When the attack on the Trade Towers first reached the media, I was videotaping an event that could not easily be re-scheduled. I had to remain on the job for the rest of the day. So, I did not spend the day in front of a TV screen. Maybe I missed something.
After work, I viewed perhaps two hours of replays on the now unforgettable date of 9-11. Not once did I hear any commentator ask the obvious question: What was the motive? They chattered on for hours, but never once did I hear anyone raise the question of motive.
The amount of actual news regarding how these terrorist acts had been accomplished took about five minutes to convey. This lack of information never changed throughout the day. The nation sat, transfixed in front of TV screens, watching those buildings come down, over and over. CNN had the images of these buildings in some sort of loop, or whatever technicians call sequential digital replays. The invisible talking heads talked over the images.
By evening, we knew no more than we knew after the first hour: four planes had been hijacked, three had hit the terrorists’ targets, and one had crashed in a vertical trajectory in western Pennsylvania.
Everyone interviewed on-camera officially agreed: we don’t know for sure who did this. Everyone seemed to agree unofficially: a private terrorist group, probably masterminded my Osama bin Laden, is the most likely candidate. I’m ready to go along with this. But no one raised the question: What was his motive? They identified him as the number-one suspect, but somehow he had no motive worth discussing on-screen.
I heard this assessment repeatedly: “This is the warfare of the 21st century.” I can hardly disagree. It worked so well in the 20th century, as far as murderous terrorists of civilians were concerned, that it is unlikely to be abandoned soon. There is nothing new here. We can easily substitute the words “King David Hotel” for “Twin Towers,” but nobody mentioned this.
I heard the word “cowards” used repeatedly. I don’t remember that anyone ever used this word regarding the kamikazes of World War II. A warrior who gives his life for his cause during wartime, knowing that he will surely die, is not generally dismissed as a coward, even by his victims. What the 9-11 critics were saying was that the terrorists did this to civilians. I agree with this assessment. The terrorists were indeed cowards by Western standards, although they overcame their fear of death. It’s one thing to die deliberately for your cause as a warrior; it’s another deliberately to take specific civilians with you.
The War on Civilians
But I don’t see that there was anything new here, either. Substitute the word “Dresden” for “New York City.” The Allies — mostly the United States — firebombed a defenseless German city, day after day, in 1945, a city with no military significance in 1945. At least 25,000 civilians died in the resulting firestorms, with 350,000 left homeless in winter. Our fighting men did this from air in streams of hundreds of bombers, when there were no German fighter aircraft to defend the city.
By 1945, this was an old, old story. When General Sheridan adopted a terrorist campaign against civilians in the Shenandoah Valley in October, 1864, after Atlanta had fallen, and the Confederacy was clearly beaten, he made terrorism part of official American military strategy. Sheridan’s cavalry conducted a hit-and-run arson campaign against women and children. It worked so well from the Union Army’s point of view that Sherman immediately put it into mass production in his march to the sea. That strategy was adopted by European generals as the wave of the future, which it became.
We live in a monstrous era. What the West came to regard as unacceptable militarily during the Thirty Years War, 1618-48, in a murderous religious civil war in the German principalities, Western nations have adopted as national policy during wartime. They even adopt it in peacetime.
Military strategists of both the Soviet Union and the United States by the mid-1960’s had adopted MAD: mutual assured destruction. Each side targeted its nuclear weapons against the other’s urban civilian populations. Each side used the other’s civilians as hostages in a strategy that prevailed for at least three decades. Neither side admitted to its own public that this is what the strategists had self-consciously done. A few men spoke out against this in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s, including a couple of retired American generals, but the generals did not speak out publicly against MAD when they were in uniform. MAD ended — if it has actually ended — only when the Soviet Union collapsed.
This country has been waging a terrorist campaign against Iraq’s civilians for over a decade. Estimates range from 750,000 to 1,500,000 civilians dead because of our continuing trade sanctions, half of them children. We refuse to lift these trade sanctions until Saddam Hussein resigns. But he remains in power only because President Bush refused to pursue a military objective — warriors vs. warriors — by conquering Iraq in 1991. He deliberately let Saddam’s army get away. Now we starve Iraqi children for a strictly political objective: to get him to resign. The public neither knows nor cares. Motive? Here is a motive. It’s called revenge — not for the sake of the secular Baath party, but on behalf of Islam.
The 9-11 terrorists wore civilian clothing. This made them cowards by Western military standards. A warrior is supposed to wear a uniform; otherwise, he is a spy. Western military codes of justice allow the execution of spies whenever caught. I agree entirely; a spy is not a warrior. He should be treated differently from a man in uniform. But in a world in which warriors target civilians as a matter of conventional military strategy, their general officers should not be surprised when a few civilians decide to get even.
We All Know the Motive
Why did a group of civilians do this, assuming that they really were civilians? I offer three reasons that most Americans understand, or at least are capable of understanding. I heard no commentator mention any of them.
It goes without saying that everyone assumes that Muslims did this. Why does everyone assume this?
