A Decade After 9/11: We Are What We Loathe


By Chris Hedges
Posted on Sep 10, 2011

I arrived in Times Square around 9:30 on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. A large crowd was transfixed by the huge Jumbotron screens. Billows of smoke could be seen on the screens above us, pouring out of the two World Trade towers. Two planes, I was told by people in the crowd, had plowed into the towers. I walked quickly into the New York Times newsroom at 229 W. 43rd St., grabbed a handful of reporter’s notebooks, slipped my NYPD press card, which would let me through police roadblocks, around my neck, and started down the West Side Highway to the World Trade Center. The highway was closed to traffic. I walked through knots of emergency workers, police and firemen. Fire trucks, emergency vehicles, ambulances, police cars and rescue trucks idled on the asphalt.

The south tower went down around 10 a.m. with a guttural roar. Huge rolling gray clouds of noxious smoke, dust, gas, pulverized concrete, gypsum and the grit of human remains enveloped lower Manhattan. The sun was obscured. The north tower collapsed about 30 minutes later. The dust hung like a shroud over Manhattan.

I headed toward the spot where the towers once stood, passing dazed, ashen and speechless groups of police officers and firefighters. I would pull out a notebook to ask questions and no sounds would come out of their mouths. They forlornly shook their heads and warded me away gently with their hands. By the time I arrived at Ground Zero it was a moonscape; whole floors of the towers had collapsed like an accordion. I pulled out pieces of paper from one floor, and a few feet below were papers from 30 floors away. Small bits of human bodies—a foot in a woman’s shoe, a bit of a leg, part of a torso—lay scattered amid the wreckage.

Scores of people, perhaps more than 200, pushed through the smoke and heat to jump to their deaths from windows that had broken or they had smashed. Sometimes they did this alone, sometimes in pairs. But it seems they took turns, one body cascading downward followed by another. The last acts of individuality. They fell for about 10 seconds, many flailing or replicating the motion of swimmers, reaching 150 miles an hour. Their clothes and, in a few cases, their improvised parachutes made from drapes or tablecloths shredded. They smashed into the pavement with unnerving, sickening thuds. Thump. Thump. Thump. Those who witnessed it were particularly shaken by the sounds the bodies made on impact.

The images of the “jumpers” proved too gruesome for the TV networks. Even before the towers collapsed, the falling men and women were censored from live broadcasts. Isolated pictures appeared the next day in papers, including The New York Times, and then were banished. The mass suicide, one of the most pivotal and important elements in the narrative of 9/11, was expunged. It remains expunged from public consciousness.

The “jumpers” did not fit into the myth the nation demanded. The fate of the “jumpers” said something so profound, so disturbing, about our own fate, smallness in the universe and fragility that it had to be banned. The “jumpers” illustrated that there are thresholds of suffering that elicit a willing embrace of death. The “jumpers” reminded us that there will come, to all of us, final moments when the only choice will be, at best, how we will choose to die, not how we are going to live. And we can die before we physically expire.

The shock of 9/11, however, demanded images and stories of resilience, redemption, heroism, courage, self-sacrifice and generosity, not collective suicide in the face of overwhelming hopelessness and despair.

Reporters in moments of crisis become clinicians. They collect data, facts, descriptions, basic information, and carry out interviews as swiftly as possible. We make these facts fit into familiar narratives. We do not create facts but we manipulate them. We make facts conform to our perceptions of ourselves as Americans and human beings. We work within the confines of national myth. We make journalism and history a refuge from memory. The pretense that mass murder and suicide can be transformed into a tribute to the victory of the human spirit was the lie we all told to the public that day and have been telling ever since. We make sense of the present only through the lens of the past, as the French philosopher Maurice Halbwachs pointed out, recognizing that “our conceptions of the past are affected by the mental images we employ to solve present problems, so that collective memory is essentially a reconstruction of the past in the light of the present. … Memory needs continuous feeding from collective sources and is sustained by social and moral props.”

I returned that night to the newsroom hacking from the fumes released by the burning asbestos, jet fuel, lead, mercury, cellulose and construction debris. I sat at my computer, my thin paper mask still hanging from my neck, trying to write and catch my breath. All who had been at the site that day were noticeable in the newsroom because they were struggling for air. Most of us were convulsed by shock and grief.

