One year later: an assessment
The well-tempered catastrophe
In my column of September 11, 2001, trying to grope my way to a proper imaginative appreciation of the atrocities, I observed: "10,000 dead at least; perhaps 20,000 or more." However oppressed I was by that day's waking nightmare, that estimation was not meant to come across as an hysterical outburst; in fact I tried to err on the side of caution, to correct for what I thought might have been a little hysteria on the part of the media.
Among the observations it is possible to make now, one year later, is this: the true death toll from the terror attacks was astonishingly small. Approximately 3,000 people lost their lives on the planes, in the World Trade Center, and at the Pentagon. Even if all the fatalities had occurred at the Trade Towers a total of 220 floors that would still amount to fewer than 15 deaths per floor. Even in strenuous reaction against hysteria, one would have arrived at the dismal conclusion that the floors above the impacts must, by themselves, have contained 3,000 or 4,000 people, all fatally trapped.
The established media have been pretty silent on the question of the death toll, but I have nevertheless encountered at least two non-conspiratorial explanations for the minimal losses: the elevator systems and stairwells in the WTC somehow proved far more resistant to the impacts and the jet-fuel infernos than the structures themselves; and many if not most office workers at the WTC observed an extreme version of flextime, drifting into their offices like 19th-century bankers in the City of London or umbrella-wielders at the Foreign Office no earlier than 9:30 or 10 in the morning. In fairness, I must record that the Big Media did pass along one official account that cut deeply into the early death estimates: the shopping mall beneath the towers, which according to the first reports contained thousands of trapped shoppers, turned out to have been evacuated immediately after the planes hit, and with complete efficiency.
Another observation it is possible to make now, merely on the basis of the passing of 365 days, is that 9/11 was an isolated attack, a single blow, a one-time catastrophe. It was not the start of a terror campaign, at least not one directed at, rather than by, the United State. Not even the regime has made any specific claims of having foiled follow-up attacks of similar dimensions. (The recently alleged bomb plot against a military base was small potatoes.)
The anthrax scare remember? does not qualify as a second heavy blow. It was exquisitely proportioned, which is not necessarily to say that it was exquisitely engineered. It effectively imported terror (albeit no actual anthrax spores) from the East Coast into the heartland, but at the same time it was short-lived, thus minimizing the disruption of important systems upon which the regime depended. It disabled Congress at a crucial moment, but not for too long. Its body count was tiny. And it was not even represented as a second blow: the regime has refrained from categorically accusing the same Dr. No-type cave-dwellers it blames for the jet attacks.
Even if the seemingly eternal anthrax investigation unexpectedly ends with indictments tomorrow, the anthrax scare was dead by early 2002. One almost wants to say that it served its purpose and was then turned off like a faucet. Again with complete efficiency.
Looking back at the short season of terror, I can't seem to avoid concepts such as "efficiency" and "proportion," as well as the notion of modulation, as in "carefully modulated." But surely nothing of the kind can have been in the minds of the Dr. No cave-techies who the regime tells us destroyed the WTC. Surely the aim of such people, as they have been depicted by the official organs, would have been to kill as many wicked bankers and Britney Spears fans as possible. The final toll of 3,000 would have come as a shocking disappointment to them.
As for what was in the minds of the "disgruntled government scientists" who have been labeled "persons of interest" in the anthrax case, that is less certain; but it is hard to imagine such men, once settled upon homicide, wielding such a doubtful and inaccurate weapon. Firing a .22 rifle out their apartment window at random would have been almost as good a way of dinging Dan Rather. It is precisely from the standpoint of the regime's "persons of interest" that the anthrax attacks appear absurdly ill-proportioned, inefficient, and poorly modulated.
It may seem odd or even repellent to propose that a toll of 3,000 murdered people, most of them civilians and emergency-service workers, was in any sense a well-tempered result. But consider the possible effect of 20,000 or 50,000 deaths. If it is not too obnoxious, put yourself in the place of one who, in the summer of 2001, was planning the attacks and contemplating such a toll. The American civil order is notoriously shaky. It has been a commonplace for decades now that if the country were to suffer an economic depression like that of the 1930s, blood would flow in rivers, which did not occur 70 years ago thanks to a much stronger common culture and vastly better public morals. From Dr. No's standpoint, such a general collapse of morale, of civil order, and of the economy would be just the ticket. (One supposes he could always buy his battery-operated cave-computers and comsat equipment from the Japanese.) But if other, more established entities, operating not out of caves but out of bland air-conditioned offices, designed the attacks of 9/11, they could not have desired any such result. They would have had to proceed with caution, investigating ways to make the damage spectacular and at the same time limit it substantially. In any case sheer numbers aside it wouldn't do for the list of 9/11 victims to be completely random. And as Dr. Stephen J. Sniegoski has shown, selected "important" people did receive warnings: at least, warnings to stay out of New York on der Tag.
I fear I have strayed very far into speculation, if not indeed into telepathy. But a year after the events, we can plainly see that the 9/11 attacks, isolated in time and space, and with an amazingly limited death toll (which was whittled downward, ever downward, over many months), administered a shock to the imperial body politic that was not only strong but also tonic.