First, American Christians and American business interests generally support the State of Israel. Every Muslim regards this state as an illegal invader into Muslim territory. No Muslim nation regards the State of Israel favorably. No Muslim nation has the military power to take out Israel in a direct confrontation.
When Iraq started to build nuclear power plant that might possibly have been used to build a nuclear weapon, the Israeli Air Force bombed it — and all the civilians working there — into oblivion, without warning and without a declaration of war in 1982. President Clinton did the same thing in 1998 to a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan that had no military significance.
Second, the United States supports the State of Israel. Muslims universally believe — as do most Americans — that without the American government’s money, weapons, and official support, Israel would not be able to defend itself indefinitely. They see this money as coming mainly from New York City. The Twin Towers were the most visible symbol of this private capital. The Pentagon was the most visible symbol of our military power. The terrorists struck a blow based on symbols universally recognized by the Islamic world.
Third — and this is less widely understood — Islam regards all of its men as warriors, with or without uniforms. The West’s ancient distinction, which had its origin in the Christian middle ages, between uniformed warriors and civilians is not part of the Islamic worldview.
What United States foreign policy has done since 1948 is to create an implacable enemy of about 500,000,000 men or soon-to-be men, an enemy that cannot lawfully be targeted, according to the West’s official canons of justice.
Furthermore, civilians are supposed to be given trials. They are not supposed to be hunted down and killed by our military, and surely not by agents in civilian clothing, i.e., spies. But what about civilians who do not see themselves a civilians or act like civilians? What do you do with them? Do we bomb them indiscriminately, as the State of Israel does to Palestinian neighborhoods, after a terrorist attack on its own civilians?
Maybe some American spy will assassinate bin Laden. That event will create an international martyr for 500,000,000 men, plus their wives and will-be wives. Bin Laden knows this. He is probably willing to become a martyr, just as the terrorists in those four planes were willing. This is why, from his point of view, the attack was an enormous success. Whether or not he masterminded it, his religious peers will see him as a martyr if he is killed and as a genius strategist if he isn’t. He will get imitators.
When Dr. Arthur Robinson, a biochemist, and I wrote our book-long tract favoring a national civil defense shelter system, Fighting Chance (1986), we had in mind biological weapons as well as nuclear. This nation’s civilian population has never been considered worth protecting. To do so would be opposed to MAD.
When researching the topic of civil defense at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Robinson met the long-time director of the civil defense research program, Conrad Chester. Robinson used this library extensively. (The U.S. government ordered this library destroyed after Chester retired.)
After his retirement, Chester stayed in contact with Robinson. Chester once wrote a paper for a group that Robinson is associated with, Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. It went into detail about how a small terrorist group could use home-brew anthrax to kill at least 90% of the population of New York City, or any major city, 24 hours after they released it into the atmosphere, i.e., 12 hours after they had fled the country. Robinson persuaded him not to go into the details, merely use his authority to persuade the audience. Chester complied — wisely, I think. (Chester later died of natural causes.)
Robinson tells me that any skilled Ph.D in biology could do what Chester described, using used equipment that costs $25,000. New, it would cost $250,000. All he would need in addition to the equipment is a year’s time and a pair of M.A.-level graduate students in biology.
The group that coordinated the 9-11 attacks was not like the band of amateurs who, also according to Chester, came within a few feet of the correct placement of their explosives-laden van in 1993 of bringing down one of the twin towers, with everyone inside killed. The 9-11 group was well-funded and well-organized.
Note: whoever engineered the 9-11 attack will not have much trouble raising funds for the next one. There are some very rich private citizens among the 500,000,000 who have a deep grudge against the United States.
We are not dealing with Keystone Cops-vintage idiots this time, the way we were in 1993’s bomb-laden van. The 9-11 strategy was not adopted to frighten the United States into submission. It was used to recruit a dedicated army of Islamic terrorists for the next stage. It was used to convince recruits that revenge against the Great Satan is possible — and maybe more than revenge. Maybe even victory over the West, an Islamic goal since 622. We are dealing with a motive that stretches back almost fourteen centuries.
Americans are forgive-and-forget people. Their philosophy is “let bygones be bygones.” They cannot conceive of a motive that goes on for 1,400 years. They forget — if they ever knew — that it took Spain from 732 (the battle of Tours in what is now southern France) until 1492 to remove the Moors from their territory.
The day that 50% to 90% of the population of a city dies of a biological attack, and some Islamic terrorist group announces a hit list of sixteen more cities located in the G-8 nations, the West will have a moment of truth. If one of these cities is then successfully attacked, we will learn about the effects on the division of labor when rich urban targets meet cheap weapons of mass destruction.
The events of 9-11 revealed that there is no defense from terrorists who are willing to die. How many attacks would it take to bring down the West’s economy on a discount basis? Five? Three?
Phil Sheridan sowed the wind in 1864. This nation has now reaped the first stage of a whirlwind. I hope and pray — literally — that it will not advance to stage two. But, as I write this from the Shenandoah Valley, I am not confident that my prayer will be answered.
September 13 , 2001
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