Remembering the Simple Things in a Crisis

Terrorism is a nightmare wrapped in a stolen banner. By Michael Wolfe


As I write, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City have crumbled before our eyes, we have seen a plane pass through a skyscraper, and the Pentagon has been pierced to its inner courtyard. Tens of thousands of people are presumed dead and injured, other airplanes are down or missing, schools and public buildings are closed across the country, and Americans are stunned. For many of us it is as though this tragedy had occurred, not hundreds or thousands of miles away, but in our family rooms at home.

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Common sense and past experience assigns these tragic events to a concerted terrorist attack. Terrorism is designed to accomplish a single end: to prove to a large, secure population that it is not invulnerable. It is generally launched by those who feel they have no other means or representation to make their situation felt. It is the ultimate failure of human communication, the poison pen letter sent without a name.

This event signals a massive failure of the intelligence community, too, a community that always seems to be staring intently in the wrong direction just when the next disaster strikes. Thus, in 1995, the Oklahoma bombing was laid at the door of an undefined Arab source, until we learned some days later that the perpetrators came from within. This most recent tragedy required three things: a number of trained pilots prepared to die for their cause; a set of easily acquired flight charts; and a poor security system that permitted the perpetrators access to commercial aircraft. This may have been well coordinated, but it is not particularly sophisticated. Certainly it could not be described as "high tech."

As the force of this "second Pearl Harbor" sinks in, anything could happen in the government, society, and collective psyche of the country. It is worth recollecting at this point that both the media and individuals should shy away from generalizations that can only incriminate innocent people and aid and abet the perpetrators. The usual assumption will no doubt emerge, linking these events to the "Middle East" and to "Islam."


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