September 12, 2001

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Reeta Sinha

'It's not the US they want to destroy. It's our arrogance'

During winters when I was little, the boys on my block played a game called King of the Hill. After storms, snowplows clearing the streets would leave behind huge hills of dense, packed snow hills 15 to 20 feet high. The game was simple. The one who reached the top of the hill and kept everyone else off it was the King of the Hill. Boys would scramble up the hill, shoving and pushing each other, sometimes sending a playmate tumbling to the ground. It was a rough game and usually it was the bully who made it to the top. The biggest, loudest, meanest kid on the block became the King of the Hill. The others -- smaller and weaker -- tumbled down quickly or were thrown off by the King, if they got close to the top of the hill.

Standing a safe distance away, I would watch the boys who were knocked off the hill over and over again. They never looked defeated. With their chins set, they would get up from the ground, brush the snow off their clothes and, after grabbing handfuls of snow, climb up the hill again, determined to topple the King. What they lacked in bulk and height, they made up for with creativity (icy snow shoved inside a shirt pretty much paralyzes any bully). Inevitably, the bully's arrogance was his downfall. Confident that he, the King, was the biggest, the strongest, the best and so certain that the others were puny and dumb, the bully usually didn't see the boy sneaking up behind him. The one who, with one shove, sent the former King sliding headfirst down the hill.

The smaller boys didn't really care who was the King of the Hill. That snowy kingdom would be gone come spring. It was the bully's attitude, his assumption that he deserved to be King that made the boys so determined. Without treaties or negotiation, they would band together and attack the King, just to see him take a fall.

Bullies, kings, dictators, meanies don't seem to get it, do they? The more they push, the more they shove, the more they flex their muscles, the more determined it makes those they ridicule and bully.

The world has seen this human drama played out time and time again throughout history, sometimes by individuals, sometimes with entire peoples with uprisings. In fact and fiction, those who are pushed frequently and far enough, always push back.

It happened again on September 11, 2001. When terrorists crashed passenger planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building in the US, someone, some group of people, was pushing back. The message seems pretty clear: the wealthy, powerful king had to be knocked off the hill.

Perhaps this is not the time to criticize a country that has suffered such great loss of life. But, as I have listened to news reports and watched the horrific images for the past several hours, the most recent showing a second plane aiming directly for the World Trade Center, crashing through a tower as onlookers scream, I can't help but wonder. What would drive some people to take such extreme measures? Why would anyone go to these lengths to hurt the United States?

I can come up with only one answer. It's not us they hate. It's not the US they want to destroy. It's our arrogance.

'America under attack.' That's how the media is describing it. Unaware of the morning's events, I listened to cryptic voicemail messages about my home office in Chicago being shut down due to the 'crisis' and my father asking me to call. I had left my California hotel room for a conference session without listening to the news hours earlier. Confused by the messages, I turned on the television immediately. The caption on my muted television screen alarmed me. Were we being invaded? Had the government been overthrown?

But it isn't the US these terrorists want. They don't want our land, our buildings, our wealth, our leaders or our people. I think they are just sick and tired of being pushed around. As I write this, I don't know who 'they' are. It doesn't matter whether these terrorists came from outside the US or from within. As we saw with the Oklahoma bombing a few years ago, there are many inside the US who feel pushed around, who feel they are not included when US leaders tell the world, 'we are the best, we are the smartest, we are the most powerful, we are No.1.'

The US likes to rub it in whenever it can, whether it is true or not. It boasts of being the greatest democracy in the world, the leader of all free people and if that were not enough, it seems to think it can dictate to the world what is morally right and wrong.

This attitude came through even as news of the terrorist attacks broke. President Bush declared that our freedom, our democracy had been attacked.

As people jumped out of the World Trade Center, as passengers were slammed through steel and concrete, do you think freedom and democracy were on their minds? Do you think the terrorists were envious or even cared about the US' obsession with these values? Only a country, or more accurately, the leaders of a country, so focused with its own greatness would think so.

Yet, in a matter of minutes, a series of almost perfectly choreographed events destroyed two of the tallest buildings in the world in one city and critically damaged one of the most impenetrable structures in another. New York's World Trade Center crumbled -- the target was a symbol of US wealth; in Washington, DC, the Pentagon, the military nerve center of the US was directly hit.

While the bully was thumping his chest, claiming victory, the smaller boy crept up behind him and knocked him off his feet.

The question is being asked repeatedly by media analysts: how did the US miss such a sophisticated attack? In my opinion, the answer is simple. The US arrogantly underestimated its perceived and known enemies.

