The Day the Earth Kept On Truckin’

(This was originally written in 2002. I’m reposting it as part of decommissioning my old website. It’s interesting how little has improved and some things have gotten worse in the time since.)

Written October 7, 2002.

Everybody and their dog seems to have felt compelled to comment on the events of September 11, 2001. Not me. Well, at least not until now, over a year later. I’ve hardly discussed the event with anyone in that time, nor do I have particularly strong feelings about it. I guess I’m writing this mainly to point out that not everyone was galvanized by the terrorist attack of that day.

Do You Remember Where You Were When…?

I remember the outline of what I did on 9/11. I got up, did the morning rituals, and got on the bus to school. On the bus I encountered a fellow from the graphics lab, and sat beside him as is mandated by law when encountering someone you know on the bus with an empty seat nearby.

I was saved the bother of trying to make conversation because he quickly opened up by asking if I had heard about the incident in New York that morning. I hadn’t. He said that an airplane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers and it was on fire. That was morbidly interesting enough to make me rouse from my morning stupor and pump him for information. He didn’t really have much more for me.

It was a fairly busy afternoon at school and I didn’t really have time to check the news. At one point I had to walk across campus and noticed that the A/V department had wheeled a large TV out into the hallway and there were about fifty students gathered around it like kids watching the news. I saw some shots of smoke coming from the buildings but didn’t stick around; I figured I could catch the repeat on the evening news when I got home.

When I got home and turned on the news, I was unsurprised to learn it was a terrorist attack. I was mildly surprised that they were creative and resourceful enough to turn airliners into weapons. The biggest surprise was that the towers had actually collapsed.

I was glued to the news channels as much as possible for the next three days, and I left the VCR running when I had other things to do. I got about 24 hours of news on tape, but most of it turned out to be repetitions of the pathetic footage of the money shots, with more occasionally being added as another tourist contributed the contents of his camcorder.


I had no great reaction to the event itself. The WTC towers were a bloody obvious target for any would-be terrorists, and had been the subject of an attempted bombing a few years earlier (which also failed to surprise me). I had no illusions about the future being terrorism-free; these things happen, and America being the world’s current 900lb gorilla makes it an obvious target for nutcakes everywhere.

I was, however, filled with curiosity about the disaster itself and the cleanup effort. I sought out as much footage and imagery as I could find for the next week or so. I was eager to know what had happened inside the towers up until there was no longer an inside. I tried to imagine what must have gone through the minds of the people who jumped from the burning tower.

Some might call this morbid curiosity and say there is something wrong with it. I don’t care; it was fascinating. I was disappointed at not being able to find much imagery of the gory deaths, but at the same time I knew I probably would have been pretty grossed out by some of what the rescue workers were no doubt finding in the rubble. I’m confident that the forensics photos will eventually show up on some website specializing in the grotesque though.


My stronger reactions to the September 11 terrorist attacks came later, and were inspired not by the events but by other peoples’ reactions to the events.

Shortly after the attacks, President Buh went on the air promising to bomb the stuffing out of any country found to harbour terrorists. My first thought following that was, “Way to let the bad guys win, George!”. I already knew he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the house, but at this point my opinion of him went negative and has stayed there ever since.

Since some people seem to have a hard time understanding my problem with that speech of his, it’s this: Baby, bathwater. By all means find the terrorists and slap them around, but send a clear message by not harming any innocent civilians in the process. By threatening indiscriminate bombing of general areas where terrorists might be, America was itself using terror tactics.

In the year following the attack, it became pretty apparent that the terrorists had won an enormous and heavily ironic victory. Sure, they probably only intended to knock over some buildings, scare some people and kill some people. Sure, they ended up getting their asses kicked hard. By conventional military assessment, the 9/11 operation would end up being a net loss for the terrorist’s side.

But the terrorists ended up winning big in terrorism terms, and that victory was handed to them on a silver platter by their enemies. They won by damaging the freedom and liberty that America is so proud of, and they won by making America do the damage to itself. Instead of extending a middle finger to the terrorists and saying, “Fuck you, we’re not going to let you scare us,” the Buh administration started buttoning up security at the expense of its own citizens’ freedom and privacy. Evidently the terror tactic worked extremely well.

Other entities benefited from the attacks as well; the cash-strapped airlines got a huge booster shot to tighten security, law enforcement agencies got increased power to circumvent inconvenient rights and freedoms, and the government got some extra leverage with which to lean on other governments. The attack was also a boon to the folks campaigning for privacy invasion via surveilance (and their other brother, the anti-encryption crowd), and to those trying to regulate the Internet.

For a while there, it looked like there was going to be a return to McCarthyism as everyone was overreacting to the slightest imagined hint of possible terrorist activity within the United States. People started reporting on their neighbors who just happened to be muslims or turban-wearers. Internment camps for suspicious-lookin’ American citizens were proposed. The Minstry of Truth was founded.


Over a year later, not much has improved. Supposedly it is known who masterminded the attacks, and supposedly there is proof of his responsibility. He hasn’t been found (and neither has O.J. Simpson found his Real Killer yet). Some terrorists have been identified and captured. Afghanistan got the shit kicked out of it. George is using this terrorism thing as a very thin excuse to lean on Iraq. There is no doubt that he’ll parlay all this into a re-election.

But it’s worth keeping this all in perspective. Outrageous as the last year’s politics may seem to today’s sheltered youth, it’s still not nearly as bad as the ass-reaming that American citizens got during the second world war, and they recovered from that.

One thing that annoyed me about the whole media presentation of this stuff was the name: The War on Terrorism. I know marketing types have wet dreams about coming up with a name like that, but it’s misleading; terrorism is an idea, folks. You can’t locate it and destroy it. The best you can do is kill anyone who has heard of it, but it will eventually spontaneously reappear. Terrorism may not be the best way to make a point, but it’s one that will occur to any idiot with something to prove even if he hasn’t heard of it before. In short, a war on terrorism will never, can never, have a conclusive end. There’s always another terrorist cell lurking in mom’s basement.

Oddly enough, there is a noticable lack of similar names for the other big campaigns going on these days: The War on Freedom, the War on Privacy, the War on Fair Use, the War on Innovation, and the War on Common Sense.

To wrap up, let’s get back to the original topic: how 9/11 affected me. I can’t say it hasn’t. I wasn’t shocked or outraged by the event as everyone else seems to have been. I don’t know anyone involved or killed. I don’t particularly care that 3,000 presumably innocent Americans died in the towers, especially given that ten times that number die of simple ailments every year. The effects I feel have come and will continue to come from the political reaction.

The United States is one of the two biggest influences on the politics of my country, and already we’re seeing our own government start to suggest invasion of our privacy in the name of law enforcement.

Finally, I have no plans to fly again any time soon. Not because of hijacking or bombing risks; those risks are the same as ever. I’m not going to fly again because of the increases in airport security. I think it’s ridiculous to inconvenience travelers even more than they already were. It’s not going to solve any problems, and indeed it has already created some appalling new problems in the area of customer relations. Screw that, I’m taking the bus.

There’s a lot more I could say about this whole subject. I could comment on the many related issues that I’ve seen others comment on, like the 9/11 morning play-by-play or the Anthrax scare. But I’ve said enough for today; maybe I’ll add more some other time.

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