Join 3,523 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Newsflash: Terrorism existed before 9/11
December 29, 2010 8:03 AM   Subscribe

We never used to go nuts about terrorism.
posted by dougrayrankin (64 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ayup
posted by Burhanistan at 8:07 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeahwell, that was before co-ordinated domestic strikes which took out the major buildings and the hit the brain of the military.

I'm not saying the American reaction hasn't been a tad crazy and stupid at times, but trying to compare pre and post 9/11 and saying the pre was so much saner is rose tined navel gazing in narrow hallway.
posted by nomadicink at 8:12 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Tell it to Sacco and Vanzetti.
posted by Jahaza at 8:16 AM on December 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


I don't care for the culture of fear, either, but you have to concede seeing lower Manhattan nearly become annihilated on live TV is on a whole different level than another hijacking in Cyprus.
posted by crapmatic at 8:16 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Patrick Smith's written a lot in this vein -- I'm tempted to say ad nauseaum, though some of it has been quite good, and I think he's generally right. You might as well have just linked to his blog.
posted by eugenen at 8:19 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


"ad nauseam," even. That's the last time I try to bust out the Latin.
posted by eugenen at 8:20 AM on December 29, 2010


with box cutters... and now for want of secure cockpit doors we have upwards of a million dead overseas, trillions of dollars wasted, pornoscanners, a department of homeland security, and so many people so flipped out over worry and concern they keep ratcheting up the red-light green-light dance.
posted by edgeways at 8:20 AM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


I agree that 9/11 was a Big Deal, and it does change things.

The way it changes things is that you can't hijack a plane anymore. We no longer assume that the worst case is everyone on the plane dies, and the passengers and crew are no longer told to do whatever the terrorists say. 9/11 prevented itself from happening again.

Binary liquid explosives, shoe bombs, etc, aren't going to enable anyone to hijack any planes. And I don't really believe we're appreciably safer from the "I just want to kill everyone on the plane" attacks - luggage-bombs are the same threat they've ever been. So it really is just the horrifying blend of panicked knee-jerk and calculated power-grab that plenty of people keep saying it is.
posted by aubilenon at 8:24 AM on December 29, 2010 [19 favorites]


Yes, terrorism existed before 9/11, but mass-casualty terrorist attacks, in which the object is just to kill as many people as possible, no demands, no negotiations, just mass murder in the thousands (i.e. a level beyond just blowing up a single plane), are an al Qaeda innovation. In fact, the Sept. 11 attacks relied on people's lack of reaction to traditional terrorism, in which the safest thing to do was stay in your seats and wait for the hijackers to land the plane and start negotiations.

I don't think you'll find too many people here who agree with every response to Sept. 11 - the colour-coded freakoutometer being perhaps the dumbest - but this article seems to be missing some basic distinctions between terrorism as it used to be and terrorism as it is today.
posted by Dasein at 8:25 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Tell it to Sacco and Vanzetti.

Yeah, just as Smith argues that we have a short institutional memory, he seems to be forgetting that security theater was not invented on 9/11, and the current spate of constitutional violations are only one in a long string, stretching back and back and back. It seems to me that the only difference is now we in the upper levels of the pyramid are starting to feel the same pinch, and we don't like it.
posted by muddgirl at 8:26 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Red light! At the airport, whenever the Robot Intercom Lady says, "Due to the elevated level of security, ..." my body wracks with nausea as my pedantic brain once again must perform the computus elevated from what? When is it un-elevating, again?

Green light! But I'll keep putting up with it, like everybody else.
posted by Rat Spatula at 8:26 AM on December 29, 2010


IF I FAVORITE THIS POST WILL THE TERRORISTS WIN Y/N
posted by sidesh0w at 8:32 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been musing that our freak out is related to geography -- our friends the Atlantic and Pacific let us down. Bad oceans.
posted by angrycat at 8:32 AM on December 29, 2010


The Twin Towers attack was a larger and more terrible attack than Americans had ever experienced, by an uncountable margin.

And we overreacted by an unimaginable margin, and overreact still.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:33 AM on December 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


"ad nauseam,' even."

