Terrorism: The Other Side of the Hill
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Essay 26. Terrorism: The Other Side of the Hill
Fresh memory of any dramatic event is distorted by emotions. They change the perception like the round aquarium stretches the shape of the fish in the water. At least, the fish is alive.
Something like that happens in everybody's personal life. With time, old grievances and infatuations fade away and seem aberrations, and the wound of the loss heals. We live on with the scars.
With time we can contemplate the unperturbed skeleton of a catastrophic change on a historical scale, but we cannot live on as before because the very ground under our feet is different. While the analytical skeletal perception goes into history textbooks, the live view is lost forever. This is why historians value memoirs of eyewitnesses: they capture the ephemeral transition state of the change that itself is often driven by emotions.
My major emotion in the afternoon of September 11, 2001, when all had been over, was the pain of a great defeat, accompanied with the pain of anger and the pain of shame. The scale of death and destruction was so enormous that it suppressed the terror itself.
Large numbers imply extra-human dimensions, but the disaster was man-made. The most powerful country in the world, the greatest democracy, and the only remaining superpower, the big, beautiful, liberal, and comfortable America, my sweet home for fourteen years, was defeated in an assault.
The pain of defeat, anger, and shame are exactly some of the components that most probably were the nutrients of the potting soil for terrorism. My first impetus was revenge, in which, two weeks later, I still see a natural and justified desire of victory. The French revanche is more appropriate. The English revenge is closer to the "an eye for an eye" vengeance. It was as if I had been challenged to become a terrorist myself. I always approved of the commando style counter-terrorism: "one eye for three thousand eyes."
Two weeks later after September 11, I was already certain that the assault could have been prevented if the American apparatus for prevention were not flawed. The failure was imminent.
Meanwhile I was in the middle of my Essay project.
In Essay 23. On the Architecture of Change and Essay 25. On Zippers I tried to answer the central for me question: why and how the change happens. I invoked the image of Sisyphus that rolls his stone uphill, to the top of the transition barrier. In the myth, the stone rolls back because there is nothing behind the barrier, and nothing can change. In real life, if there is a new valley behind the hill, the stone can roll down to a new reality.
NOTE: A chemical reaction can be irreversible for some particular reasons. A metaphor: a pet dog can return home after wandering; a released wild animal most probably will never return.
The stock market normally also possesses the property of micro-equilibrium. What is lost today can be gained tomorrow. The same is true about gambling. Over a long time, however, the market is believed to move only up and the roulette gambling can only deplete the player. This is always just a belief. Medium stretches of time, where loss or gain can be protracted and irreversible, can, in principle, exceed one's life.
In fact, the roulette is a small simple system and is fully predictable. There is no paradox in my statement because I mean the statistical prediction. Economy is a large complex system and even a long term prediction concerning the stock market can be wrong. The entire picture can be reversed in the conditions of a violent global competition for limited resources (land, energy, and water) in which the West has a large numerical disadvantage. History is full of examples of irreversible decline, without which there could not be history.
Large complex systems, such as society and evolving biosphere, roll over the barrier to the new, unseen, and unthinkable valley behind which a new hill chain stretches up to the horizon.
My next point is that all the components of the September 11 were known in advance:
1. The precedent of an airplane crash into a skyscraper (14 people killed and 25 injured), when a B-25 medium bomber crashed into its 78th and 79th floors of the Empire State Building on its north facade. It was on July 28, 1945.
"The building shuddered, realigned itself, and settled. Probably instantly, although several witnesses said there seemed to be a moment's interval, came the explosion, and the top of the fog-shrouded Empire State Building was briefly seen in a bright orange glow. High-octane airplane fuel spewed out of the ruptured tanks and sprayed the building…The heat was so intense that partition frames within offices disappeared, and the shattered glass from windows and lamp fixtures melted and fused into stalactites….One engine, part of the fuselage, and a landing gear tore through the internal office walls, through two fire walls and across a stairway, through another office wall and out of the south wall of the building, with the parts coming to a fiery rest at 10 West Thirty-Third Street in the penthouse studio/apartment of sculptor Henry Hering, who was off playing golf in Scarsdale at the time,"
John Tauranac, The Making of a Landmark, New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1997, (originally printed in hardcover by Scribner, 1995).
