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September 12th, 2011
01:25 pm


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9/11 as a mind-killer
Noah Millman wrote:
In retrospect, what suffered the most lasting damage from the terrorist attacks of ten years ago was my belief in my own rationality. I believed that I was thinking things through seriously, and coming to difficult but true conclusions about what had happened, what would happen, what must happen. Here is part of what I wrote, to friends and family, several days later:
Our President has made it clear: we are at war. I do not anticipate that this will be a short or an easy war. Our enemy has operations in dozens of countries, including this one. He is supported, out of enthusiasm or fear, by many governments among our purported friends as well as among our enemies. He has shown his cunning, his ruthlessness, and most of all his patience, in his successful plot to kill thousands of innocents and bring down the symbols of our civilization. And in striking at him, as we must, we will bring down others who will in turn seek their own vengeance upon us.

There is not a single factual assertion in that paragraph that I had any reason to believe I could substantiate. I did not know anything about the enemy. I had no idea whether or not there were “operations” in dozens of countries – I don’t even know what I meant by “operations.” I know what I was referring to with the business about being “supported” by friends and enemies, but “support” is a deliberately fuzzy word; I wouldn’t have used it if I was trying to make a concrete assertion with clear implications. The purpose of that assertion, like everything else, was to build up my first assertion. We were at war. And it wouldn’t be short or easy. Because that conclusion, though grim, was one that imparted meaning to the murder of 3,000 people. I thought I was being serious – examining the facts, calculating the likely negative consequences of necessary action, preparing myself for the unfortunate necessities of life. But I wasn’t doing anything of the kind. I was engaged in a search for meaning in which reason was purely instrumental.

Link (which includes additional good retrospectives) thanks to Ampersand.

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(5 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:September 12th, 2011 08:28 pm (UTC)
That's a really good post. I didn't get that exact salutary lesson myself - instead I learned how irrational people all around me could be, and my normal mild paranoia got some temporary validation. On balance I rather missed out on an opportunity to grow.

OTOH I didn't pass through the basement of the WTC that morning because (a) I had done something rather foolish at the job I used to have right by there a few months before, propelling me into a better job uptown and (b) I was late in for work because I tool a detour through a hospital in New Jersey to look at sonograms of my soon-to-be-born son. So one bad reason and one good one. I tell people the good one.
[User Picture]
Date:September 12th, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
In contrast, the Brit columnist Andrew Rilstone just reprinted what he wrote in 2001. A very accurate prediction of just what Bush did do.
[User Picture]
Date:September 12th, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
Wow that's like the opposite of Bill Keller's non-apologia in the Sunday NYT Magazine: "I think Operation Iraqi Freedom was a monumental blunder.

Whether it was wrong to support the invasion at the time is a harder call. I could not foresee that we would mishandle the war so badly, but I could see that there was no clear plan for — and at the highest levels, a shameful smugness about — what came after the invasion....I could have seen, had I looked hard enough, that even by the more dire appraisals of Hussein’s capabilities he did not amount to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. called in a very different context 'a clear and present danger.' But I wanted to be on the side of doing something, and standing by was not enough."
[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2011 01:22 am (UTC)
To quibble a bit (perhaps wrongly), Keller's piece is certainly a non-apology, but I would call it a textbook apologia.
[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2011 01:53 am (UTC)

Dang, you are right

You are right! Those words do not mean the same thing and I'm surprised I forgot that.
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