Aw heck. And here I was applauding your especially elegant way simply to dismiss the "nauseum / nauseam" internal debate I (and many others, I'm sure) experience before tapping "Post Comment". Experience ad nauseaum, in fact.
posted by Mike D at 8:41 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Twin Towers attack was a larger and more terrible attack than Americans had ever experienced, by an uncountable margin.

Well, since Pearl Harbor, anyway. Our problem is that we tried to react to this attack exactly as we did to that one (although I guess Guantanamo imprisons fewer people than Japanese internment camps).

Of course we could go back farther, to the British burning down D.C., but America was a smaller place then and besides, we're not good at historical perspective. Which is why we lost our shit instead of moving on. Well, that and the conservative lust for turning the entire US into a semi-theocratic company town/prison complex.

If all it takes is a terrorist attack to make us panic and flush the Constitution down the toilet, then perhaps our allegiance to our avowed principles was not all that strong to start with.

Pity.
posted by emjaybee at 8:44 AM on December 29, 2010 [16 favorites]


I've been musing that our freak out is related to geography -- our friends the Atlantic and Pacific let us down. Bad oceans.

Oh, it's totally related to geography. Terrorist stuff always happened over "there," somewhere across the ocean. Americans were safe, surrounded by vast stretches of water and bordered by two countries it was friendly with. We literally did not have an understanding of terrorism because not only was it never in our back yard, it wasn't it our city, state, or nation. Plus, we're the world's heroes, right? We saved it in WW I and II and we beat the Russkies, who doesn't love us?!

Learning the answer to that question has been rather painful to America and I'm not sure we've learned a whole lot.
posted by nomadicink at 8:47 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


"The terrorists have won" is a refrain I don't like using. It's sensationalist and ignores inherent complexities. But for the moment, I can't think of a better way of putting it.

Their goal was to terrorize us, and we are absolutely terrorized. There isn't a reason to look for a better way of expressing it, "the terrorists won" succinctly and accurately captures the realities of the situation.

Now, (and I've said this before) we need to stop playing this stupid game. We need to stop listening to the constant stream of defeatist scaremongering that has us convinced that this is a tactic we really need to seriously alter our lives to avoid.
posted by quin at 8:56 AM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


We really don't manufacture much of anything here anymore...except FEAR- the #1 growth industry in the good ol' US of A!
posted by GreyFoxVT at 9:17 AM on December 29, 2010


Green Day really did say it best: wake me up when September ends.
posted by andreaazure at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2010


We never used to have a 24 hour State Controlled Propoganda Channel telling us to be afraid of terrorists.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


nomadicink writes "I'm not saying the American reaction hasn't been a tad crazy and stupid at times, but trying to compare pre and post 9/11 and saying the pre was so much saner is rose tined navel gazing in narrow hallway."

I don't know how much saner the pre was is absolute terms but I do think that the reaction to the four years described in the article was so much less in part because the general public was still scared shitless about the entire world coming to an end in a rapid series of massive mushroom clouds. When you are facing the possibility that the entire US eastern seaboard might just cease to exist over the course of a couple hours a plane falling out of the sky isn't much of a blip on the ol' fear-o-meter.

Astro Zombie writes "The Twin Towers attack was a larger and more terrible attack than Americans had ever experienced, by an uncountable margin."

Only 17x as many people died in the 9/11 attacks compared to the OKC bombings. An order of magnitude worse but not uncountable.
posted by Mitheral at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Twin Towers attack was a larger and more terrible attack than Americans had ever experienced, by an uncountable margin.

Not hardly. Pearl Harbor? Hello? 4BB/2DD sunk, 4BB/1DD/3CA damaged, over 4000 casualties?

just mass murder in the thousands (i.e. a level beyond just blowing up a single plane), are an al Qaeda innovation.

No, not really. They did step it up a notch by hitting very big buildings, but going after buildings for mass casualties? The Beruit Bombing in 1983 killed over 380, the Cinema Rex fire that started the Iranian Revolution killed well over 400.

The only reason 9/11 jumps out is that they figured out that planes would do more damage than bombs, and would be easier to get control of because of the well known US policy of not resisting hijackers on a plane. I seriously doubt they realized that they would actually collapse the towers with the attack, which is what drove the casualty count so high.

