November 16th, 2008

the end of news

In the second week of September, the terrorists struck without warning.
They had decided they were willing to die for their cause, though that was incidental to the plan. After making their peace with Allah, they became remote from this world.
While far from flawless, the operation was carefully planned and coordinated, funded by international money transfers and lots of volunteer work.
When the time came, four hijacked airliners were suddenly diverted to their final destinations.
On one plane, the passengers managed to fight back. It ended in violent fire.
But enough about the 1970 Dawson's Field hijackings.

Very rarely, through the gray smog of reality, something fundamentally unexpected appears. This may happen only once in a lifetime.
The normal news of our time is insignificant. The world seems frozen in a state of slow degeneration, perhaps an incubation period for the future. More likely it's completely meaningless.
The terrorist attacks of 2001 brought a sudden, immense sense of unreality, like living in a movie.
Do you remember those dreams in which something incredible happens, like you can fly, or were married to Drew Barrymore, but it somehow slipped your mind? For a moment there's a sense that anything is possible.

After the 767 tail had disappeared at 800 kph into the wall of the South Tower, and everything looked normal again for half a second, anyone could have been forgiven for feeling like the world's biggest idiot. Everyone had assumed you would at least need a gun to hijack a plane, or an inside conspiracy, or operatives smuggled inside the luggage containers.

Indoor plane crashes are rare events. The replays showed it from every side.
There are 50.000 North American airline flights every day. Somehow, we're still counting on all of them not to crash into a nuclear power plant.
It was an unforgivable oversight. People tend to react; they don't anticipate very well. Humanity may actually be a lot dumber than generally accepted.

How to respond to such an immense cock-up? Fire the FAA, and nuke the bastards? Uwe Boll should have made a comedy about the whole fiasco.
For all we know, Osama may have saved the USA, by exposing a vast security flaw. North Korean or Chinese agents could have arranged a much more destructive attack.

There were plenty of warnings, most notably a 1993 Air France hijacking. Worst of all was the failure of imagination.
If I had been on one of the hijacked planes (not that I could have afforded a ticket), I like to think I would have managed to inform my fellow passengers of the terrible danger, and persuaded them to fight back.
They wouldn't have understood what I was trying to tell them. Unfortunately, I sound a lot like that guy in 'King Of The Hill' who doesn't speak very clearly. First they would have asked me to repeat it, then I would have tried to spell it out. It takes a very forceful personality to communicate effectively in a crisis.

The hardest part was the fact that NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED. It was all over before it began, an ending that felt like a beginning.
By 6 PM ET that evening, you could have thrown away your TV.
Everyone was pissed, with no outlet.

The attacks were a random anomaly, a craptacular concatenation of chaos designed to look climactic.
Their real goal was humiliation. The terrorists wanted their own version of the Raid on Entebbe. They were more successful than they could have hoped, indirectly causing trillions of dollars of damage. They don't want to dilute the effect with new attacks.

Since then, the strange pantomine of the pretend war has done more damage than any possible follow-up.

For the cost of one War Of Terror, we could have built a thousand World Trade Center towers. At seventy meters plus an equal separation distance per tower, the replacement WTC could have been built in New York City AND Philadelphia.
Instead, if current trends continue, the USA may soon face bankruptcy.

Whatever happens, it may not be as dramatic as the attacks that started it all.
We may never again experience anything remotely as unexpected. The stagnant decline and nervous tedium since then have been purchased at a high price. It's the reason why Bush was reelected in 2004.
The Terror War may not end until it's grown as stale as the Cold War, and everyone forgets what it was all about.
By fighting the enemy long enough, it may be possible to inadvertently change him, or replace him.

Instead of news, history may start again, the changes accumulating slow and steady, until every plan has become obsolete.
If I'm wrong, there are more targets than ever before. The Eiffel Tower weighs barely more than one floor of the World Trade Center. The Pentagon seems impenetrable, but if there's one weakness, it will be found. No one will be surprised when the first city goes up in a pillar of fire.
The next real news event may be something we wouldn't recognize as such - or can't imagine.
Iran or Pakistan and India may blow up. It may not involve the Muslim world at all; perhaps a war in Africa, the former Soviet Union, or Indochina; a hoax or an escalating diplomatic incident; a new way of thinking or organizing groups; an economic alliance in Asia. In this century, humanity may even change into a new form, or become extinct altogether.

Right now it's hard to imagine. In an unstable but interconnected world, the cataclysms of the future are more likely to happen in slow motion, like global warming, economic collapse or new epidemics. That doesn't mean they will hurt any less.