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Twin towers, twin errors

September 11, 2011

Ten years after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center complex, the United States is due for another day of remembrance, which will no doubt turn out to be a particularly significant one due to the human fondness for commemorating neat little increments of time.  However, among all the ceremonies and memorials paying homage not only to the dead but also to a dead way of life, there is one thing that will not be remembered – and that is the overwhelming stupidity of both the parties involved in the attacks.

There is no doubt that the September 11 attacks were an incredibly ineffective move on the part of al-Qaeda.  They were, perhaps, a success as an act of deliberate martyrdom, but they in no way advanced the organization’s goals of damaging Western ideology in general and the United States in particular.  The actual damage inflicted on the United States was insignificant, totaling no more than a few thousand deaths and a few buildings damaged or destroyed.  In return, al-Qaeda had to absorb the loss of its entire network within the United States, along with the future costs of never being able to restore that network.  Then there was the certainty that the attacks would result in massive retaliation against al-Qaeda itself, along with the likelihood that its friendly local government in Afghanistan would be removed from power in the process.  Then add in the excellent chances for political repercussions against its allies, the freezing of significant portions of its assets, and crackdowns by previously neutral governments now fearful for their own safety, and the attacks look like an increasingly bad bargain for al-Qaeda, certainly not worth what they would cost to carry out.  Granted, the September 11 attacks eventually resulted in enormous costs to the United States in economic damages, war expenditures, false alarms and security expenses, but these were not beyond what its economy could absorb.  Al-Qaeda strategists would have had a difficult time predicting these secondary consequences, and without a basis for comparison would have most likely underestimated them considerably, reducing the perceived benefit of the attacks still further.  One year afterwards, or ten years afterward, the practical futility of the attacks is equally obvious.  The United States remains the world’s most powerful state, while al-Qaeda has virtually ceased to exist.  This could have been forseen.  Al-Qaeda could have chosen to invest time and funds in operations that would have done far more damage to the United States at far less risk to itself, but instead it chose to strike a single ineffective blow and commit suicide in the process.  That was stupid.

The attacks also provided the occasion for an even greater display of foolishness by the United States.  While dramatic and shocking, they in no way endangered its existence or stability.  The costs of rebuilding were insignificant compared to the nation’s revenues, and the lives lost in the attacks were more than replenished by the births that took place that day.  There was no real damage done.  The September 11 attacks had an effect on the United States solely because they were acts of moral warfare – that is, acts of war which derive their power from influencing feelings, emotions, and outlooks rather than from causing physical damage.  Moral warfare is generally the most potent means by which war can be made.  However, its success hinges on one important factor: the object of the attacks must decide to be defeated by them.  Susceptibility to moral warfare is a choice.  A person attacked morally can choose to be defeated by allowing his enemy to manipulate his emotions and thus his reactions, or he can recognize the danger of acting emotionally and choose to step back from his own feelings to make a rational decision.  Ignoring emotional reactions completely defeats moral warfare.  If Americans had, as a nation, decided to exercise emotional detachment in the aftermath of the attacks, they would have seen that the costs of allowing hatred and panic to guide their actions would be many times those that they had already incurred.  They would also have realized that apparent indifference is a more powerful weapon than bloodshed.  Al-Qaeda would have disintegrated in fury and disillusionment if it saw that its greatest achievements could be casually ignored by the United States.  Its sources of funding and recruitment would have dried up and the organization would have collapsed due to infighting.  Similar groups would have also been damaged due to the development of a perception that the United States was not vulnerable to the emotional effects of “terrorism”.  Americans could have achieved all this without the loss of one additional life and without having to give up their own personal grieving.  However, their heritage as a Gothic culture, rooted in traditions of emotional response and abstract ideals such as patriotism and honor, kept them from exercising such judgment.  They decided to react in vengeance and fear.  That was stupid.

To remember September 11, 2001 is to remember little beyond violent passion tinged with willful ignorance.  Both al-Qaeda and the United States acted in irrational egotism.  Both were convinced that their judgments were reasonable.  One attacked in the name of religious preponderance; the other counterattacked in the name of national preponderance.  In doing so, they collaborated to produce a new world that would eventually reduce religions and nations alike to fractional roles in human affairs.

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