Otherwise, it was a big, but no way unheard of, attack. Four hijacking with all lost, 80+60+59+40, plus 126 at the Pentagon. 364 total excluding the towers.

They got a big bingo that they weren't expecting. Now that we have a counter to this tactic -- we don't let them take control of the plane, period, why are we still shitting ourselves over this.

This was a horrible day. This was a horrible day over nine years ago.

Let's put this into context. We killed and wounded over 23,000 people in one day in 1863, at Antietem Creek, and did the same over two days at Shiloh. The US Civil War killed 599 people per day for over four years. It killed almost 2% of the entire population of the country. WWII killed 416 Americans per day -- but we were much larger, so we only lost .3% of our population to that war. WWI killed 279 of us per day -- but we wren't in the war for very long.

Somehow, we got over those horrors. Maybe, just maybe, we should let the fear go?

Because, after all....
This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.
--FDR, First Inaugural Address.
emphasis mine
posted by eriko at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2010 [41 favorites]


Robert Fisk in December 2001 speaking about Bin Laden’s possible motives, based on an interview with him in 1997:
Q: At the beginning of the war, you said the U.S. might be falling into a trap. What did you mean?

Fisk: If it is bin Laden, he's a very intelligent guy. He's been planning his war for a long time. I remember the last time I met him in 1997 in Afghanistan. It was so cold. When I awoke in the morning in the tent, I had frost in my hair. We were in a twenty-five-foot-wide and twenty-five-foot-high air raid shelter built into the solid rock of the mountain by bin Laden during the war against the Russians. And bin Laden said to me (he was being very careful, watching me writing it down), "From this mountain, Mr. Robert, upon which you are sitting, we beat the Russian army and helped break the Soviet Union. And I pray to God that he allows us to turn America into a shadow of itself." When I saw the pictures of New York without the World Trade Center, New York looked like a shadow of itself.

Bin Laden is not well read and he's not sophisticated, but he will have worked out very coldly what America would do in response to this. I'm sure he wanted America to attack Afghanistan. Once you do what your enemy wants, you are walking into a trap, whether you think it's the right thing to do or not.
This was the same month that Andrew Sullivan’s arrogant rebuttal to a Fisk column inspired right-wing bloggers to coin the term “fisking”. Fisk was widely perceived as an insane fringe leftist for suggesting that the Afghan war was an immoral and foolish endeavour. His reputation never recovered. Of course, in the realm of foreign policy punditry, Sully’s star has been on the rise ever since, despite (because of?) being wrong about everything.

But please, don’t suggest the terrorists have won.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:44 AM on December 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


Eriko, I think you're ignoring that 9/11 was pretty much a surprise to the general population at the very least. The ability of 8 men to turn New York into something out a war zone in what 15 minutes was just something unheard of at the time. The body count and physical destruction could be considered just the smallest wounds considering the damage inflicted about the American psyche.

For all the horror of Pearl Harbor, it was an understandable target, a military one. 9/11 was American's introduction to massive civilian causalities from foreign terrorists.
posted by nomadicink at 9:49 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


"The Twin Towers attack was a larger and more terrible attack than Americans had ever experienced, by an uncountable margin."

For probably 99% of Americans living ten years ago, he's absolutely right. Pearl Harbor and Antietem and Beirut don't count, because this was never about the body count. 9/11 was the worst attack because it was broadcast live to the world. The OKC bombing was bad, but cameras didn't catch the explosion, and it didn't bring down the building, so it wasn't as bad.

Prior to 9/11, you had to see a Michael Bay movie to see buildings blowing up.
posted by nushustu at 10:03 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


'1994: FedEx Flight 705 hijacked by disgruntled employee Auburn Calloway as it left Memphis, Tennessee, with the intention of using it as a cruise missile against FedEx HQ. He was subdued by the flight crew before an emergency landing back at Memphis.'
posted by clavdivs at 10:10 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Prior to 9/11, you had to see a Michael Bay movie to see buildings blowing up.
posted by nushustu at 1:03 PM


Unless you're someone like me, who has of survived a terrorist building bombing (Fraunces Tavern, NYC 1974) I also got to miss watching 9/11 on TV, because instead I was right there.
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:12 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


eriko writes "I seriously doubt they realized that they would actually collapse the towers with the attack, which is what drove the casualty count so high."

