26. July 2004 · Comments Off on Sing Muses, of the Wonderful Virtues of 20-20 Hind-Sight! · Categories: History

So now, it is perfectly plain, that we all should have seen it coming: Congress and CIA/FBI, and 60 Minutes and all— the muses and gods know that it was all written out plain for us, did we only have the wit and imagination to interpret correctly what had been laid out before us. Yea, even your humble author, a retired rear-echelon type with an eccentric penchant for reading all sorts of things, and altogether more books than are really called for in the household of someone not actually a PHD— oh, I should have seen it myself, even absent any meaningful connections to the law enforcement and intelligence communities. Because I read a lot, and widely, and one of those was Bernard Lewis’ article in the Atlantic, in late 1990— I went around brandishing it to all my co-workers, and friends, saying “Read this! It explains a lot! I mean, he really, really knows about why they are doing this stuff!” Stuff being things like the detonation of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, of the kidnapping and/or murder of Americans all over the Middle East, even the takeover of the American Embassy in Iran. We had been on a collision course with radical Islam for the previous decade, now I knew why, and I knew with the same certainty that I know the sun will come up in the morning, that the day would come when someone representing themselves to be acting in the behalf of Muslims would do something grisly and atrocious, and productive of screaming headlines on American soil, to Americans, and finally and seriously piss off us all. Silly me, I thought it would involve high explosives, and something like a school bus or a nursery school, and maybe thirty or forty casualties, a hundred or so, tops.
So, 9/11 blindsided me, with the sheer enormity. Call it a failure of imagination, even though such a thing had been imagined…

Imagined for movies.
One of my acquaintances told me, a couple of days after, he had been working on something deeply absorbing, that dreadful and interminable Tuesday morning, and had the TV turned on, but with the sound muted, not turned to any particular channel, and that he had glanced over and happened to catch a sequence with an airliner crashing into a tower, and thought “Cool— what movie is that?”. He watched for quite some minutes before realizing that reality had trumped imagination.

Just as Hitler announced plainly all his intentions, in books, speeches and interviews, all during the 1930ies, so did Osama Bin Laden. Just as a scattering of people with imagination took Hitler at his word, and saw a growing danger, so did the scattered handful who saw Bin Laden as something infinitely more than a beardy wierdie in a long robe squatting in a hut in Afghanistan, muttering over age old grievances, and preaching apocalyptic vengeance to a handful of lunatic followers. If, on the morning of September 10th, someone in the FBI, or Congress, or the White House even, had stood up to say,
“Umm, this millionaire Islamic fundamentalist nutcase has this plot going, to hijack four or five airliners full of passengers and jet fuel, and simultaneously crash them into some important buildings in order to kill thousands of people, and maybe incapacitate the government and economy,” I know as surely as I know anything, that a few people would have replied,
“Hmm, maybe something in that, a bit ambitious, but there are a couple of precedents,” and the rest of us would have snorted skeptically and said,
“Ok, yeah, sounds like the plot of a bad disaster movie— Tarantino or Bruckheimer?”

Even if it had been spelled out in every detail, honesty compels me to admit that I would have taken it with a handful of salt— we all would. Jews marched into the gas chambers of Birkenau, and Sobibor hoped until the very last minute that those awful stories wouldn’t be true, couldn’t be true, although the announced intentions had been on the record for a decade or so, and the actions of the Nazis were perfectly manifest.
Because, in the main, we are logical, and baffled as to why someone would want so badly to kill us, for what seems like no reason at all; that degree of paranoia is the exclusive province of the urine-stained lunatic babbling on a street-corner.

To be sure there are people and nations that we have wronged, that have a rightful grudge against us: Cuba, Vietnam, Mexico, any number of other South American countries. However, as poor, persecuted, and rightfully aggrieved as their citizens may be, they are not plotting our mass destruction— in fact, any number are, and have been plotting to get to America on anything that would fly or float for the honor of working a lot of unpleasant and less-than-minimum-wage jobs. The rest are petitioning in the courts, or the courts of public opinion for redress, not lining up to organize mass-murder, even as some Americans rack their memories for some kind of justification— what could we have done to them, that would be a reason for this. The deeds are horrible, there must have been something.

The answer is; yes there was something: our culture, descended from the Enlightenment notions of separation of the state, and organized religion, the fantastical notion that religious belief— or no belief at all, is a personal matter, and no business of the State. Free from the dead hand of orthodoxy, technology and the imagination thrive, with all sorts of interesting results. Genius, after all, is a rare plant, and when religious, or political, or social conformism lops off all unapproved thoughts and expression… well, those rare plants become all the fewer. With luck, they relocate themselves to more hospitable soil, which has the side effect of impoverishing the original location. We inherited the tontine of hatred and resentment, when a culture which thought themselves blessed by the particular favor of Allah looks around and has to admit that hard proof of this favor is particularly thin on the ground, and whose fault is that, then? It can’t be the fault of those who have followed every rule; it then must be the fault of some malign power, that they have not been blessed with honor, riches, glory and power.

And so, there we are, then, and it seems hard sometimes to grasp, even after three buildings in smoking ruin, and a hole in the ground near Shanksville. Our imagination ought to be aided by that recollection; yes, they want to kill us, as many and by whatever means possible. It does seem ironic, though, that some of those who deny that future possibility still demand to know why 9-11 hadn’t been prevented; they bathe in the waters of Denial, which is more than a river in Egypt. But grasp it we must, to see it clearly and without equivocation. We must expand our imagination to embrace the unpalatable fact; that a there are some very dangerous people who want as many of us as possible very, very dead. Just internalizing that reality makes it all the easier to decide what to do about it.

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