9-11: America Victorious

The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Washington DC has been described as an act of war and a tremendous defeat for the United States, a defeat that must not be allowed to be repeated and a loss that must be avenged.

Personally, I don't like the use of the phrase "Act of War". Wars are something that happen between states. Wars end when one side surrenders. If we treat this as a literal war, what will be the victory conditions? Who will surrender? How will we know that the war is over? Whose suit for peace will be listened to?

But, for the sake of discussion, let us ignore these concerns, let us concede for the nonce that the language of war is appropriate. Let us put aside the questions of who exactly the enemy is. We know, at least, who 19 of the other side's foot soldiers were. We know, more or less, what happened.

I'm willing to set these questions aside because I have become angry, angry about how we ourselves are viewing the outcome of this attack, and how we are letting the world view it. I am angry about how we are viewing the acts of heroes, and how we are view ourselves as a nation.

Let me state this quite clearly...

The United States did not lose the Battle of September 11, 2001.

Claiming that we did diminishes the heroism that Americans showed. It underestimates American strength and it misses some very important points about the American character.

There were four phases of the battle, four attacks. The first two took us completely by surprise, and can easily be viewed as a two pronged attack. Two transcontinental planes flying from Boston were turned into bombs and used to destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Because they had the element of surprise the enemy's first thrust was extremely effective. The battle started very badly for us.

The third phase occurred in Washington DC. The enemy hijacked a third commercial airliner. This time, however, US intelligence and technology began to come into play. At least one passenger was able to contact the Justice Department, inform them of what was happening and ask what instructions should be passed to the pilot. I'm speaking here, of course, of Barbara Olson's phone call to the Solicitor General, her husband Ted.

Additionally, it appears that the intended target of this phase of the battle may have been the White House, and not the Pentagon. We'll probably never know for sure, but it seems that for some reason the enemy may have been forced to settle for an opportunistic attack on the Pentagon, passing up the primary target. And this happened after the people on board asked what they should do. Claiming that they took action that forced the change of targets is purely speculative, but one thing is sure: the attack on the Pentagon was much less effective, much less damaging than the attack on the WTC. Only a portion of the building was damaged. Many fewer people were killed, and the most important parts of the Pentagon were unaffected.

This brings us to the fourth phase of the attack: Flight 93. Like the third phase, this one appears to have been aimed at Washington, DC, probably on the Capital building. This time, several passengers contact the outside world. They definitely learned about the earlier phases of the battle and how badly they had gone. A handful of Americans -- ordinary citizens -- apparently took a vote to decide what to do, spoke to or left messages for their loved ones, and then with a battle cry of "Let's Roll", counterattacked.

And they were successful! They prevented the enemy from getting to the target. They stopped anyone on the ground from being killed.

This is important. A handful of ordinary Americans, with no training, no warning, and no weapons -- strangers, with nothing but their determination and courage, worked together to foil an attack that had been years in preparation. To underscore how American a reaction this was, it appears that these men had a vote to decide what to do. Many of my ancestors were Scots. The Scottish thing would have been to have a hero among the passengers who inspired the rest, lead them in a charge. Americans vote on what to do.

These heroes are the spiritual descendants of the militias that were the first to fight for the United States of America. In most countries, throughout most of history, armies have been something separate from the populace, even a force used against the populace. In America, our tradition is that the men on the street are our army. Our citizenry protects itself. Our people can and have from 1776 to 2001 risen to the defense of our country and our fellow Americans.

Once we knew what was happening, the course of the battle turned. The attackers stopped achieving their goals, and the on the ground casualties fell from thousands to hundreds to none.

It doesn't stop there. Next there are the heroes in the towers and on the ground, the two men who carried the woman in the wheel chair -- a total stranger -- down 68 flights of stairs to safety, the man who stayed with his paraplegic friend, all the fire fighters and doctors who saw the battle and rushed to the aid of their fellows. The enemy attacked two buildings where 50,000 people worked, totally destroyed them and there were only about 6,000 killed [Note: Since I wrote this the number has been found to be more like 3,000]. Americans, hundreds or thousands of them, saved the rest.

And did you see the people walking out of the city across the bridges? It looked nothing like the panic that would have been shown in a movie. Just thousands and thousands filing out in a basically orderly fashion. There was remarkably little looting or violence. Instead, grocers and pizzeria owners fed strangers and gave them water.

Or take the next couple of days. The WTC attack was an attack not only on our populace and our property, but upon our financial institutions. The enemy killed about 3/4 [Note: since learned to be about 2/3] of the 1000 employees of Cantor Fitzgerald. You might think that that would cripple the company, but no, the survivors chose to put in an all night effort to see that the bond market could be reopened by the end of the week. They were bloodied, but not defeated. Succeeding in your mission after taking 75% casualties is a remarkable feat for soldiers in a state of war. Soldiers expect to die, to see death, lose comrades. These were financial analysts who died at work. The mission they succeeded at was trading bonds! That is not a small victory. That is an astounding victory.

And again, when the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald was asked if his company could be ready to open the bond market, he didn't answer for the company. He went to his people and put it up to a vote. What did they want to do? Work all night and open the market the next day -- that was their decision. Again not only a victory, not merely heroic, but classically American.

I think it's time for us to realize that although the Battle of 9-11 started out badly for our side, by the time the day was over, the tide of battle had turned. It was turned by the spirit, pride and commitment that Americans have to our country and our fellow citizens. It's hard to think of an event where six thousand lives [Again, since learned to be only about three thousand] were lost as a victory, but in the end it was not a defeat. We Americans met the enemy and in the by the end we kept them from achieving their goals.

The attack was against our people, our institutions and our culture and we turned it back by means not of arms, but with our people, our culture and our institutions. Our people had courage, they decided issues with votes and volunteerism. They won by doing their jobs and by living by their values.

Our victories on the 11th of September and the days following were more important than mere military victories. They were a vindication of our spirit, national character and traditions.

Please, let us remember this, and honor our heroes, all of them, and recognize the debt we owe them.