I bet they knew exactly what would happen. The original plan may not have been to bring down a sky scraper (or maybe it was, only a few people know) but once the basic outline was decided on, IE: plane, tower, boom, burning; the WTC was an ideal target for just such an attack because of how it was constructed; and of course it's cultural significance.

A jet plane hitting a tower was something that was publicly planned for (though not for such a large fuel load) when the towers were being built (a must if only because of the plane that flew into the Empire State Building). And the WTC towers were studied by most civil engineering and architecture students (wasn't bin Laden a engineer or at least a engineering student?) because the towers were interesting, innovative and the plans are in the public domain (IE: it was cheap for schools). Every architecture instructor I talked to (which was a couple dozen at the time as I was working at a university for a department teaching architecture) knew the towers were going to collapse in exactly the way they did as soon as they found out what happened. Even before the towers actually collapsed.

nomadicink writes "The body count and physical destruction could be considered just the smallest wounds considering the damage inflicted about the American psyche. "

I think hitting NYC was key to the freak out. If they had targeted the pentagon and instead of the WTC hit the Sears Tower and the AstroDome during a football game the freak out wouldn't have been nearly so high even though the loss of life would have been greater. The large media concentration and the large number of people who could see the attacks with their own eyes greatly added to the level of fear. The second plane hitting the second tower significantly after the first strike was either a super bonus accident or a brilliant piece of media manipulation.
posted by Mitheral at 10:15 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Prior to 9/11, you had to see a Michael Bay movie to see buildings blowing up.

and the plot is exposed
posted by clavdivs at 10:16 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's different now vs. then is that the Cold War is over. Nature (and the US military/industrial complex) abhors a vacuum. With the pesky Soviets gone, fighting terrorism became the only big-ticket item available.
posted by valkane at 10:46 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


we never used to have a 24 hour news cycle. That's what's changed. When I was a kid and the Iranians had the hostages, you saw that shit precisely twice a day: 6pm and 11pm. You didn't see the same bullshit a thousand times a day all day on 50 channels. That right there is the difference.
posted by spicynuts at 10:53 AM on December 29, 2010


It's the lack of imagery. An airliner blowing up in some remote part of the world is abstract. The Twin Towers burning down right in front of you in real time, in your living room, is not.

That's why we have advertising - because it works.

It's also the fact that the entire scene has been exploited by politically minded fear mongers. Without the boogey man of the Soviet Union threatening to destroy the world or subvert everything, terrorism is the next Best Thing to Worry About.

There was an interview on the radio the other day, with an Iraqi expat/refugee who had settled in the U.S. He remarked about how people here in the U.S. get upset when the line at the grocery store has three people in front of them. They used to wait overnight for food and gasoline in Iraq. People complain about whatever they have to complain about - whatever they perceive as the thing-they-have-to-deal-with-at-the-moment. The interviewee said that it was wonderful to have such trivial things to complain about.

If terrorism were to disappear today, there would be something else equally scary to worry about. Not that it would be actually an equivalent threat, but whatever we have to worry about is given highest-fear-and-worry status.

In other words, in a "perfect" world, the top headlines would be about how the pansies bloomed late this year, and everyone would be totally freaking out about it. And they would ask themselves why we didn't worry about the pansies thirty years ago.
posted by Xoebe at 10:58 AM on December 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


fear. Fear! FEAR!!

AAAAAAAhahhhaaaaahahahahahahahahaa!!!!

- transcript from oval office domestic policy meeting, october 2001
posted by Aquaman at 11:09 AM on December 29, 2010


9/11 did change things. It changed me. I live in DC and we freaked out--although, frankly, the sniper did more.

That's not to say that the body scanners are needed. I think they aren't, although I "opt-in."

