EMAIL PAGE TWO
COLUMN SIXTY-FOUR, OCTOBER 1, 2001
(Copyright © 2001 Al Aronowitz)
SHOULD RETALIATION BE A KISS?
For your attention
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 11:55:21 +0000 (UTC)
spotted this on the Guardian Unlimited site and thought you should
today's London Guardian. An interesting read if you have time. Hope you
see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site, go
attack on the United States last Tuesday has brought home to the west two
uncomfortable realities - the ferocious hatred felt for America; and that none
of us will ever feel safe again. So, asks Martin Amis, where do we go from here?
report: terrorism in the US
September 17 2001
was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty:
that was the defining moment. Until then, America thought she was witnessing
nothing more serious than the worst aviation disaster in history; now she had a
sense of the fantastic vehemence ranged against her.
have never seen a generically familiar object so transformed by effect. That
second plane looked eagerly alive, and galvanised with malice, and wholly alien.
For those thousands in the south tower, the second plane meant the end of
everything. For us, its glint was the worldflash of a coming future.
is political communication by other means. The message of September 11 ran as
follows: America, it is time you learned how implacably you are hated. United
Airlines Flight 175 was an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile aimed at her
innocence. That innocence, it was here being claimed, was a luxurious and
week after the attack, one is free to taste the bile of its atrocious ingenuity.
It is already trite - but stringently necessary - to emphasise that such a mise
en scène would have embarrassed a studio executive's storyboard or a
thriller-writer's notebook ("What happened today was not credible,"
were the wooden words of Tom Clancy, the author of The Sum of All Fears). And
yet in broad daylight and full consciousness that outline became established
reality: a score or so of Stanley knives produced two million tons of rubble.
lines of US policy were bankrupted by the events of last Tuesday, among them
national missile defence. Someone realised that the skies of America were
already teeming with missiles, each of them primed and cocked.
plan was to capture four airliners---in the space of half an hour. All four
would be bound for the west coast, to ensure maximum fue-load. The first would
crash into the north tower just as the working day hit full stride. Then a pause
of 15 minutes, to give the world time to gather round its TV sets. With that
attention secured, the second plane would crash into the south tower, and in
that instant America's youth would turn into age.
the architect of this destruction was Osama bin Laden, who is a qualified
engineer, then he would certainly know something about the stress equations of
the World Trade Centre. He would also know something about the effects of
ignited fuel: at 500C (a third of the temperature actually attained), steel
loses 90% of its strength. He must have anticipated that one or both of the
towers would collapse. But no visionary cinematic genius could hope to recreate
the majestic abjection of that double surrender, with the scale of the buildings
conferring its own slow motion. It was well understood that an edifice so
demonstrably comprised of concrete and steel would also become an unforgettable
metaphor. This moment was the apotheosis of the postmodern era---the era of
images and perceptions. Wind conditions were also favourable; within hours,
Manhattan looked as though it had taken 10 megatons.
a third plane would crash into the Pentagon, and a fourth would crash into Camp
David (the site of the first Arab-Israeli accord) or possibly into the White
House (though definitely not into Air Force One: this rumour was designed to
excuse Bush's meanderings on the day). The fourth plane crashed, upside down,
not into a landmark but into the Pennsylvanian countryside, after what seems to
have been heroic resistance from the passengers. The fate of the fourth plane
would normally have been one of the stories of the year. But not this year. The
fact that for the first few days one struggled to find more than a mention of it
gives some idea of the size of the American defeat.
wife's sister had just taken her children to school and was standing on the
corner of Fifth Avenue and Eleventh Street at 8.58 am, on the eleventh day of
the ninth month of 2001 (the duo-millennial anniversary of Christianity). For a
moment she imagined herself to be on a runway at Kennedy Airport. She looked up
to see the glistening underbelly of the 767, a matter of yards above her head.
(Another witness described plane number one as "driving" down Fifth
Avenue---at 400mph.) There is a modest arch that fronts Washington Square Park;
American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles was flying so low that it
had to climb to clear it.
have all watched aeroplanes approach, or seem to approach, a large building. We
tense ourselves as the supposed impact nears, even though we are sure that this
is a parallax illusion, and that the plane will cruise grandly on. My
sister-in-law was right behind Flight 11. She urged it to swerve, to turn into
the plentiful blue sky. But the plane did not turn. That afternoon her children
would be bringing refreshments to the block-long queue waiting to give blood at
the second aircraft, and the terror revealed - the terror doubled, or squared.
