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Keith Rankin: Reflections On Today’s Only Story


Keith Rankin, 13 September 2001

Well, there's only one story today. I really appreciated Scoop's independent coverage of yesterday's American tragedy.

I must say that, amid my horror and disbelief, my mind turned to a number of ironies. One of the last things I did on Tuesday night was to watch Australian Prime Minister John Howard, in Washington, interviewed by Jim Lehrer on American PBS television. Howard was in Washington during the attack on the Pentagon. I just hope that he was able to impress upon George W. Bush that the US must not retaliate against Kabul or Baghdad. The prospect of another million or two boat-people from south-west Asia must represent Howard's worst nightmare.

I also thought about what I might say to the American tourists who I am scheduled to lecture about the New Zealand economy on Friday. They will have arrived just yesterday morning, on one of the last flights out of the US. My urge is to comment on the fact that they left on the night of September 10, and arrived in Auckland on September 12. Thank God for them, I mused, that they missed September 11, 2001. But I know that, on Friday, I mustn't be flippant.

(I know all about the dateline. I first crossed it by ship. I was sick - very seasick - on 8 April 1974; for all 48 hours of it. Many years later, my first mother-in-law suffered a fatal stroke, on the one day of my life that I missed on account of the dateline.)

After that - concerned about what the US government's response will be - my mind turned to that old sadist-masochist joke:

Masochist: "Hit me".

Sadist: "No".

If ever there was a time for a putative sadist to say "no", then this is it. The kamikazis who hit New York and Washington are the ultimate masochists. I think we can assume that any victims of retaliation - civilian, military or terrorist - of any US retaliation will be regarded as war heroes on a one-way ticket to Heaven's luxury suite. In much of south-west Asia the US is portrayed as the devil. The perpetrators of yesterday's crashes, if from south-west Asia, will be overjoyed if any US action confirms, to ordinary south-west Asians, that the US is indeed the devil, and that a state of Jihad rightfully exists.

Of course the US needs to remove as efficiently as it can, any threat to its security. It must do this clinically, not punitively. It must do what it has to do to make itself safe. But it must not wage a war that will escalate the whole situation. Among other things, rash actions by American politicians will make America and Americans much less safe.

Talking about security, one thing still puzzles me. It relates to the first aeroplane; the one that crashed into the north tower of the former World Trade Center. By my rough mental calculation, there must have been 45 minutes between the hijacking and the crash. The hijacking was very apparent to air traffic controllers, who could see a non-responsive plane radically alter course, heading straight for New York.

Now that 45 minutes might have been too little time to get a USAF fighter to intercept the aircraft. But it should have been enough time to get a video photographer in place to record any possible event. Yet, despite the many kilometres of footage shown on TV, including multiple angles of the second crash, I have not seen one photo of the first crash. (For that matter the crash in Washington went unrecorded.)

I don't see anything sinister in this, just an understanding that these tragedies are made worse by the inability of ordinary people to quickly see when something extraordinary is taking place. With 45 minutes lead time, surely somebody was expecting something out of the usual. I know that planes have crashed in the past because co-pilots have been unwilling to question the in-cockpit judgements of senior pilots. And hospital patients have died because nurses have been too scared to question senior surgeons.

Some communication in New York did not take place, I am sure, because some person or persons in the communication chain did not want to be seen as a twitty scaremongerer.

How can we act to stop something like this happening again? We make the world safe by developing empathy with the people who hate the United States. We learn to think through the different economic and geopolitical circumstances that create peoples with nothing much to lose; people who can afford to die in a holy war on account of their poverty and the geopolitical trap that reinforces that poverty.

A peaceful prosperous world is a world in which all people have much to lose. A peaceful world is a world in which everyone has an economic stake. A peaceful world will have no Gaza, and no Afghan refugees, without voice or hope, in Pakistan, Iran or the high seas. The United States can do more to help the poor and aggrieved peoples of the world, to build a more inclusive world. If they do, they will enhance their own security.


© 2001 Keith Rankin

keithr@pl.net

http://pl.net/~keithr/


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