Also, a lot of evidence points to Libya having nothing to do with Lockerbie.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 AM on December 29, 2010


I'm also interested in how old everyone was on 9/11. I think the younger folks have less of a baseline, so it seems more like a boundary condition. I'm curious to see how that changes attitudes towards all of this. I was 33.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:23 AM on December 29, 2010


Cui bono?
posted by iotic at 11:24 AM on December 29, 2010


I am afraid of many things which genuinely pose a threat to me. I am afraid of cars, afraid of HIV, afraid of climate change, afraid about food security, afraid of the cops, the border, customs, TSA, tasers, guns, world war, nuclear holocaust, zombie apocalypses. I'm afraid of the military-industrial complex. I'm afraid of fiscal austerity. I'm not afraid of terrorists.
posted by mek at 11:44 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was 31, and across the river from the towers. For me it's still a bit off to go to other towns to see celebrations held on 9/11. (Like "Chicken bakeoff" or whateverthe fuck). And I'd never considered myself nationalistic before.

I was tutoring this one kid who needed help with her history because her English skills are not really strong. She asked me, "What is 'communism'" and it wasn't a language thing, she really didn't know. I was gobsmacked, I guess because I am old and remember the big fear of every motherfucking living thing being destroyed in the eighties.
posted by angrycat at 11:48 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm also interested in how old everyone was on 9/11. I think the younger folks have less of a baseline, so it seems more like a boundary condition.

31 at the time. For me, the really horrible parts of the 2001 attacks were using the planes as weapons, and that won't happen again for a very long time if ever. It didn't even keep working throughout the day on 9/11 itself; before the fourth plane even hit the passengers knew they were going to die anyway, had nothing to lose, and tried to retake the plane. I expect the next poor bastards that are dumb enough to try to hijack a plane full of twitchily fearful Americans will have to be sponged out of the carpets after the passengers tear them to bits with their fingernails.

The current security theater is just pointless nonsense to me. I tried to find a way to say this without sounding like a complete asshole, but can't, so here goes anyway: I don't really care very much about the occasional terrorist or other miscreant blowing up an airliner. I guess because I came of age in the 80s, planes getting blown up at the rate of one every few years is just one of those facts of life, just part of the normal background level of horribleness that's on the news every week. It really really sucks to the people on the plane and their families, and sometimes a few people on the ground, but the normal background rate of it is low enough and the numbers of victims small enough that it really isn't worth taking everyone's shoes off or running everyone through porno-scanners.

I do care about people using the planes as bombs/missiles again, but as far as passenger aircraft goes that potential has self-corrected. I expect the next time something like that happens it will have been a chartered cargo aircraft or one where one or two terrorists infiltrate a flight crew, kill the rest of the crew, and then fly the plane into their target.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:15 PM on December 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


This security theater is a real boon to us frisk and pat-down fetishists.
posted by fuq at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


We are bankrupting ourselves morally, and more importantly, fiscally, trying to prevent something which cannot be prevented.

It's a slow process and an inevitable one, but the twin towers attack accelerated the fall of empire by a huge factor. You must admit that the 9/11 attack was a "beautiful" operation from the POV of the terrorists--for an absolutely minimal investment it pretty much put the nail in the US's coffin as World's Only Superpower.

The interesting thing to ponder, for me, would be what if the terrorists had been fundy white Americans? I doubt, sincerely, that we'd be thinking about the 9/11 attacks today any more than we think about OK City.
posted by maxwelton at 12:38 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]



The interesting thing to ponder, for me, would be what if the terrorists had been fundy white Americans?


Oh man, that would be great. I would totally join the CIA if I could waterboard Fred Phelps.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:43 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


We never used to go nuts about terrorism ... but with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, we had to have something to justify the size of the defense budget.

Voila: a judgement that be made so vague that it can nullify any call for disarmament, justify the constant escalation of the arms business, and satisfy the US lust for self-righteous rectification.
posted by Twang at 12:43 PM on December 29, 2010


IMO, 9/11 was the biggest failure ever ever attempted by terrorists. Think about it, nearly 100,000 people working in the World Trade Center, and they killed less than 3000 (and nearly 10% of those were rescue workers who entered the buildings after the planes hit). Unless you consider buildings, landmarks, more important than people - THEN it was a successful hit. And the attack on the Pentagon? Less people killed in the target than in in the projectile. But then, the Pentagon building is essentially as invulnerable as the WTC Towers were vulnerable. Nope, as far as the terrorists' ability to "KILL US ALL", 9/11 proved they can't even come close.

