A plan well executed

I know everyone has their own thoughts and ideas and memories about 9/11. I have recently acquired renewed interest in it, because my dissertation deals with communal trauma like 9/11, when a community as a whole is forced to experience something they were not prepared for.

I went through a phase right after the events where I felt a great deal of sympathy with the patriotic outpouring. I never hung a big American flag from my window, but I was happy to see them hanging on the freeways around Washington D.C. I worked in D.C. when the attacks happened, and it was a frightening day for me personally. I wonder though, because I did not watch the events at the WTC live on television if I actually experienced less trauma and disbelief than some others. My experience was specific, personal, and tied to my memories of one specific place. It was not abstract or unbelievable.

After that patriotic phase faded, I began to think a lot about Osama bin Laden. I remembered seeing a video of him discussing the attacks before they happened, and I remember him signaling with his hands how it would unfold. The finger on one hand was the airplane. His other hand was outstretched upright. As the finger hit the upright hand, Osama curled the fingers of that hand down, signaling that he anticipated the entire building would collapse. Still it amazes me. And not in the repulsive way I know it is supposed to amaze me: that only a monster could conceive of such a plan. But I have to admit I was amazed by the brilliance of it, the imagination, the knowledge and effort that would go into executing a plan like that. That he had amassed an organization that could make that happen. And perhaps more to the point, that he felt this was the only way to get his message across. Maybe this last point is incorrect. Maybe he could have just gone to the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia and asked them nicely to please leave his holy land. Maybe he could have written a letter to the Pentagon and asked them not to give any more weapons to the Israelis. Maybe he should have just realized that the world is the way it is, and that one person can only hope to change it incrementally.

I think in a way that is the thing that upsets Americans so much about 9/11. His bold, visionary, dramatic plan worked. It was as spectacular as Hollywood, it was as lawless as the Wild West, it was as technically sophisticated as going to the moon, it was everything America admires in herself.

Even in his death, Osama bin Laden was like an American. He was not camping out in a cave in Afghanistan like we thought he was, eating food he caught and roasted over a fire. No, he was in a nice airconditioned house, watching TV, getting his favorite homecooked meals in a neighborhood where his trash was collected. The seals went swooping in just like us Americans have seen in movie after movie. We know our military can flawlessly execute a man in another country; it is another one of those things we admire about ourselves.

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