A Follow-Up on
by J.H. Crawford
the Terrorist Attacks
My opinion piece of 26 September 2001 has been widely and strongly criticized by strangers
and friends alike. This seems in part to serve as notice that I was not
as clear as I might have been in the initial piece.
This was a momentous event. Time now divides into two epochs: before
September 11th and since September 11th.
Few events are significant enough to enforce such a division.
Until September 11th,
only governments had ever succeeded in inflicting damage on such a massive scale.
It is now apparent that any two-bit terrorist has a chance
to inflict civilian casualties on a scale we had never before imagined.
Americans in particular have been very hard hit by these attacks. I think the
country is just now moving past "stunned" into a deep-seated anger that will
undoubtedly burn for some time.
I think that people are so upset right now that most of us have difficulty reading
and understanding a lot of what is being written. It is incumbent upon
authors to attain an exceptional level of clarity when writing about these
events, a standard that I apparently failed to achieve in my first attempt.
So herewith some further amplification, as well as some commentary on subsequent
Some readers felt that I was trivializing the attacks. In fact, I had
assumed that everybody was already where I was on this, which was that
the attack was, with the possible exception of the Kennedy assassination,
the most extraordinary event in my lifetime. When I first learned of the
attack, I was in a clinical state of light shock for several hours.
When I heard that the towers had collapsed, I literally could not believe
my ears. My reaction: "They fell DOWN?" I was not especially surprised by
the fact of a second terrorist attack against the WTC, or even by the scale
of the coordinated attacks, but I really could not believe that the buildings could have
collapsed. Until recently, I had often remarked that no skyscraper had
ever suffered a catastrophic structural failure from any cause. To have
two of the largest buildings in the world collapse within minutes of
each other was a simply stunning blow. Even now, the television images
of the planes augering into the towers and their subsequent collapse seems
surreal, like the cinematic special-effects to which we have become so accustomed.
This feeling persists despite the fact that I have seen the gaping skyline of lower
Manhattan with my own eyes.
Some readers thought that I had not condemned the attacks. I did describe
them as horrific, which was the strongest word I could find. Perhaps, however,
I had better amplify that. The attacks were:
Some readers were disturbed by my talk of war. When I wrote, there were no hostilities,
only the all-too-ready talk of a "war" against terrorism.
I do not believe in war as a good means to resolve disagreements.
I mentioned war only in the context of an attempt to avert
a major war, a war I cast in terms of religious conflict, which seems to
me to be the most dangerous theme underlying the current warmongering.
The ongoing bombing of Afghanistan by the USA is certainly war-like,
but as yet a true state of war does not exist; rather, the US and its allies
are imposing their own brand of terror on the Afghani people. While this
terror is perhaps incidental ("collateral") to efforts to destroy bin Laden, it
is no less terrifying for all that. I fear that there is a real risk of another
world war. The bombing inflames passions in the Moslem
world and, if continued, may lead to a true state of war, with
heavy casualties on both sides. Can we not find a
better way to resolve this? How many must die?
Some readers thought I believed that the attack was justified. Nothing
could be farther from the truth. Nothing could justify such brutal attacks
against innocent civilians or the destruction of national icons.
The absence of justification should not, however, lead to a refusal to examine
why some bastards might have become so inflamed as to even consider such
an attack. Such an examination was my effort towards changing policies
that I thought tended to incite further terrorist attacks.
Some readers believed that I unilaterally support the Palestinians.
While I believe that Israel has sometimes acted in
grossly irresponsible ways (a view that is shared by quite a few Israelis,
in particular with respect to the invasion of Lebanon),
and while I think that Israel has
terribly abused its relationship with the USA, I certainly do not believe
that the Palestinians have behaved well, either. The recent
exchange-assassinations of Israeli and Palestinian leaders are morally
reprehensible, on both sides, and do nothing whatever to calm tensions
or forward the process of achieving a durable peace. It takes two to make a
fight, and for more than 50 years, we have had ready combatants on both
sides. Neither side has negotiated in good faith. Israel, under US protection,
has managed to negotiate peace agreements, mostly observed in the breach,
that are more favorable to Israel than seems reasonable
to me. The agreements were so unfavorable to the Palestinians that
Yasser Arafat has been unable to sell them to his own people. What I was
endeavoring to say was that both sides must negotiate in good faith,
and that the USA should use its power and influence to force concessions
from Israel, in the interests of achieving more balanced agreements.