Dr. Sniegoski has explained at length how 9/11 started things moving for the Empire abroad. Although ultimate goals have not yet been attained, those things are still moving. To be sure, the regime is having some difficulty marshaling its allies and is even beset by intramural dissent over whether to mount a conventional invasion of Iraq. In other words, our rulers are having trouble, perhaps more than they expected, in fully exploiting 9/11 in generalizing from the (perpetual) Hunt for Dr. No to the next great unfolding of Empire. At home, though, our rulers are more powerful than ever. At home, one year after 9/11, the Empire sinks its talons and greedily feeds and stretches its great leathery wings upon the night.
Some dissent on certain matters is permitted to leak into the official media, in the same way that steam is relieved by a pressure valve: but that is only good Polite Totalitarianism. In Fort Wayne, the only town of any size near my personal bunker, both of the daily newspapers in their editorials and analyses have over the past few weeks sounded the tocsin about our loss of civil liberties in the face of the fake-terror hysteria. The morning paper is a pretty relentless organ of the Left (the conservative Indiana Policy Review once described it as the "voice of socialism in northeastern Indiana"), and the afternoon paper is "wet" conservative overall but subject to some soft-libertarian influence in its editorial pages. It has been a while since leftists were famed for defending civil (i.e., propertyless) liberties especially in a context involving Israel. And Establishment conservatives have never proved any more noteworthy in that respect especially in a context involving Israel. So the editorialists' bipartisan concern, however cautious, nuanced, and "responsible," is not an absolute nullity.
But the people themselves, waving their flags, lighting their candles, and celebrating their multiculturalism, are quite undisturbed at the progressive loss of their liberty. Public-opinion pollsters report that a substantial majority are willing to surrender much of what remains of that birthright in return for "security" against Dr. No, Adolf Hussein, and their confederates. I always recommend skepticism toward poll results, but there is certainly no general public outcry in favor of freedom, except for our freedom to be freely oppressed by other Americans. Ordinary Americans are not waving flags and lighting candles to protest the USA PATRIOT Act, nor are they coming together in any "democratic groundswell" to demand its repeal.
One year after the attacks on New York and Washington, people's belief that only a big, powerful, active, intrusive Central Government can provide "security" is stronger than ever, and that belief seems secure against all evidence to the contrary including the earthshaking evidence of 9/11 itself. But that is only natural: evidence is not enough to change people's minds. Argument is necessary in order to know what to make of evidence, or even to know what counts as evidence; and argument is just what most of our countrymen unexposed to fever swamps such as the one you find yourself in here have not heard. Worse, they have not been educated to look favorably on that kind of mental exertion.
That is why we have not seen ridden out of town on fence-rails, whilst slathered with hot tar and prickly feathers, all those privileged chatterers and bureaucrats and pols who would rather send F-16s to shoot down hijacked airliners, killing everyone, innocent and guilty alike, than permit pilots to arm themselves and perhaps save some or all of the innocent people aboard. To anyone whose mind is in Operationally Nominal Status, it is obvious that a very special meaning of "security" is in play here, one that has nothing to do with the security of ordinary people. But it remains stubbornly unobvious to most ordinary people themselves.
One other big piece of mental furniture remains in place, surely to the delight of the imperials, and that is ordinary people's indifference to an interventionist foreign policy and its predictable costs. Even the careful, "responsible" nuancers of respectable dissent have managed to keep tiptoeing around that one, throughout every one of the past 365 days.
Let us stipulate that Dr. No does exist as he has been depicted and that Adolf Hussein is out to blow us all up: in the popular mind, that state of affairs would lack any historical or geopolitical or analytical context. Now, that has something to do with the fear of respectable people of being labeled anti-Semitic. Our supervisors have told us over and over that the attacks of 9/11 had nothing to do with Israel or with the U.S. alliance with Israel; but in fact respectable people didn't have to be told twice not to look in that direction. Chances are they didn't even have to be told once.
An even stronger force, however, in molding the popular mind is the inextinguishable American millennialism, which the official schools and media are able to pass along to succeeding generations without difficulty, even as those rising Americans are prevented from knowing whether Ferdinand Columbus came before or after Franklin Washington or George D. Roosevelt. In calculating which is the "senior" influence Zionism or general American millennialism it may be useful to remember that the two ideologies are related, or more precisely cognate, in an odd but not irrelevant way. Millennialist ideology in America began with New England Puritans whose imagination was more vividly stirred by the Old Testament than by the New, and who adapted their "New Jerusalem" ideology from Judaic traditions; and it was the secularizing descendents of those very Puritans who populated and shaped the American ruling and mandarin classes.
Whatever it may teach about Israel, American millennialism doesn't necessarily teach that the United State is always in the right: in fact, during Vietnam, millennialism came to teach that the United State was in the wrong. What millennialism really teaches is that U.S. power is absolute, in the sense that it is immune to historical cause and effect, geographical limitation, or philosophical challenge. In one decade, the United State had a mission to make the world safe for Mass Democracy; in another, to make it safe for Heroic Peasants' Socialism, which at the time it was erroneously opposing; and in this decade, it has a mission to make the world safe for Global Rock 'n' Roll Skateboarding and Anti-Western Multiculturalism.
Whatever was shaken to its foundations on September 11, 2001, it was not American millennialism. It stands untouched as the tallest structure on the landscape of the American psyche. Accordingly I have to conclude, one year later, that whether or not the Empire encounters a few glitches in pacifying Pipeline-istan, back home in Mall-istan and Cornfield-istan all is A-OK.
September 11, 2002
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