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« The Luxury Of Nonresponsibility | Main | A New Space Blog »

The Long War

[Note: This post will remain at the top all day, so if you're on a return trip, you might want to scroll down to see if there's any new stuff below.]

Michael Ledeen is still angry. I never was. But then, I didn't lose anyone I personally knew.

It's always chancy to try to recollect emotions from an event five years on, but thinking back to that day in San Juan, watching the first tower burning, I don't recall anger. When I saw the second plane strike the second tower, the only feeling that I had, I think, was resignation, along with the instant knowledge that we were now at war, in a way that we had never been in my lifetime. This, I thought, was what it was like for my grandparents (whose age I was closest to when the event occurred for them) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I remember a sense of foreboding, and wondering what the future held. On a more practical and personal note, I remember wondering when and how I would get back to California, since all flights in the US would surely be grounded soon, including the one that I was about to depart to the airport to catch.

That earlier war, at least for my parents and grandparents, lasted less than four years (though for Asia and Europe it was much longer). Last year I wrote an essay on the fourth anniversary comparing the two wars. I still think it holds up well (or at least as well as it did the last time). Here's a replay:

For better or worse, other than my postings on space policy, to the degree that I've any repute at all, I've become best known in the blogosphere through spoofing the modern media by showing how they would have reported an earlier war. A war that, instead of being kicked off (at least for us) by a surprise attack on New York on a sunny Tuesday morning in September, was kicked off (at least for us) by a surprise attack on a sunny Sunday morning on Oahu, Hawai'i.

On the first anniversary of that attack, it was just a month after the US invasion of northern Africa, to take on Rommel's Afrika Korps, on the heels of the British and Allied victory at El Alamein. Earlier that year, in the summer, we had engaged in the first all-US air attack on Europe. It would only be a few days before we would first learn of massacres of Jews by the Nazi SS.

On the other side of the world, in the Pacific, on that very day we were establishing a beachhead in Buna, New Guinea, and engaged in bloody ground and naval warfare to evict the Japanese forces from Guadalcanal, following up on our landmark victory over the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway in the summer.

And five days before that anniversary in 1942, a physics professor named Enrico Fermi first set up a secret laboratory in Chicago to build the world's first nuclear reactor, to manufacture the fuel needed for the first nuclear weapons.

On the first anniversary of September 11, we had removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, and were preparing to expand the war into the Middle East itself, with plans advancing to remove the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein from power, and in his place establish a beachhead for democracy in the very heart of Arabia.

On the second anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we were engaged in continuing island-by-island warfare in the Pacific, with fierce fighting in the Gilbert Islands, Tarawa and other places, seeing the Japanese forces in a slow and bloody retreat. In Europe, Mussolini's Italy had fallen to Allied forces and changed allegiances two months before, declaring war on Nazi Germany. A week and a half before, on November 28th, 1943, the three Allied leaders--Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin--had met in Teheran, Iran, and determined to continue the war and liberate France. They also elicited a pledge from Stalin to join the war in the Pacific once Germany was defeated (which turned out in retrospect to be a lousy deal, as he clearly had not only no interest, but an opposition to a free post-war Europe).

In September, 2003, we had deposed Saddam, and were commemorating the second anniversary of the attack on the twin towers. But unfortunately, it became clear at that point that much of the media no longer took the war seriously, based on the foolish themes that appeared in their stories at the time, and their actions in almost avoiding remembrance. I mocked them with this piece, demonstrating how they would have covered the second anniversary of the US at war.

In early December, 1944, three years after Pearl Harbor, we were liberating northwest Europe, and advancing on Germany. The last major German counterattack of the war, the so-called Battle of the Bulge, would occur in less than two weeks (events relating to which would have been covered by today's media like this, and this). In the Pacific, we were starting to attack the Japanese homeland by air on a regular basis, and the bloody invasion of the island of Iwo Jima by US Marines, that would last several carnage-filled weeks, would begin the following day, on December 8th, with an initial naval bombardment.