And may I repeat for the umpteenth time here that I was targeted for a terrorist attack a dozen years before 9/11 (well, actually the IRS office next door was the target, but the terrorist mis-aimed his 'oil-barrel howitzers' so that if they had gone off, the ball of fire would've gone over the IRS's roof and straight into my building where I was working next to the window at the time). It's a unique bit of personal experience and prompted an interest in the subject of terrorist bombings from which I learned, based on reports after the unsuccessful 1993 bombing, that the Twin Towers were clearly more vulnerable than most of the other top umpteen skyscrapers, which would not have collapsed so completely as those did, creating such a perfect terrorizing piece of video. It was a perfect monument to New York urban planning in the 1970's that the WTC was built to be a perfect target. Still, somehow, almost 100,000 people targeted survived.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:49 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


We didn't used to go nuts about terrorism because it took until 9/11 for people to realize that going nuts could be highly profitable.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:53 PM on December 29, 2010


mass-casualty terrorist attacks, in which the object is just to kill as many people as possible, no demands, no negotiations, just mass murder in the thousands (i.e. a level beyond just blowing up a single plane), are an al Qaeda innovation.

Only the 'terrorist' part is an innovation, and entirely depends on your frame of reference. The rest was thoroughly worked out over Dresden in WWII.
posted by unSane at 1:14 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


IMO, 9/11 was the biggest failure ever ever attempted by terrorists.

Nope, Bin Laden's goal with the 9/11 was to enrage the US and get us bogged down in Afghanistan, like the Soviets. Iraq got thrown in as a bonus.
posted by nomadicink at 1:21 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


he seems to be forgetting that security theater was not invented on 9/11, and the current spate of constitutional violations are only one in a long string, stretching back and back and back.

Yeah, but come on! The U.S. Constitution was, after all, written by terrorists.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:49 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some are extremely happy with various wars on Terror as referenced by Oceans of blood and profits for the mongers of war. In fact War is Business and America is not about to stop while there is a buck to be made.
posted by adamvasco at 1:50 PM on December 29, 2010


In fact War is Business and America is not about to stop while there is a buck to be made.

And, indeed, they never really have.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:57 PM on December 29, 2010


When the World Trade Centre was destroyed in 2001, I honestly thought that World War III was starting. I spent the next few days in a haze waiting for Dubya to drop some serious nukes and turn the entire Middle East into a long sheet of glass. It took a while to realise that nothing of the sort was going to happen (freezing bank accounts of suspected terrorists? Really?) And then Afghanistan was turfed, and a few years the US-led "Coalition Of The Willing" marched into Iraq, and whatever lessons that might have been learned from 9/11 ended up perverted in the worst manner possible, continuing most recently in the "security theatre" conducted in American airports and well-documented on Metafilter and elsewhere (previously, previously).

The funny part (or maybe "pathetic" would be a better word) is that I am Canadian. I wasn't the only Canuck to react to 9/11 in this manner, judging from the discussions I had with others in my age group. And I am not proud to admit that a friend from Quebec had to remind me about the FLQ bombing mailboxes in Montreal in the late sixties (and killing a government minister during the 1970 October Crisis). Canadians are also well-aware of the bombing of the Air India flight 182, and the seemingly never-ending trials that followed; an American requiring context in turn might have recalled Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 which killed 168 people. And yet seeing the towers fall in real time on TV had a far greater effect on me than any of the history that I should have kept in mind. It was certainly the biggest terrorist action in history, but in retrospect the only thing that really differentiates it from terror attacks that have occurred and still occur regularly in other countries is the scale, and the over-reaction in kind.
posted by spoobnooble at 2:09 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


What do I remember about 9/11? The voices.

Everyone doing the reporting was talking from deep down in their throats. This is the way that people who are severely hurt talk. I'd heard that kind of voice before, from people who had just been devastated by a death in the family. It's the same voice that people use when someone they love and they live with is killed in traffic and they have just called other family members, or the police to report it.