This is, in fact, already happening.
Finally, a few readers thought that I did not go far enough and that my
tone was too moderate. I offer no defense on this point.
The bombing of Afghanistan seems set to continue until winter weather brings
it to a halt, some time in the next few weeks. What it may have achieved
is hard to imagine, in so far as the stated aims are concerned. Bin Laden
appears to be alive and well, and doubtless planning his next outrage
against some unfortunate target, be it Christian or Moslem
(he's not particular).
It is already apparent that a considerable number of Moslems have interpreted
the bombing as an attack against Islam, notwithstanding US denials.
(Bush's unbelievably ignorant use of the word "crusade" was like
dumping a jerry can of gas on a bonfire.) It appears that thousands of
Pakistanis have signed up for the Taliban cause, which is certainly not
the intended effect, predictable as it should have been.
We now have more than 50 years of experience with efforts to terrorize nations
into submission by bombing civilians in cities. This strategy has not only never worked,
it has invariably had the opposite effect. (See the Strategic Bombing Survey,
commissioned by the US government in the wake of WW II. For further evidence,
consider whether or not America's will to resist was weakened or strengthened
by what was, in essence, the bombing of the Twin Towers.) While bombs may
be falling on a few terrorists and knocking out a handful of ratty old fighter aircraft,
the main effect of the bombing is to inflame not only the hatred of America
by the Afghanis but by large segments of the Moslem world.
It seems increasingly apparent that bin Laden's ultimate goal is to
destabilize affairs in the Middle East and cause the already-wobbly
government of Saudi Arabia to topple in the face of a popular uprising.
He has succeeded in sucking the USA into the acts of revenge
that have fanned anti-American sentiment.
If, as it appears, bin Laden wants to start a holy war, then the USA
is playing perfectly into his hands.
The USA, unless it stops the bombing and allows aid to reach the
starving Afghanis, may precipitate the deaths of millions of Afghanis
this winter. As always, it will not be the young warriors who will
starve; it will be the children, the weak, the sick, and the old.
Almost everyone now views
the US air drops of food as window dressing.
The current rate of about 37,000
packets a day does not supply even 1% of the daily food aid now needed in Afghanistan.
Starvation on an appalling scale seems inevitable unless the trucks can
roll, and soon.
Should catastrophe occur, bin Laden will claim that genocide has
been perpetrated against the faithful, and it will become a rallying cry in
I wish I knew what was going on with the anthrax attacks. The most recent
information appears to suggest that the anthrax spores were produced in the USA,
perhaps by the government, perhaps by someone able to obtain a few spores of
the Ames strain used in US weapons production and culture it. It is apparently
not terribly difficult to culture the stuff and weaponize the resulting spores.
The burning questions are who, and for what purpose.
The Bush administration has surprised me by admitting that these attacks are probably
the work of domestic right-wing [Christian] extremists.
Whoever it turns out to be, and whatever their intent, it has maintained the terror at nearly
the same level as on September 11th. It has severely impaired the operation
of the US government, especially the Congress. It might ultimately lead to
shutting down the US Postal Service, which would be a stunning disruption
of life in the USA. Why were weapons ever made of this evil stuff in the first place?
The growing panic in the USA does not seem to be warranted
by the actual level of illness, and the infection seems to be relatively
easy to control with antibiotics, when administered promptly after exposure.
And how is it that the postal workers seem to be getting poorer treatment
than those on Capitol Hill?
These are terribly discouraging times. Having finally laid to rest
the threat of nuclear annihilation, we now discover that
a handful of suicidal maniacs can attack the Pentagon, seemingly at
will, and that the entire might of the US intelligence and military forces
cannot lift a finger to stop them. How much worse can this get? Does anybody know?
Would they say if they did? Can you believe anything you hear?
It is, in fact, the uncertainty that is hardest to deal with.
There aren't any quick answers, and it's going to be a long winter.
As dark as the times are, and as disturbed by events as we may be, I think
there is still reason for hope. Americans have shown a sudden and serious
interest in world affairs, a development that is necessary to finding a
way for the nations, religions, and cultures of the world to live together,
if not without friction, then perhaps at least without bloodshed.
To this hope we must dedicate ourselves.
A Yahoo Group has been established to discuss this posting and related issues.
Please visit Peace in the Middle East
Text ©2001 J.Crawford. This text may be freely reproduced provided that the entire text is reproduced without change and that
jhcrawford.com is cited as the source.