DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW of the 9/11 Commission Report


Author (or Editor): 9/11 Commission: Thomas H. Kean, Lee H. Hamilton, Richard Ben-Veniste, Bob Kerry, Fred F. Fielding, John F. Lehman, Jamie S. Gorelick, Timothy R. Roemer, Slade Gorton, James R. Thompson, Philip Zelikow, Christopher A. Koim, Daniel Marcus 

Title: The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States

Fiction? Anthology?  

Publisher:  W. W. Norton

Date: 2004

ISBN:  0-393-32671-3

Series Name:

Physical description: paperback, 567 pg, of which 107 are footnotes

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL: terrorism

Review: This book was published with great fanfare on July 22, 2004, with a major press conference that day, with the book going on sale at noon.

Mr. Kean gave a sobering warning in his public statement, about the zeal of the asymmetric, ideological enemy and our lack of preparedness. The book backs up his statements in matter-of-fact, reasonable fashion of topical fourteen chapters (the first is entitled the chilling “We Have Some Planes”). “Is it safe”? asks the dentist in Marathon Man. “We are not safe.”

There has been a lack of imagination, both in government and in the public. In 102 minutes (the length of an average feature film) on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the nature of our collective moral reality changed forever.  One can say that Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum, or may even Stephen King can provide us with the imagination to enumerate all the possible motives of attack. Part of the imagination, though, comes in understanding the hate—generating the horror-filled class that has the methods of destruction, maybe even ending free liberal civilization. A major concept that we missed was suicide—we see it from Palestinians but had never considered it on the scale of hijackings, and we badly overlooked the cultural phenomenon that some young men, especially, might see death as a way to be important and to make a “statement” (raising an ordinary family just isn’t good enough, and may not be an opportunity anyway).  We can talk about the political immaturity, corruption and backwardness of regimes in much of the Muslim world, but that does not itself account for the paradigm behind our problem. The book explains this—the ideology of Osama bin Laden (or Usama bin Laden) back to the virtuous nihilism of Sayyid Qutb—and this seems to extend beyond the specific grievances over Palestine or infidels in Arabia. There is genuine controversy over whether Al Qaeda hates just American foreign policy or American psyche and modernism—they are seen as inseparable. Osama bin Laden does what he does because he can.  It’s like saying one evil person will frame another self-indulgent but benign person just for the expression of authority.  It’s a kind of evil that is the sum of a converging series of evil. The most remarkable fact is the paradigm itself: a non-state, even one determined individual, can infect or poison modern pluralistic civilization and bring it low, to subsume to religious meritocracy, a kind of finality and permanence.  What strikes me about all of this is how similar it is to saying that one determined writer can alter the democratic political process, and how unacceptable it is to give in to domestic or mundane goals of others.

The problems were, he says, systemic, and the authors recommend a radical reorganization of intelligence functions. (To blame everyone is to blame no one.)  They seem to be aiming for more centralization, which is not necessarily a good idea if bureaucracy oversimplifies the details of “imagination.” From what I can tell, however, the authors talk little or none about the sacrifices that could be expected of ordinary Americans (we could talk about the steganography problem and ordinary use of the Internet)—probably because a radical change in our way of life, imposed by an external agent—seems so plainly unthinkable.

The authors give terse but detailed accounts of the events of that day, including reaching the conclusion that the Air Force might not have been able to shoot down Flight 93 in time, so the passengers really did save further catastrophe at the Capitol or White House. (By the way, ground eye witnesses known to me claim that the Flight 93 plane was turning slightly farther west that generally reported, and very low to the ground, and might well have crashed about four miles northwest of the town of Kipton, Ohio, where I had spent my boyhood summers in the 50s.) The single most horrific event of all could be a nuclear explosion that could reach both the White House and Congress when both are occupied—a total decapitation of government that the hijackers attempted on 9/11. I hope I don’t survive such an incident since I live in nearby Arlington—and does a “self-promoting queer” like me have anything to offer a world that is left, if mullahs are pointing rifles to convert me to Islam? (The delays of some of the hijacked flights may have prevented this government wipeout or overthrow possibility anyway on 9/11, even if Flight 93 had reached its target—those buildings were already evacuated. Wired has proposed efficient and automated highway radiation technologies to prevent radioactive materials from being brought undetected into cities, although I don’t know if they could see through lead containers.)  Michael Moore notwithstanding, there is no objective evidence that members of the Bin Laden family were given preferential treatment in getting out of the country.

9/11/ panelist John Lehman gave an interview (July 24, 2004) to Washington Times reporter Guy Taylor, in which he predicted that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were at substantial risk of overthrow by radical fundamentalists. With Saudi Arabia this could lead to a total cutoff of oil (and maybe “self-destruction” of oil fields), and with Pakistan it could lead to the exchange of nukes. America is not prepared economically to deal with such an event. So military intervention in these countries could be expected by any administration, which also adds pressure to resume the draft. The sky is falling—chicken little.


See also: Holy War, Inc. by Peter Bergen; 9/11/films, Graham Allison on Nuclear Terror


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