Everyone on the media and a lot of the people on the ground were talking with that voice. A lot of them were talking about nothing. I remember one media channel desperately switching from New York where they could get no real information to a reporter whose plane had been grounded in Baltimore and had nothing more momentous to report than the previously frequently repeated fact that all the planes had been grounded. And the reporter in New York and the reporter in Baltimore were speaking deep in their chests in the voice of someone who has taken a critical injury.

The thing about that voice is that it is contagious. It's like the hush that people use when they are lowering their voices to be in control during a crisis but with added pain. It's the voice people use when they report that they are alright but what they mean is that they are alive, and seriously injured.

It seems to me so strange that footage of the buildings burning could have made a difference to people who watch cool comedies with fantastic multiple fireball explosions all the time. I know people who (jokingly) refuse to go see a movie unless there is at least two good car chases and one city blowing up in it. I don't know anybody who freaks out when they watch the black and white footage of the mushroom cloud rising over a Japanese city. Yep, you are watching five thousand people die... in a Superman movie.

But this time people did react like they understood that thousands of people were dying. To me what carried the emotion was the fact that the announcers and reporters were freaked out. That was the first time I had ever heard a media reporter lose control of their primary tool, their voice, and that day all of them had lost control of their voices. I think that perhaps is why it was so traumatic.

For once somebody reporting on devastation did so with a voice that understood the implications of what they reported. There was no jolly routund voice of an announcer in the background declaiming the might of America while a thousand unheard voices at ground zero screamed to death as their skin burned away. There was no cut to a commercial for waffles or luxury pre-owned cars or the newest skin softening beauty lotion. The unstopping coverage and the voices of the announcers infected listeners with understanding that it was real, that it mattered, and that it mattered to them.

Of course going from this is real, this is agony and this is essential to me doesn't tell you where to go next. It only tells you that something critical has happened, that it cannot be overlooked, that something now should be done... and it is unfortunate that what it led to was millions of Americans allowing some fat complacent oil companies to use American troops and American weapons to "retaliate" murder 100,000 Iraqis who had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks.

It still stuns me that nobody ever did anything about the fact that the terrorists were Saudis. Nobody every asked, so why are Saudis becoming suicidal terrorists? What is going on in Saudi Arabia? Nope, there was just a backlash against generic Ragheads and the result is that the people who died in 9/11 have been abandoned.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:06 PM on December 29, 2010 [11 favorites]


Yet as a result of Katrina, a couple thousand were killed and not just a couple of buildings but an entire city was destroyed and the whole media kerfluffle was over in a couple of weeks. Must have been the wrong kind of people killed.
posted by JackFlash at 3:58 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


It still stuns me that nobody ever did anything about the fact that the terrorists were Saudis. Nobody every asked, so why are Saudis becoming suicidal terrorists? What is going on in Saudi Arabia? Nope, there was just a backlash against generic Ragheads and the result is that the people who died in 9/11 have been abandoned.

My father travelled internationally in oilfield sales from the 50s to his death in 1987. The first thing my mother and I said to each other on 9/11 was "it was Saudis". If you knew anything about conditions in Saudi Arabia, you didn't have to ask those questions, because the answers were so damned obvious. But, bluntly, it wasn't convenient to the power brokers in this country to point that out. The Saudis are our friends, so the fact that we support a government whose treatment of its own generates America-hating terrorists (see also, Israel/Palestine/Palestinian terrorists in the 70s and 80s) is moot. Instead we had people who wanted to invade Iraq in government, so that's what we did.

I was 32 on 9/11, I remember the 80s (both here and in the UK, where there was an active IRA bombing campaign that almost killed the Prime Minister while I was living there), and what 9/11 did for me was ultimately made me a cynical person who loves her country still but can no longer trust anything her government says.
posted by immlass at 4:12 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


That article reads as dated. I don't think this country would scare as easily into the post traumatic place it went into after 911. The repercussions of 911, amazingly are still rolling throught the country, but I also I feel we're in a new place here, good or bad, I can't tell, but not fearful, as nauseatingly fearful as the country once was...

This wave is breaking folks....look at wiki-leaks. That's not over. All those little fiefdoms of corruption around the world aren't as easily containable and workable as they used to be. A general consciousness seems to be building...


And this world is going to probably not end in 2012, but it's going to change bigtime....



