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UQ Wire: Hammernews - 9-11 Narcissism

Distribution via the Unanswered Questions Wire .

9-11 Narcissism

by Michael Hammerschlag

The Oliver Stone movie World Trade Center is another moving hagiopic to the terrible sacrifice of 9-11, designed maybe to redeem him from the wilder theories of JFK. But it isn't the time for such a movie, we've been celebrating ourselves for being victims in 9-11 for 5 years now, and it's too much. It's time to stop congratulating ourselves for something we didn't do.

And we didn't do many things. 9-11 was a tremendous shock, an awakening, a spur to fight our sworn enemies. But our pitiful president sneered at the guy sent to tell him, "Bin Laden determined to strike inside America" in August. We didn't stop the 2 hijackers on the watch list; the FBI ignored 2 agents crystal clear warning about suicide plane pilots in Phoenix and Minneapolis and the incriminating info on Moussaoui's computer, we ignored warnings from a passenger who said "these guys are terrorists" on their test flights over the Boston to LA route, bureaucratic hacks in the FBI destroyed James O'Neil, the foremost terrorism expert in the country (who caught Ramzi Yousef in Pakistan as new head of FBI counterterrorism, and would have caught Bin Laden ); we didn't warn the planes well enough to stop the last 1 or 2 hijackings; we had only 7 jets in America on launch alert and sent the ones we did out over the ocean; 911 operators who had reports from the 18 escapees never told other operators about the one open stairway in Tower 2, leaving 600 odd to their fiery fate.

As for the response, let me say I love firemen- they are the definition of selfless courage and sacrifice, but the FDNY's reaction was worse than nothing. Chiefs set up their command center in the bottom floor of the WTC, equivalent to a wartime command post setting up at the absolute front line of a battle, rather than miles behind. They couldn’t even see anything that was happening above. That CBS French documentary that followed a local fire company into the WTC revealed the stunning fact that the commanders in the second tower had no idea the first collapsed. We screwed up royally. The blunders were manifest, if you read the agonizing book 102 minutes by NYT reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. Doors to the roof were sealed, so even official maintenance men couldn’t unlock them after a searing choking climb to a possible escape. The FDNY bosses didn't turn on the WTC walkie talkie amplification system because they wrongly thought it didn't work, so almost no one had any communications, except some police, who couldn’t talk to the firemen.

FDNY commanders sent firemen up a 110 story building with 80 lbs of gear- till they collapsed- only one firefighter ever made it to the impact zones. They fought an explosion inferno in the once highest buildings in the world as if it was a 6 story apartment fire. A fleeing court officer begged a collapsed assembly of 100 firemen on the 19nd floor to get moving, who were catatonically unresponsive- not realizing that the first tower had collapsed. They all died. Of the 58 firemen who made it out of the North Tower, only 4 knew that the South Tower had already collapsed. The only thing most firemen that responded to 9-11 accomplished was block the escape of people descending on the stairways. It was frankly crazy to be sending these poor guys up there- what could they do- carry people down 80 stories, and the possibility of collapse was glaring.* To really be a hero, you have to be successful. [But to go up into that inferno took almost superhuman courage. Likewise the guys that searched and cleared that nightmare jagged poisonous wreckage, many foreigners, were tremendously courageous and indefatigable.] Most of these problems still haven’t been fixed, which dishonors their sacrifice.. but even talking about what really happened is difficult with the worshipful mythic aura that’s arisen.

For 5 years now, we've swam in this strange bath of moralistic self pity and self-congratulation, ignoring all the blindness and foolishness that didn't stop 9-11, and allowing the Administration to abuse it for their malignant purposes. Initially that was somewhat healthy- a necessary cleansing and mourning, but once it ended we should have adapted and moved on, after a year or so. Not to this inappropriate war on terrorism, which was a linguistic stupidity and a deliberately endless task, but to a destruction of the limited culprits and resolute strength against the continuing threat. Al Qaida wasn't 50,000 or 70,000 members but a several hundred dedicated fanatics, maybe a thousand, and many trainees, most who thought they were training for Chechnya, India, or Israel. Had the Republicans not crippled Clinton in a vicious 6 year jihad, he might have dispatched them with commandos in 1998 after the Africa embassy bombings.

And the world has long grown weary of out breast-beating victimhood. In the Congo, where 1200 are reportedly killed a day in the worst war in the world, a 9-11 happens every 2 1/2 days; in Iraq every month.

Bush has ridden this automatic long burst of patriotism like desert jockey, deep into the Sahara, because nobody called him on it, but now we're way way out with no water. He lied us into a criminally reckless counterproductive war, endorsed torture as a basic part of US military policy, half-destroyed our military, crippled us to any other threat, and has blithely refused any reassessment. It's time to stop. The Iraq War isn't patriotic, it was a catastrophic blunder that will threaten and damage America for decades and strengthens the terrorists, and opposition to it isn't weak, it's strong. That's the lesson of Lieberman’s primary defeat (though Joltin Joe hasn’t left and gone away- with the Ct. Republicans he could still retain his seat). For every terrorist killed in Afghanistan, we’ve generated 20 in Iraq or in Palestine-Lebanon. Now 1/5th of the world hates us.

But escaping Iraq is a no win situation. We can stay forever and maintain the eroding status quo against ever increasing terror, or we can get out- leading to a 10 year civil war that will kill maybe a million Iraqis, create the unlimited training ground for terrorists that Bush claimed to be stopping, stop the 1.6 million barrels of oil a day coming from Iraq, and destabilize the entire Mideast. Or the swelling civil war will drive us out. Iraq is a jackpot that the ignorant arrogant fools of this Administration bullied, blustered, and badgered us into- without the slightest understanding of the consequences.

The handful of neocons that planned and carried our this nightmare are America's Bolsheviks, radicals wedded to an extreme theoretical philosophy that brooks no dissent, ignores all evidence to the contrary, and chuckles at the cost. The cavalier careless endorsement of the Lebanese assault should be their death knell. They are dangerous, vicious, deluded fools, who have damaged our hopes and maybe our future, with their lies and hijacking of USA's foreign policy, integrity, and honor. They should be treated the same way as the real 40's Communists: driven out of government life, investigated, tried, and blacklisted. Hopefully that will start this November.

* In, of course, retrospect. But to go into that inferno took almost superhuman courage. Likewise the guys that searched and cleared that nightmare jagged poisonous wreckage, many foreigners, were tremendously courageous and indefatigable. I ate with them at a Ward St. diner after exploring the ruins a couple of months later. I admire firemen above all others. 102 Minutes, when done, will be the definitive movie on 9-11, which Stone should have done, rather than concentrate on 2 trapped guys.

For some reason, victim’s families deserved hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars; something never considered for OKC bombing victims; as if the collective shock made it so much worse, but I imagine the collectivity of the devastation, that the entire country was on their side, might have provided some consolation to victim families.


Michael Hammerschlag's commentary and articles ( have appeared in the Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Honolulu Advertiser, Capital Times, MediaChannel; and Moscow News, Tribune, Times, and Guardian. He broke the first comprehensive story on media mistakes in the 2000 election, spent 2 years in Russia as the empire collapsed, has covered Presidential campaigns, and was scheduled to fly over Manhattan on 9-11.


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