On September 11, 2004, no one was paying much attention to what was happening in the war, because much of the media was engaged in trying to drag the rotting carcass of John Kerry's presidential campaign across the finish line. The only war coverage was that of the daily attacks on our troops and the Iraqi people by the "insurgents" (many of whom were foreign saboteurs sent across the border into Iraq from Syria and Saudi Arabia, and supplied by Iran--three nations with whom we are at war, a reality that the administration remains unwilling to publicly acknowledge). But rather than attacking the president on this legitimate issue, the media preferred to prop up Dan Rather's pathetic story about the president's national guard service, while ignoring the many legitimate issues about Senator Kerry's Vietnam record, both during and after his tour of duty.

On the fourth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the war was over.

It had ended in Europe in May of 1945, and in the Pacific almost exactly sixty years ago, with the signing of the surrender treaty with the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Harbor. There were storm clouds on the horizon, due to Stalin's perfidy, but a relieved nation had fought off what was perceived to be an existential threat, with many military casualties (though nowhere near as many as other participants), and virtually unscathed on the home front (unlike much of Europe and Asia, in which many millions of civilians died, most quite brutally), and wanted to get back to normal life.

But four years after September 11th, and now five years, we remain at war with another totalitarian ideology (and one that is in some ways an offspring of the Nazis, in both its hatred of those unlike the holders of it, and particularly of the Jews). And we've never been compelled, as a nation, to take this war as seriously as we were that one. There has been no draft, and despite daily death counts from the media, and parading bereaved mothers as proxies for their own war against the administration, there have not been thousands of gold stars in windows across the nation--the US casualties in the entire war to date would be dwarfed by those of any number of single battles in the second world war. As Lileks wrote two years ago, this war has a much different feel to it:

The old wars were simple: the other side had accents, uniforms, nations, cruel habits and urbane sneers. The old wars took years. The old wars were in black and white. The old wars were monophonic, scored by Max Steiner, released by Warner Brothers, and the only proof they really happened at all was the small battered box in the back of Dad’s sock drawer, the box that held some oddly colored metal bars.

Out of political correctness, the president continues to misname this war as one against a tactic--"terror," instead of one against an ideology that wants to ultimately impose itself on the entire world (though that has started to slowly change, as he starts to call it what it is--a new form of totalitarianism and fascism). Such, in fact, is the political correctness of the times that we could, last year, actually contemplate honoring the first Americans to fight back against it, five years ago, with a memorial that looks like this. Can anyone imagine the equivalent sixty years ago--a memorial to the USS Arizona stylized to look like a rising sun?

We've not been asked to sacrifice, either on a governmental level (the pork continues to flow in highway and energy bills), or on a personal level (rather than being asked to save tinfoil and plant "victory gardens", the populace was advised to go out and win one against Osama by going to the mall).

Five years ago, the big news was shark attacks, and a missing woman. We were at war, but didn't know it. It took a sudden enemy attack, on a cloudless morning, to (at least momentarily) wake us from our national lethargy. This year, the sharks and missing girl were knocked out of the news not by an enemy attack, but by a natural disaster, nature and entropy being entities with which we have warred since the dawn of history and before, and ones over which we only gradually gain the upper hand, and will probably never completely conquer.

But if we didn't know that we were at war on September 10th, 2001, the enemy did. They still do. We must not forget it again, until they are decisively defeated, as we defeated the brutal Nazis and the Japanese imperialists sixty years ago, even if it takes decades.

I wasn't angry then, and I'm not angry now. But I am resolved.

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 11, 2006 11:59 PM
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I was asleep, drugged out of my mind when it all started. Doctors orders mind you, for sleep deprivation.

My younger son had been in a Combat Engineering Company at Camp Pendleton for 6 months. He was watching Fox News in the chow hall.

My older son was just 3 months away from getting out of the Navy after almost 8 years. He was on his way to work at Combat Systems School in San Diego. He heard it on the radio, it evidently even shocked Howard Stern..

My wife first heard about the attacks while getting a a root canal.

Within minutes of the second plane hitting, they all called me. They were looking for answers. I am the family news junkie, trivia buff, history knowledge holder.

Dan re-enlisted in the Navy, he told me he can do more good as a sailor than he can as a civilian. He wants his sons to NOT have to do this. 16 months total time away from his family. Dan has done 2 cruises to the waters off of Iraq since 9/11/01. Dan has 6 years left in the Navy, I doubt he'll do that time without at least one more cruise.

Matt went to Iraq and the horn of Africa in 2002, he missed his wifes birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and his adopted sons birthday. Matt is probably going to get recalled next spring, they need combat engineers in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially senior corporals and seargents. He hates and looks forward to the spring, he wants his sons to NOT have to do this.

