I’m not late on purpose. I thought I wouldn’t talk about this, but then I’ve seen a few posts on various blogs, and it made me think that I ought to give my own thoughts on that day. I was living in Germany when it happened. Mike was deployed to Italy, working some sort of Bosnian air operation that I forget the name of at the moment. On Sep 10, I took a train from Vicenza, Italy, back to Landstuhl, Germany. I got home around 9PM, visited with the kitties, turned on the heat (Germany was pretty cold compared to Italy!), and got in bed with a book. Miss Kitty and Thumper joined me and we went to sleep happy.
Sep 11 was a Tuesday. I went to meet my friend Cynthia at Ramstein Air Base for coffee. We typically had our coffee, browsed the books, and either went grocery shopping together or split up. That day, when we left the bookstore, a group of people were gathered around the television in the coffee shop. Cynthia and I parted ways outside the store and I went to the commissary for groceries. Twenty minutes later, Cyn calls me from her house and tells me that a plane has flown into the World Trade Center.
As the phone calls begin–Mom, Cyn again, me trying to call Mike in Italy–I manuever the shopping cart to a spot where I can hear the news on the speakers in the bread aisle. I don’t remember what I heard, but I remember turning to another person there, a guy in uniform, and saying the first thing that came to mind (I am ashamed of this, but it’s true): “We need to turn Afghanistan into a parking lot.”
“Damn straight,” he said.
See, those of us who are military (active duty, spouses, civilians, contractors, etc) knew who did it. When I talk to friends here in Hawaii about that day, they all say they had no idea who could have done such a thing when it happened. But the military knew. Why? Khobar Towers, the USS Cole, the Kenyan Embassy. We knew it and we knew where he was and our gut reaction was to hit him hard and right that instant. Makes me sound like a right-wing hawk, doesn’t it? And I am so NOT right-wing or a hawk. In fact, I was glad that Bush took his time to strike once I got over the initial shock. He didn’t take his time because they were trying to find out who did it, either, which is what folks thought then, but he took his time because they had to get the assets to the theater. It took three or four weeks (forget exactly the timeline) to move the military and equipment into place to launch a strike. You not only have to be able to launch, but to sustain, which is why Navy ships and cruise missiles weren’t going to be enough. We periodically bombed Baghdad throughout the 90s, but the assets were in place to do so. Operation Northern Watch and all that.
I finished my shopping and left the base. Just in time, it turned out, because the base went to Threatcon Delta. That means nothing gets on or off the base. By the time I got home, a drive of 20 minutes, Ramstein was in lockdown. I remained in my house for the next few days, glued to CNN and on the phone with my mother (who lived 60 miles away and worked at another base). I don’t remember how long it took me to find Mike, but I know I barely heard from him for days, maybe a week or two. He was at a NATO base, but even they were locked down and working hard. (The Threatcon eased to Charlie Plus, which meant traffic could come and go, but security measures were time consuming and lines were loooooong.)
The next time I went to the base, the gate looked like Princess Di’s funeral. Flowers and candles were piled against the brick, offerings of support and sympathy from the Germans. The local paper had a headline that literally translated to “It Hurts the Heart.” The days and weeks after changed the world. We can never go back to that almost-innocent world that existed before the planes hit the towers and the Pentagon and the PA field. We’ve had to come to grips with the fact that there are people in this world who will sacrifice their lives to achieve a goal, people who believe that in taking others with them, they are fighting for justice for their fellow Muslims. Fortunately, most Muslims do not feel this way. They are not represented by the fanatics who perpetrate evil acts, though it is easy to think so. I try to always remember that the acts of a few should not condemn the many and so I feel ashamed of my initial reaction, my words about Afghanistan.
T.E. Lawrence said, in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), about the Wahabis (Bin Laden and the Saudis are followers of Wahabism):
The Wahabis […] had imposed their strict rules on easy Kasim. In Kasim there was but little coffee-hospitality, much prayer and fasting, no tobacco, no artistic dalliance with women, no silk clothes, no gold and silver head-ropes or ornaments. Everything was forcibly pious or forcibly puritanical.
It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise at intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia. Always the votaries found their neighbours’ beliefs cluttered with inessential things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers. Again and again they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body, of the tribes, and had dashed themselves to pieces on the urban Semites, merchants and concupiscent men of the world. About their comfortable possessions the new creeds ebbed and flowed like the tides of the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death in its excess of rightness. Doubtless they must recur so long as the causes–sun, moon, wind, acting in the emptiness of open spaces, weigh without check on the unhurried and uncumbered minds of the desert-dwellers. (148)
Ultimately, however, the people who died that day did not deserve to do so, and certainly not at the hands of fanatics. I hope Lawrence was right and that the seeds of its own destruction are contained in fanatical interpretations of Islam. Islam is a decent religion, with decent people and decent traditions. I hope they can exorcise the evil element from their midst.