We speak of "plane rage" - but it was the plane itself that was in
frenzy, one felt, as it gunned and steadied and then smeared itself into the
south tower. Even the flames and smoke were opulently evil, with their vampiric
reds and blacks. Murder-suicide from without was now duplicated within to
provide what was perhaps the day's most desolating spectacle. They flailed and
kicked as they came down. As if you could fend off that abysmal drop. You too
would flail and kick. You could no more help yourself than you could stop your
teeth from chattering at a certain intensity of cold. It is a reflex. It is what
human beings do when they fall.
Pentagon is a symbol, and the WTC is, or was, a symbol, and an American
passenger jet is also a symbol - of indigenous mobility and zest, and of the
galaxy of glittering destinations. The bringers of Tuesday's terror were morally
"barbaric", inexpiably so, but they brought a demented sophistication
to their work. They took these great American artefacts and pestled them to
gether. Nor is it at all helpful to describe the attacks as
"cowardly". Terror always has its roots in hysteria and psychotic
insecurity; still, we should know our enemy. The firefighters were not afraid to
die for an idea. But the suicide killers belong in a different psychic category,
and their battle effectiveness has, on our side, no equivalent. Clearly, they
have contempt for life. Equally clearly, they have contempt for death.
aim was to torture tens of thousands, and to terrify hundreds of millions. In
this, they have succeeded. The temperature of planetary fear has been lifted
towards the feverish; "the world
hum", in Don DeLillo's phrase, is now as audible as tinnitus. And
yet the most durable legacy has to do with the more distant future, and the
disappearance of an illusion about our loved ones, particularly our children.
American parents will feel this most acutely, but we will also feel it. The
illusion is this. Mothers and fathers need to feel that they can protect their
children. They can't, of course, and never could, but they need to feel that
they can. What once seemed more or less impossible - their protection---now
seems obviously and palpably inconceivable. So from now on we will have to get
by without that need to feel.
Tuesday's date may not prove epochal; and it should be the immediate task of the
present administration to prevent it from becoming so. Bear in mind: the attack
could have been infinitely worse. On September 11 experts from the Centres for
Disease Control "rushed" to the scene to test its atmosphere for
biological and chemical weapons. They knew that these were a possibility; and
they will remain a possibility. There is also the integrally insoluble hazard of
America's inactive nuclear power stations (no nuclear power station has ever
been dismantled, anywhere). Equivalent assaults on such targets could reduce
enormous tracts of the country to plutonium graveyards for tens of thousands of
years. Then there is the near-inevitable threat of terrorist nuclear weapons -
directed, perhaps, at a nuclear power station. One of the conceptual tasks to
which Bush and his advisers will not be equal is that the Tuesday Terror, for
all its studious viciousness, was a mere adumbration. We are still in the first
will also be horribly difficult and painful for Americans to absorb the fact
that they are hated, and hated intelligibly. How many of them know, for example,
that their government has destroyed at least 5% of the Iraqi
on the other side? Weirdly, the world suddenly feels bipolar. All over again the
west confronts an irrationalist, agonistic, theocratic/ ideocratic system which
is essentially and unappeasably opposed to its existence. The old enemy was a
superpower; the new enemy isn't even a state. In the end, the USSR was broken by
its own contradictions and abnormalities, forced to realise, in Martin Malia's
words, that "there is no such thing as socialism, and the Soviet Union
built it". Then, too, socialism was a modernist, indeed a futurist,
experiment, whereas militant fundamentalism is convulsed in a late-medieval
phase of its evolution. We would have to sit through a renaissance and a
reformation, and then await an enlightenment. And we're not going to do that.
are we going to do? Violence must come; America must have catharsis. We would
hope that the response will be, above all, non-escalatory. It should also mirror
the original attack in that it should have the capacity to astonish. A utopian
example: the crippled and benighted people of Afghanistan, hunkering down for a
winter of famine, should not be bombarded with cruise missiles; they should be
bombarded with consignments of food, firmly marked LENDLEASE---USA. More
realistically, unless Pakistan can actually deliver Bin Laden, the American
retaliation is almost sure to become elephantine. Then terror from above will
replenish the source of all terror from below: unhealed wounds. This is the
familiar cycle so well caught by the matter, and the title, of VS Naipaul's
story, Tell Me Who to Kill.
best destiny, as planetary cohabitants, is the development of what has been
called "species consciousness"---something over and above
nationalisms, blocs, religions, ethnicities. During this week of incredulous
misery, I have been trying to apply such a consciousness, and such a
sensibility. Thinking of the victims, the perpetrators, and the near future, I
felt species grief, then species shame, then species fear.
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited ##
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