someone said to him: “your war doesn’t count”. This soldier, according to the interview, had been involved in going out and searching for IEDs and had suffered the shock of blasts from them more than once.

Its kind of chicken…t that we have this all-volunteer military and we can stand by and let them be sent hither and yon and into harm’s way but not even consider the policies that send them there because it does not affect our own life. Besides, the soldier does what he or she is supposed to do and if he or she was not available, each one of us might be subject to the call. And the soldier is separate from the government policy that puts him or her in harm’s way.

(There is the Nuremberg, I was only following orders thing, but I think the guilt rests with the higher ups, generally.)

But back to what I wanted to say on this tenth anniversary before it is over:

There has been a lot of comparison of 9/11 to Pearl Harbor. In fact those neocons who wanted us to go to war in the Middle East (again since Desert Storm) even had the audacity to wish on paper for another Pearl Harbor in their Project for a New American Century treatise.

But while it is spooky and almost a little too convenient that indeed we had a Pearl Harbor-like attack (it did come from the air), there are not really a lot of similarities, except about the same number of lost lives.

Pearl Harbor was an act of war by an identifiable nation — Japan. I don’t know if the Japanese admiral really said it, but in a movie account he is heard saying: “I am afraid we have awakened a sleeping giant”. Indeed the Japanese did. There was a strong isolationist feeling in America, right up until the Japs attacked. At that point the isolationist movement  died.

We had a fairly unified reaction to 9/11 but as the response dragged on and got muddled I think the public turned indifferent for the most part.

On 9/11 we were attacked by a stateless group of folks. It was staged, though, from Afghanistan where the group who would claim responsibility and calls itself Al Qaeda was being harbored along with its then leader Osama Bin Laden by the Taliban who controlled that nation. We demanded they turn over Bin Laden and they refused and we attacked. But as everyone knows, almost inexplicably our former president, George W. Bush, seemed to become half-hearted at that and turned his sights on Iraq, successfully conflating events there with 9/11 (it is well known he wanted an excuse to attack Iraq even before 9/11). While certainly the then leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was probably sympathetic with the aims of Al Qaeda, as far as them being against America, there is no evidence he had anything whatsoever to do with 9/11. Nonetheless we wound up attacking Iraq and making much more of a show of it there than Afghanistan until years later. We are still engaged in hostilities in both nations. And of course President Obama successfully ordered and got the killing of Bin Laden by our special military units, most notably the Navy SEALS.

But while the attack on Pearl Harbor was an act of clear aggression by an identifiable nation, and while Pearl Harbor pushed America into World War II against the Axis powers of Japan and Germany (and for a time Italy), and while congress officially declared war on the Axis powers, and while that war was budgeted and consumer goods became scarce and food was rationed in the war effort — none of those things took place for 9/11. And oh, yes, we, the U.S. and its allies, clearly won WWII. We went for complete victory to include unconditional surrender of the enemy.

Today we have no complete victory and no unconditional surrender and at times we don’t even know who the enemy is. Indeed the presidential authorizations to fight this war or wars seems to be against terrorism in general, as if you could declare war on a tactic or against evil itself.

Our constitution does not really tell us what to do in this instance. I don’t think the framers dreamed that one day we would have a president who would up and decide to wipe out all evil in the world by declaring war on it. And our wars in these modern times, especially since World War II, are just not fought in the same way.

In the end, we actually prospered from WWII and became the world’s leading economic and military power.

Today we are essentially going bankrupt due in large part to the War on Terror.

And we are no safer today, a trillion or more dollars and thousands of casualties later, after a decade, or at least it is hard to think we could be.

One of the more agonizing things about both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 is that in both cases we had warning. Pearl Harbor had actually been predicted back in the 1920s, even though it did not occur until 1941. A 9/11-type attack had also been predicted years ahead of time, despite the erroneous observation by Condoleezza Rice that no one ever thought such a thing might happen. We also had the very culprits who got on the airplanes and carried out the 9/11 attacks on a terrorist watch list, but it all got lost in the bureaucracy and interagency rivalry.

Some have even suggested that there was an inside conspiracy in both cases by people who wanted us to go to war. While I doubt that, I do think that the events handed them their cases on a silver platter and maybe some did look the other way at warnings hoping something might happen.

Twenty-twenty hindsight is easy, I admit. But we do need to reflect on what happened and how we handled it and see if we cannot come up with something better.

While I have always been critical of Bush for his actions, particularly his striking at Iraq, instead of concentrating on Afghanistan or even on just going after the actual perpetrators — the ones besides the ones that died in the attack of course — and their leader Bin Laden (it took another president to get that job done), I think he, Bush, had the right idea after all, maybe, in putting those who would attack America on notice that they could run, but they could not hide — we will get them.

We indeed did get Bin Laden (even if it took a decade), and we have killed scores of Al Qaeda leaders. I mean it has got to make some of these bad guys nervous that an unseen drone flying overhead could send a missile up their rear end at any moment.

I think we may have overdone things militarily, especially since we don’t seem to have the desire or stomach to actually defeat nations, occupy them for a time, and then make sure they fly right. We did so with Germany and Japan, but that was then and this is now.

I’m thinking drones, cloak and dagger, and keeping our mouths shut, and letting our actions speak louder than words, just might be the way to go.

But there still may come a time when it will be necessary to use our military in a more conventional sense. We have to have public support to make that effective. And we should not do so without it.

And although for much of today I was involved with my truck driving work, I did manage to catch some of the comments from folks who suffered on 9/11, who lost loved ones.

I felt terribly sad for them.

————

ADD 1:

I just now recall that I heard a story the other day I think on NPR that the ten-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor was not marked in any special way for the most part because we were all into having our former foe Japan be on our side and be an important base for our operations against North Korea at the time, the Korean War being in progress.

———–

P.s.

Looking back in a more personal way in my own life, I recall that fateful day. My now late wife was in the hospital suffering from a mysterious illness. It was touch and go and I had been up late with her. At the time we were living with my mother. I was on leave (using vacation time) from my work. That morning I was sleeping in, having been up late at the hospital. My mom woke me up and told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. News junkie that I am, normally I would have jumped up. But I was tired. But after I finally did get up, I saw the video of a jet crashing into one of the towers.  And I recall once the second plane hit, we instantly knew this was not a freak accident.

As it turned out, my wife would recover for the most part, but unfortunately she only had about nine years. She died just over a year ago.

Wished I could have made more of those nine years with her.

We should all make the best of things each day. Things like 9/11 happen, and even smaller every day tragedies occur too. None of us knows how long we have and how long we will share things with our loved ones.