It's five years later, I still have no answers, for them or any of us. I get that we are at war. I get the we are fighting a war.

I get that we were attacked and had to defend ourselves. My family is closely tied to all of it. Both of my sons have been there, and will probably go back. This is not a news blip to me, or to them.

I would just like to know, just for my trivial, answer book, historian knowledge base, just what the f#*k I, or you my friends, ever did to Bin Laden or his followers or any of these murdering bastards.

The only explanation I can find is that they don't like Madonna, McDonalds or bacon.

I'm just not sure that's a reason to declare war, stage an attack and spin the world out of control.

Posted by Steve at September 11, 2006 08:13 AM

I was "cocooned," taking advantage of days off work for both my wife and me, not bothering with news until I got into the shower later than I would have ordinarily.

If I had gone to work that day, I probably would have found out from co-workers or from the staff of the Home Depot store where that day's job was. Instead I had a news-talk radio station playing while I was getting ready for the shower, and I told my wife to turn on the TV to find out what the hell was going on in New York.

Posted by McGehee at September 11, 2006 08:37 AM

I was in my office when a guy from down the hall poked his head in my door and told me of the first plane hitting the north tower. I rather flippantly asked if the pilot was heard to scream "Allah Akbar” at the last moment. Of course it wasn't but about 20 minutes later, with the south tower being hit, that I learned that my flippant remark probably wasn't far off the mark, as I along with most Americans realized that this wasn't an accident and that the only (we rightly assumed) possible culprits that could be responsible were Islamic extremists.

And yes I was angry, viscerally angry. I remain so and probably will be for as long as this war goes on, and I expect that to be for the remainder of my life. I accept that and support the effort as the only alternative is surrender and that is not acceptable.

Posted by Cecil Trotter at September 11, 2006 09:17 AM

We've not been asked to sacrifice, either on a governmental level (the pork continues to flow in highway and energy bills), or on a personal level (rather than being asked to save tinfoil and plant "victory gardens", the populace was advised to go out and win one against Osama by going to the mall).

What is there to do? The US isn't in a total war. There's no vital material that needs to be conserved. If anything, the biggest disruption from September 11 was the response to it.

The idea that we need to sacrifice something as a society reminds me of some of the rituals that environmentalists have forced societies to go through. It's not ok for me to throw away certain things which can technically be recycled, but the recycler can throw any such trash that it receives from me with little trouble. It's not so important whether the ritual of recycling works or not, but that you sacrifice by taking part in the ritual.

I have no problem with voluntary sacrifice. Many people have given for the folks serving in the military. I just don't think it's healthy to think that everyone should sacrifice.

Out of political correctness, the president continues to misname this war as one against a tactic--"terror," instead of one against an ideology that wants to ultimately impose itself on the entire world (though that has started to slowly change, as he starts to call it what it is--a new form of totalitarianism and fascism).

Actually, I'm starting to think that there's a good point to fighting the tactic rather than the ideology. There isn't trouble with Islamistics who hate us and would like to see the developed world destroyed or suborned, the trouble is with the people who actually carry through and attack innocent people. Further, it strikes me as rather low yield to attempt to change peoples' beliefs after the fact. Most of the people who believe in some sort of totalitarian ideal will probably die of old age retaining most of their beliefs.

Also, by fighting the tactic or rather the groups that employ the tactic, you are prepared to deal with other terrorists who don't fit the common ideological profiles.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at September 11, 2006 09:46 AM

"...many European friends called, most of them saying “you must be terribly frightened.” I told them no, we were not frightened, we were angry, and we were going to be angry for a long time."

This is almost exactly my story. My future wife asked if Americans were afraid. I told her no, righteous anger, is what I see. For me, when I saw that second plane heading for the tower, my anger was ignited. It remains just as hot today.

" sense of the American people is that they have not [lost the original anger] either. But many of our opposition leaders, journalists, broadcasters, and editors, and, apparently, the overwhelming majority of the professoriate, clearly have. Otherwise it would not be possible for them to actively undermine the war. It is wrong to say they have forgotten the significance of 9/11, because they never grasped it.

We need to marginalize these useless idiots. Personally, I'd revoke their citizenship and expell them from the country. It's not going to happen, but that's how angry I am with them.