/Takes off Nostradomus hat.
posted by Skygazer at 4:15 PM on December 29, 2010


Bin Laden didn't blow up the projects
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:53 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


oneswellfoop writes "IMO, 9/11 was the biggest failure ever ever attempted by terrorists."

Not even close. See for example Richard Reid.

oneswellfoop writes "Think about it, nearly 100,000 people working in the World Trade Center, and they killed less than 3000 (and nearly 10% of those were rescue workers who entered the buildings after the planes hit). Unless you consider buildings, landmarks, more important than people - THEN it was a successful hit. And the attack on the Pentagon? Less people killed in the target than in in the projectile. But then, the Pentagon building is essentially as invulnerable as the WTC Towers were vulnerable. Nope, as far as the terrorists' ability to "KILL US ALL", 9/11 proved they can't even come close."

There were only 14-17K people in the towers when the attacks started.

Smart terrorists only want to kill people as a side effect of terrorizing people. They only perform violent acts so that people will believe they'll perform violent acts in the future with the goal of having those people change their politics to make the attacks stop. They want people to be fearful and in that regard the 9/11 attackers succeeded in spades. Considering apparently half of NYC and New Jersey wet themselves when Air Force One made a fly by of NYC eight years later I'd say they are still cashing returns from their investment.
posted by Mitheral at 6:40 PM on December 29, 2010


I'm with mek. There are other things I fear more. Grew up in the UK in the 70s and 80s at the height of the IRA campaigns. I lived in Lichfield and was there when the shooting happened in 1990, my grandfather was shot by the IRA in Belfast (and lived when 8 of his workmates died) when he was in the RUC.
More people die due to road accidents or heart disease, but let's focus on the bogeyman by all means if it makes you feel better.
posted by arcticseal at 6:42 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


IMO, 9/11 was the biggest failure ever ever attempted by terrorists. Think about it, nearly 100,000 people working in the World Trade Center, and they killed less than 3000

The U.S. military has used body counts as a way to measure success. Even though it is not a way to measure success.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:32 PM on December 29, 2010


I remember the time period of 1985-1989 differently. There was an increased fear of flying especially internationally (I remember a Time cover article on the increase in domestic travel and fewer Americans visiting Europe), lots of anti-Arab/anti-Islam prejudice, increased security (I remember going to the Smithsonian in 85 & 86 and not being too surprised the second year that they added a security check at the doors), and yes ill-conceived military responses including airstrikes on Libya. Granted this was not at the same scale of the post-September 11th USA, but I think the author of this article is also a little bit guilty of forgetting history.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 9:46 PM on December 29, 2010


I believe that the difference between then and now is the fact that in the 80's we had a much bigger and scarier adversary in the Soviet Union. Who cares about the chihuahua nipping at your ankle, when there is a pack of pit bulls on the other side of the fence? The entire American defense structure was focused on containing the Soviet Union, and that was where the defense bucks were. But post 9/11, the big companies and the US Military realized that this was the new Big Game. Look at how quickly the money flowed in to anti-terrorist technology to secure out transportation systems and infrastructure. Look at how the armed forces decided that they needed to gear up for "multiple, limited regional conflicts", and all of the new technology and weapons needed for such things. We did not need nuclear missle subs and massive warships any more, we needed a "Brown Water Navy". We needed more high tech (expensive) weapon delivery systems. After years of shrinking defense budgets, we now needed every man on deck, and he needed new gear to go with it. This is nothing more than some very perceptive defense contractors, working with some red blooded American politicians to start the money flowing for the new game in town. Good old American capitalism! Your tax dollars at work! And that money does not flow unless we make every American fear for their life every time they leave the house.
posted by MJLavelle at 10:54 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


In soviet union no cihuahua nipping, it becomes distraction and noisy.
posted by clavdivs at 4:22 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


After the Cold War ended there was talk of peace dividend due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a threat, with George H.W. Bush and then-defense secretary Dick Cheney calling for defense budget cuts. "Overall, since I've been Secretary, we will have taken the five-year defense program down by well over $300 billion. That's the peace dividend."
posted by kirkaracha at 8:20 AM on December 30, 2010


« Older In 1996 a film was released that combined the anim...  |  Meet the woman without fear.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments