The working title for this piece was "When I think about it I fisk myself," borrowing a Divinyls line to give away the game right at the beginning. And that game is simply this: look at what I said about the events of the 11th of September, 2001, and see if it still makes sense in the context of the 11th of September, 2011. Incidentally, the source material here was dated the 13th of September, which explains the opening line: "And this time, on the third day, there was no resurrection."

The events of the eleventh twist the viscera in new and unexpected ways. There is so much outrage, and there are so many targets: the perpretrators, of course, but also the non-system of airline semi-security, various presumed failures in the intelligence community, and decades of erratic foreign policy. Even President Bush comes in for catcalls, for delivering a speech that was more platitude than platform.

The "non-system of airline semi-security," of course, has been replaced with a semi-system of airline non-security, which owes whatever success it might claim to having driven would-be perps to other methods of transportation. Otherwise, I wouldn't change a thing in that paragraph.

Dubya, at least, is getting a bad rap. At times like this, it's his job to follow the standard rituals. More specific assignments are drawn by lower officials. And no one, I suspect, has had a harder job than New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, presiding over the biggest and most excruciatingly painful rescue-and-cleanup job this continent has ever seen. Truth be told, I wouldn't have thought Rudy, quick-tempered, irascible and impatient, would be up to a task this size; seldom have I ever been so delighted to have been wrong.

Rudy did himself proud, though apparently it wasn't quite enough to propel himself into the White House. And whatever W.'s faults, they weren't enough to get him removed from the White House in 2004.

The question now arises, "What if it is Osama bin Laden?" It's not like someone is going to call Crimestoppers and turn him in. The man is elusive by nature, and he has more than enough resources to make himself more so. Nor is he likely to be impressed by, say, carpet-bombing Kabul. And are we really going to send ground troops to fight on wholly-unfamiliar ground that by most accounts has enough rolls, bumps, spikes and craters to pass for a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average? The consensus around the Teeming Milieu seems to be that we should call up 1-800-TALIBAN and give them 72 hours to hand over Osama or prepare for involuntary induction into the Rotisserie League. This sort of maneuver is based upon the dubious assumption that all the various Islamic-fundamentalist wack squads are networked for our convenience, and I can't help but think pulling a stunt like this would cost us what few friends we have between Cyprus and Kuala Lumpur.

Seventy-two hours, of course, grew to a hundred and some-odd months, and if Osama's resources were stretched thin at some point, well, so much the better. (Like some others, I'd calculated that he'd bought the farm rather a long time ago, which seems not to have been the case.) I am, as a rule, not overly fond of scorched-earth operations, but it must be noted that the Taliban, even today, are not exactly on the endangered-species list, even after we borrowed a ton of money to buy sabres to rattle. As for cheesing off our friends, we seem to do that no matter what we do: Barack Obama is a bit more conciliatory toward Islam Assembled than some of his predecessors were, which bought him more praise from dhimmified Europe than it did from the Arab Street.

Colin Powell's assertions notwithstanding, this isn't a war. Yet. (Comparisons with Pearl Harbor are mostly specious: in 1941, we were invaded by the official representatives of an actual nation, not by a band of deluded Klingon wannabes nursing a generations-old grudge.) And contrary to the traditional American desire to kick ass and take names, I don't particularly want a war; if we're going to respond to death and destruction with more death and destruction, it doesn't say much for our vaunted Pax Americana, does it? If you get a wart on your elbow (no Compound W jokes, please), you'll feel much better with a nice, neat surgical procedure than you will pointing a flamethrower up your sleeve.

Which, I suppose, was a bit more elegant than "If you plan to turn the other cheek, you'd best be prepared to fart." Then again, Powell wussed out a long time before I did.

Identifying the exact procedure, or the location thereof, will be extraordinarily difficult. I think we're up to the task, if we don't let ourselves be blinded by rage. Unfortunately, sources of rage are as close as the television. (For a particularly annoying example, any sympathy the Palestinians may have accumulated in this country was pretty much pissed away once the video footage of their post-explosion street parties was aired.) And Americans of Arab descent are already catching undeserved hell from the usual gang of bigots, which doesn't make me feel any better. Still, the actions of our worst will never overshadow the tremendous effort being put forth by our best, to find what survivors we can, to comfort the families of the victims, and to get on with this business of living.

We were indeed up to the task. And it's no trick to point to, say, a former American not of Arab descent who deserves to catch hell, but every war, and most non-wars, will have a certain number of fifth columnists. But we haven't really gotten on with the business of living, at least not to the point one might expect from us Exceptional Americans, as evidenced by the fact that there's still this big frickin' hole at Ground Zero.

Terrorists, by definition, seek to undermine a way of life; the theory is that their cause, whatever it may be, will carry more weight if people are forced to pay attention. Well, attention has been paid, and the way of life has not been undermined. At least, mine hasn't. Neither has yours, I'll bet. Guess what? We won. And while clearly I have my own preferences, I, like the good soldier I strove to be many years ago, defer to the President on the matter of determining how precisely to collect from the losers.

On the other hand, actually deferring to the losers is a game for chumps, and I admit, I'm weary of seeing chumps on the television — which I've mostly quit watching — and on the ballot, all the damned time.

So I jumped to a few conclusions I shouldn't have, and didn't jump to a few I should have. I figure that probably puts me even with most of the nation. One thing 9/11 did do for me, though, was to reinforce my respect for simon-pure guts, the sort exhibited by first responders to the attack on the Towers, a fine example if — make that when — I have to man up and face something scary myself. Ten years later, it's obvious I still need to work on the process a bit, but so what else is new?

The Vent

#741
  11 September 2011

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