September 11, 2003



Imagine a world without 9/11. Some time in the dog days of August, 2001 an article is linked on Drudge Report. "Terror ring" broken up by FBI. Five men arrested in Florida hotel, or some such. A few student protestors would have held up bedraggled signs outside a court house somewhere suggesting racism in the government's case. A quiet word at an embassadorial function would have raised a sneering denial by some Saudi functionary. Elsewhere, the people of the United States would have carried on the important work of hating President Bush because "he was selected instead of elected" and hating former President Clinton because he would do anything to avoid having sex with his wife. It is possible one or two more shark attacks would have monopolized the news and late night stand-up comedy. Several thousand people would have gone about their business on a clear morning early in September. In my own small corner of the world, it is possible my ongoing break-up with someone I loved might have been averted or all-consuming depending on this or that now unimaginable detail. So much perfect, tiny detail in so many people's live would have been allowed to continue. So much incompehensible tragedy would have passed by without so much as a whisper.

But there is something else that would not have happened. There would have been no war to defeat the Taliban, no war to liberate Iraq and none of the shadow war we cannot see. No surge in hiring linguistic and cultural specialists in the security services. No integration of police forces. No ramped up airport and airline security. No further attention to cargo containers and the rest of the machinery of trade which relies on open borders, trust and the basic decency required to foreswear murder and mayhem. No light of the day for the tens of millions now touched by the brighter light of liberty.

Bill Whittle one asked at length and with great eloquence if it were possible we are living in the wrong world. A world where the wrong road was taken. A world where the good guys did not win. Where the cavalry did not come over the hill and save the day. I can understand the question. It is an unavoidable thought in the face of the hellfire and the falling bodies and the absolute mystery which confronts us today no less than it confronted Job in ancient times.

I offer this possibility. Without that appalling day the evil men with their shrivelled hearts and cold determination would be working away on their poxes and atomic weapons and another clear day might have seen not three-thousand dead but thirty-thousand or three-hundred thousand or something truly apocalyptic. I believe we have forestalled that day. The holocaust of the towers and the Pentagon could never be a senseless sacrifice at the behest of the small wills and smaller imaginations of the murderers. Only we have the power to make it meaningless by giving in to our own human doubts.

I was up at five'o'clock this morning possessed by a fury of sadness and rage thinking about the sacrifice of a brave man I will never have the honour to meet. I cannot believe he died for nothing. I know he did not.

Posted by the Flea at September 11, 2003 10:36 PM

Thinking about hypotheticals is interesting, but you could go back further...

What if Clinton had not pulled the US out of Somalia?

What if Clinton had reacted better to the bombing of the USS Cole and the US embassies in Africa?

What if the CIA had not been gutted?

What if more, not less funding, had been given to agencies and they could have hired more agents (FBI or CIA) and upgraded their computer systems?

What if...

It goes endlessly.

I have a number of friends in the National Guard, the US Army, the TSA, etc. We're in the first inning of a long struggle. Not just the external struggle, but the internal struggle to get all these folks to work together.

We'll probably never know the victories, for security reasons. But the fact that things have been quiet so far shows me that we are winning the external struggle and starting to win the internal struggle.

Posted by: Fred Kiesche at September 12, 2003 07:37 AM

There was an article about Rick Rescorla in the Washington Post (late in 2001) that's stuck with me ever since I read it. This man, who had lived a life of incomparable adventure and achievement, faced his advancing age with anxiety- he feared he might never again enjoy a moment of transcendent truth and intensity (he uses better terminology, but you get the point). In correspondence with a friend, he fretted over becoming a dry and brittle Prufrockian character in his old age.

This thirst for true, sublime experience is why he lived the life he did, and it's what saved those under his protection. He craved the chance to face some immense, heartbreaking responsibility, and life delivered that day.

One of my worst personal fears is that of facing what I call a Lord Jim moment and, like Jim, failing. Rescorla's the example of why it pays to think about such things.

Posted by: MWF at September 12, 2003 08:39 AM

This website has the Washington Post article.

Posted by: Nicholas Packwood at September 12, 2003 09:30 AM

I agree the "what if?" thinking can be a profitless exercise. Counterfactual history irritates many (while introducing me to the useful term "Geschictswissenschloff") though I think it has an appeal to an sf geek like myself. I particularly enjoyed Niall Ferguson's counterfactual history anthology.

My point wasn't purely a "what if" though... If by some fluke the hijackers' ring of evil had been disrupted I see no chance the Western world would have woke up from the peculiar fantasies which had taken hold of it. All the "what ifs" which imagine a world in which the Clinton administration had acted more forcefully assume a world where his opponents thought doing so was more important than enquiring into cigars and such. I think it was a case of a supercilious president for a supercilious time. North of the border, I did not know a single soul who thought President Clinton's missile strikes into Afghanistan were anything other than "wagging the dog". People who used the expression tended to imagine themselves as ultra-clever foreign policy experts who could see through the stated aim of going after a phantom terrorist network. Not one of them could have named bin Laden. Those pin-prick responses were so totally inadequate it is difficult to comprehend. And yet there are countless idiotarians who to this day are so possessed with their hatred of President Bush's pronounciation of the word "nuclear" that even the shock of 9/11 was insufficient to slap them into sensibility.

Maybe it is because I am in Canada but it is my honest feeling that the people who understand the gravity of the situation and the need to win this war at all costs are in a small minority. I can only pray Canadian irrelevence will prevent this country from interfering in the President's efforts to save us all.

Posted by: Nicholas Packwood at September 12, 2003 09:46 AM
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