A Follow-Up on
The Terrorist Attacks

By J.H. Crawford

30 October 2001


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 events.


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.

Recent Events

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 his warcraft.

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?

What Next?

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.


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.

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