2. The terrorist idea to crash a hijacked plane into Eiffel Tower, when an Air France airplane was hijacked in Algeria.
3. The ability of people, including the middle class, to commit a collective suicide (the Heaven's Gate cult in 1997, the mass suicide in Uganda in 2000, and many other examples) because of their own vision of this or the other side.
4. The existence of a terrorist organization with strong will, abundant money, and a long series of escalating successes, including the World Trade Center bombing on 26th February 1993.
5. The well-known weakness of security at the American airports.
6. The realization of the impending danger, as Walter Laqueur saw it in his "Postmodern Terrorism: New Rules For An Old Game," (FOREIGN AFFAIRS - September/ October 1996).
The Bible says that when the Old Testament hero Samson brought down the temple, burying himself along with the Philistines in the ruins, "the dead which he slew at his death were more than he slew in his life." The Samsons of a society have been relatively few in all ages. But with the new technologies and the changed nature of the world in which they operate, a handful of angry Samsons and disciples of apocalypse would suffice to cause havoc. Chances are that of 100 attempts at terrorist super-violence, 99 would fail. But the single successful one could claim many more victims, do more material damage, and unleash far greater panic than anything the world has yet experienced. To this I would add:
Now the house was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson made sport. (Judges, 15:27)
7. The saturation of our land and air with "powder kegs.”
In movies a shot into the powder keg often decides the outcome of the battle with pirates and other bad guys: they are blown into pieces by their own ammunition.
Our civilization is filled with powder kegs charged with enormous energy: airplanes, moving cars, missiles, nuclear bombs and reactors, oil and gas storage facilities, tankers, and even tall buildings. Any skyscraper has enormous potential energy approximately measured by the half the product of its mass and height. It needs only a strong enough push to fall down and release the energy. For this reason alone it is not reasonable to build high.
One such powder keg was zeppelin, a blimp with a metal frame, filled with flammable hydrogen. The famous Hindenburg of Nazi Germany, adorned with swastikas, exploded in Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1937, after ten successful trans-Atlantic flights. Was it an anti-Nazi sabotage?
Although it spreads death, terrorism is a form of life. It evolves and adapts. When the entrance barriers are raised, instead of bringing weapons and ammunition into the target country, terrorism uses internal energy of the target and releases it to cause destruction. It shoots into its enemy's powder keg.
Events like September 11, WW1, WW2, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 happened simply because they could happen.
I have no intent to go into politics and take sides
on this subject. Nevertheless, there is a sad
parallel between the global warming and the
September 11 aftermath. Before the actual disaster
nobody would spend that much money and effort on
patching up the wall that could have separated us
from the attack. There was a wall not so much
between the experts and the politicians—I believe
the politicians were concerned enough—as in the
mentality of the potential voters who influence the
decision of the politicians in a democracy. The
politicians clearly saw that there was no chance to
reach even half the hill.
The macabre other side of this hill can be made attractive by religious belief, and the Koran, with all its militant spirit, is not unique. Compare quotations:
Religious texts do not prove anything. They could be
interpreted in many ways and used to justify any
No passion disturbs the soundness of our judgment as anger does.
Montaigne, Essays, II, 31.
Montaigne writes that his own anger was as short as it was lively.
Anger makes people lose control. I made my worst decisions in life under the influence of anger. Looking back, I can see that my problem was that all my strong emotions, if they did not go away overnight, as most did, were long-lasting, viscous, stagnant, all-consuming, and I had no chance of coming back to my normal state fast enough.
I can imagine how people's anger in the Middle East
is being daily whipped up by the psychotic
atmosphere of mutual hate and murder, so that even
normal and reasonable people have no time for
relaxation and coming back to their senses. But
there could be additional reasons for educated
people to plan mass murder in cold blood for years,
especially, on European soil.
1. The complete English Bible contains about 750,000 words. The word kill is used 215 times. The Koran (complete text) contains about 168,000 words. The table presents approximate occurrence of words kill and love in the texts.
Page created: 2001 Revised: 2016
Essays 1 to 56 : http://spirospero.net/essays-complete.pdf
Essays 57 to 60: http://spirospero.net/LAST_ESSAYS.pdf
Essay 60: http://spirospero.net/artandnexistence.pdf