I don't care why they hate us. I don't care if they hate us to infinity. I hate them more. I want our borders secured. I want the cockroaches that spout hatred of America hunted down and squashed. I don't care to understand them. I understand America and with all it's failings, it never earned this unprovoked attack against our people. I'd enforce the original Bush doctrine to the extreme, any country that didn't put significant resources into squashing these bugs would be squashed itself. That includes any that call themselves our friend and work actively against us. We don't need their oil. If we were serious about it, we could elimate our dependancies totally and probably reduce our energy costs in the process.

I want anybody even contemplating an attack against this country to piss themselves and shake uncontrollably when considering our response. Yes, I want them to know the kind of fear we will never have... it's time they started to really understand us. I'd start with the [no term strong enough] in this country first.

Posted by ken anthony at September 11, 2006 10:34 AM

I was living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada five years ago today. Calgary is a fairly big town (one million), among whose residents are about 50 thousand Americans. So, I had a fair number of American friends. When I compare their reaction to the murders five years ago to President Bush's reaction, I am struck by how restrained Bush actually was.

If my American friend Wayne had been in charge of the world's most powerful armed forces and largest nuclear arsenal five years ago, millions if not hundreds of millions of Arabs and Persians would be dead, vaporized in a radioactive fireworks show. Mecca and Medina would have been not only destroyed but rendered uninhabitable for 25000 years, along with Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran, Tripoli, and a few other Islamic capitals.

The next time that a September-11th-scale attack occurs on America, someone as restrained as the "cowboy" President Bush might not be the one with his finger on the red button.

Posted by Ed Minchau at September 11, 2006 11:14 AM

I was at work. I'd refer you to my posting on the matter, but TTM blocks my website address.

So mosy over to theeternalgoldenbraid dot blog spot dot com and look for "Going Downtown" or today's posting, "09/11/01" for the complete rundown.

Posted by Fred Kiesche at September 11, 2006 11:21 AM

About 18 months ago there was a rumor that
Bush had sent a secret message to OBL etc that said
and more significant terroist exploits damaging
the US home land and we will Nuke Mecca , Medina etc....

If I had been president that communication would not have been secret. It would have been publically proclaimed.

If the rumor is true it may explain the lack of attacks, and the possiblity that the London
liquid explosive plan was beytared from higher ups on the insdie bcause they could not risk a successful attack on the US.

Even the latest communications from the Al Qaida
does not threaten US, only Isreal and alies in the Gulf.

Posted by Paul Breed at September 11, 2006 12:20 PM

I was in hospital, undergoing chemotherapy for an aggressive cancer, and woke up to the ward TV running the news.

Of course I was shocked and horrified, although not as much as I might have been - but a few hours later, reflected that America had had a wake-up call about terrorism - a subset of Americans had been funding terrorism in the UK for many years, and now no longer will.

In that respect, Al Qaeda did the UK a favour.

Evidently, I am still alive and they tell me I am likely to stay that way for a while. But I am not in any sort of condition to fight, and never will be again - I suppose that is a cheap price for my life.

And neither the American nor British Governments have got it yet - no security profiling, no proper immigration control, the list goes on and on.

It's going to take a mushroom cloud to make the West get it. Where is it going to be?

I confess that I am glad to live in a small town.

Posted by Fletcher Christian at September 11, 2006 03:17 PM

I was driving to work listening to the radio when I heard the news report of a "twin engined plane" strinking one of the WTC towers. Being a private pilot and aviation history buff, I immediately thought of the 1945 incident when a B-25 bomber, lost in bad weather, collided with the Empire State Building. I wondered if it had happened again. After all, a twin-engined plane covers everything from the French homebuilt Cri-Cri (Cricket, a very impressive single seat design that weighs less than 200 pounds empty) to a 777.

When I got to work and went to, I saw a picture of a burning tower against a clear blue sky. For all I knew at the time, it still could've been an accident (say, a private pilot suffering a heart attack). All doubts disappeared when the second plane struck.

Those who say that WWII lasted only 4 years are only looking at it from an American perspective. WWII in Europe began (officially) on September 1, 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. England and France gave him 48 hours to withdraw. When he didn't, England and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. The war in Europe would last almost 6 years. However, the war in the Pacific had been going on even longer. Some historians claim, with a good deal of merit, that the Pacific war began when Japan invaded China in 1938. That war went on for 7 years. Just as some people can't see past their own lifetime, too many Americans only measure a war by our country's involvement.