How many times has the US been the target of terrorism in the past 30 years alone? The US media harps on the worst, the first, the most violent, but the fact is that the US has experienced terrorism for decades. US airlines have been hijacked many times, scores of US army personnel have been killed in bombings and US embassies around the world have been hit more than once, US citizens have been taken hostage for months at a time. Within the US, a federal building has been bombed, killing hundreds and… and the World Trade Center was a terrorist target less than 10 years ago. How could the US believe that the World Trade Center was not still vulnerable? That any person or structure associated with the US could not some day be a target?

Other countries in the world would learn from such incidents, such real threats, and they have. But, it seems the US hasn't. Why not?

Because we're No 1. They are scum, they are evil, they're cowards, and they are stupid. How could 'they' ever get us? White extremists or Arab terrorists, we're better, we're smarter, we're ready. We have stealth bombers and space-age missile defense systems, we can land on the moon and go to Mars. We're rich, we're invincible. We're America.

The reality is we're so full of it and now, thousands of innocent people have paid the price for the arrogance of some in the US.

It doesn't take much to realize just how well organized and clever these terrorists were. While the US and its allies talk of arsenals filled with expensive high-tech weapons to combat biological warfare and fight star wars, a group of people using nothing more than knives and combined brain power brought the US to a halt. Consider the following:

  • Four commercial planes with huge quantities of fuel simultaneously hijacked from three metro US airports
  • Four sets of hijackers who knew how to pilot the jets (unlike many previous hijackings in the world)
  • Two strategically critical targets selected
  • Two successful strikes to the World Trade Center towers where the buildings were structurally most vulnerable
  • No US media outlets affected, ensuring maximum visibility to these attacks
  • To this point, no evidence available to determine who is responsible, leaving the US powerless to retaliate

These terrorists have made a mockery of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) who seems to have no clue that an attack of such magnitude was even possible, let alone imminent. They have put the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) to shame, as its radar screens showed four flights veering off-course and, apparently, with no indication the planes had been hijacked. Airport security has been deemed lax for years, yet there have been no noticeable improvements. The terrorists have left US leaders virtually powerless -- they can only repeat the now almost meaningless words claiming US greatness, strength and its resolve to hold other countries responsible, never once recognizing its own weaknesses and faults.

President Bush briefly addressed the nation, after being whisked away to safety earlier in the day, while the rest of the nation, strangely, remained vulnerable. In his speech, the world heard the same arrogance as the President said the US was chosen as a target because "we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." World leaders, primarily those from the western, predominantly white hemisphere, have joined in with equally superior rhetoric. The British Prime Minister said the acts were "…perpetrated by fanatics who are utterly indifferent to the sanctity of life." Israel's Sharon felt the US' pain and said the country was in mourning with the US.

The theme is clear and already you know whom these leaders blame for the attacks. The disdain for 'them' is so evident. The world is slowly dividing itself, us against 'them.' Not against terrorists or acts of terror, in general, but for a particular group of terrorists, a specific kind of terrorism. Slavery and colonialism -- and their legacies, it seems, were not attacks on freedom and democracy; political assassinations do not constitute terrorism -- these barely warrant acknowledgement even, as the world has recently seen.

Is it possible that it is this very attitude that so drives some to bring the US down? The idea that one group of people is allowed to declare that another does not count, that another group of people does not deserve to be considered human? When will the US learn it has to co-exist with all the peoples of the world, not just those who serve the US' interests? Hate begets hate. Labeling people of this world as evil produces evil. The US and others have experienced this many times, yet they continue in the same vein.

There's no mistaking that terrorism is a threat, as it always has been. There is also no disputing that those responsible for such acts in any way, shape or form must be held accountable. To be sure, prosecute those who are responsible, but do not turn the process into a media circus, as was the case with the execution of Timothy McVeigh convicted for the Oklahoma bombing. Do not use the process to humiliate a people, as the US sought to do when it prosecuted those who bombed the World Trade Center before. Grandstanding, seeking to teach Osama bin Laden and his followers a lesson, the US government did nothing more than reaffirm its role as an arrogant world bully.

As calls for retaliation (against whom?) grow, as news analyses continue into the early hours of the morning after, I doubt it matters -- all this talk of US superiority and freedom. Imagine for a moment you are sitting in those planes, facing certain death, or in an office in the Pentagon or the World Trade Center, unaware just how close death is. Terrorism is about people. Perhaps one day the world's leader will realize this.

Reeta Sinha

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