Posted by Larry J at September 11, 2006 06:56 PM

My future wife asked if Americans were afraid. I told her no, righteous anger, is what I see.

Indeed. My first reaction, once I got past denial, was that whoever did this had just made a big mistake.

Toby Keith's song about the boot in the ass captured quite nicely how I felt, and still feel, about 9/11. And I suspect if that day had made us frightened instead of angry, the same people who quietly decided we shouldn't keep seeing the footage of the attacks and their aftermath, might very well have preferred instead to make watching that footage a mandatory daily ritual.

Posted by at September 11, 2006 07:11 PM

Posted by at September 11, 2006 07:11 PM

Sorry. That was me. I keep forgetting Rand's comment form doesn't require that information.

Posted by McGehee at September 11, 2006 07:12 PM

McGehee, I think the footage isn't shown because many of the people working at the networks live in New York. Many people in and near the city treat the video images of that day in a very solemn way, and view gratuitous replayings as disrespectful. It has nothing to do with fear or anger, and more to do with the intensity of a broad spectrum of feelings, and with respect for the dead.

I share that feeling, and really feel revulsion when I see the video replayed. I even have a lesser version of the same thing with regard to video of Challenger. I hate seeing gratuitous replays of that footage on TV, too, and it has nothing to do with fear or anger. Simply sadness, and a desire to avoid trivializing the event.

Posted by at September 11, 2006 08:56 PM

Re: WWII length

WWII rightly started in the early to mid-1930s. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and China proper in 1937. Also, in 1935 Germany reformed the Luftwaffe (breaking the Treaty of Versailles), and in 1936 the Spanish civil war began and Germany reoccupied the Rhineland. It ended up being about a 15 year long conflict, all told. There was a lot of denial and many attempts at appeasement during the early years but the war was nevertheless very much in progress even then.

Posted by Robin Goodfellow at September 11, 2006 10:53 PM

RE: Length of wars

By the same token of WWII not starting on 12/07/41, this war did not start on 09/11/01. AQ has been at war with the US since atleast 1993, when they first tried to destroy the WTC. We in the US were just very late in realizing we were at war, some still haven't realized that fact.

Posted by Cecil Trotter at September 12, 2006 05:04 AM

One could argue that this war began in the early seventies, with Palestinian terrorism. The US was first engaged in 1979, though we didn't recognize it at the time.

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 12, 2006 05:12 AM

view gratuitous replayings as disrespectful.

Gratuitous, sure. But it's patently obvious to me that, five years after the event, too many people in this country simply have no recollection of how shocking that day was. An occasional reminder would do us all a world of good.

That's a long way from being gratuitous.

Posted by McGehee at September 12, 2006 08:50 AM

One subtext of WWII was Europe's hatred of the Jews, and their efforts to destroy them. Taking the long view, that part of WWII never ended, and continues today, mainly through Arab proxies, though with increasingly direct action by some EUropean nations today.

Posted by lmg at September 12, 2006 10:17 AM

I was working for the FDIC at the time at the Dallas regional office. We were a backup helpdesk for the main helpdesk in Washington. Needless to say after the attacks that helpdesk was evacuated and we became the main helpdesk. We had a program called Cisco IP TV that normally played CNN across the network. That day the expansion card in the server was undergoing planned maintenance and was down. We got flooded with calls from people wondering what was going on. The site was getting hammered that day as well so information was sketchy. People were calling looking for answers and would invariably tell me about family they had living or traveling in New york. Best I could do was encourage them that New York was a big city and their loved ones could be anywhere but in those buildings. The IP TV came back up right before the Pentagon was hit. I was helping a lady who was still at one of the buildings around Penn. when she suddenly screamed that she just saw fire and smoke rising off in the distance from her office window. Then, the reports of the Pentagon came flooding in. I gotta say it was an absolutely surreal day.

A few days ago I spent a few hours going through the released evidence from the Moussaoui trial. Good place to go for those that might need to regain so perspective on the events leading up to and following that day. Will warn you though that some of the video and imagery are not the sanitized sort you normally see.

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