There would soon, however, be another reaction. Those of us who were close to the epicenters of the 9/11 attacks would primarily grieve and mourn. Those who had some distance would indulge in the growing nationalist cant and calls for blood that would soon triumph over reason and sanity. Nationalism was a disease I knew intimately as a war correspondent. It is anti-thought. It is primarily about self-exaltation. The flip side of nationalism is always racism, the dehumanization of the enemy and all who appear to question the cause. The plague of nationalism began almost immediately. My son, who was 11, asked me what the difference was between cars flying small American flags and cars flying large American flags.

“The people with the really big flags are the really big assholes,” I told him.

The dead in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania were used to sanctify the state’s lust for war. To question the rush to war became to dishonor our martyrs. Those of us who knew that the attacks were rooted in the long night of humiliation and suffering inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians, the imposition of our military bases in the Middle East and in the brutal Arab dictatorships that we funded and supported became apostates. We became defenders of the indefensible. We were apologists, as Christopher Hitchens shouted at me on a stage in Berkeley, “for suicide bombers.”

Because few cared to examine our activities in the Muslim world, the attacks became certified as incomprehensible by the state and its lap dogs, the press. Those who carried out the attacks were branded as rising out of a culture and religion that was at best primitive and probably evil. The Quran—although it forbids suicide as well as the murder of women and children—was painted as a manual for fanaticism and terror. The attackers embodied the titanic clash of civilizations, the cosmic battle under way between good and evil, the forces of light and darkness. Images of the planes crashing into the towers and heroic rescuers emerging from the rubble were played and replayed. We were deluged with painful stories of the survivors and victims. The deaths and falling towers became iconographic. The ceremonies of remembrance were skillfully hijacked by the purveyors of war and hatred. They became vehicles to justify doing to others what had been done to us. And as innocents died here, soon other innocents began to die in the Muslim world. A life for a life. Murder for murder. Death for death. Terror for terror.

What was played out in the weeks after the attacks was the old, familiar battle between force and human imagination, between the crude instruments of violence and the capacity for empathy and understanding. Human imagination lost. Coldblooded reason, which does not speak the language of the imagination, won. We began to speak and think in the empty, mindless nationalist clichés about terror that the state handed to us. We became what we abhorred. The deaths were used to justify pre-emptive war, invasion, Shock and Awe, prolonged occupation, targeted assassinations, torture, offshore penal colonies, gunning down families at checkpoints, massive aerial bombardments, drone attacks, missile strikes and the killing of dozens and soon hundreds and then thousands and later tens of thousands and finally hundreds of thousands of innocent people. We produced piles of corpses in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and extended the reach of our killing machine to Yemen and Somalia. And by beatifying our dead, by cementing into the national psyche fear and the imperative of permanent war, and by stoking our collective humiliation, the state carried out crimes, atrocities and killings that dwarfed anything carried out against us on 9/11. The best that force can do is impose order. It can never elicit harmony. And force was justified, and is still justified, by the first dead. Ten years later these dead haunt us like Banquo’s ghost.

“It is the first death which infects everyone with the feelings of being threatened,” wrote Elias Canetti. “It is impossible to overrate the part played by the first dead man in the kindling of wars. Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim. It needs not be anyone of particular importance, and can even be someone quite unknown. Nothing matters except his death; and it must be believed that the enemy is responsible for this. Every possible cause of his death is suppressed except one: his membership of the group to which one belongs oneself.”

We were unable to accept the reality of this anonymous slaughter. We were unable because it exposed the awful truth that we live in a morally neutral universe where human life, including our life, can be snuffed out in senseless and random violence. It showed us that there is no protection, not from God, fate, luck, omens or the state.

We have still not woken up to whom we have become, to the fatal erosion of domestic and international law and the senseless waste of lives, resources and trillions of dollars to wage wars that ultimately we can never win. We do not see that our own faces have become as contorted as the faces of the demented hijackers who seized the three commercial jetliners a decade ago. We do not grasp that Osama bin Laden’s twisted vision of a world of indiscriminate violence and terror has triumphed. The attacks turned us into monsters, grotesque ghouls, sadists and killers who drop bombs on village children and waterboard those we kidnap, strip of their rights and hold for years without due process. We acted before we were able to think. And it is the satanic lust of violence that has us locked in its grip.

As Wordsworth wrote:

Action is transitory—a step, a blow,
The motion of a muscle—this way or that—
’Tis done; and in the after-vacancy
We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed:
Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark,
And has the nature of infinity.

We could have gone another route. We could have built on the profound sympathy and empathy that swept through the world following the attacks. The revulsion over the crimes that took place 10 years ago, including in the Muslim world, where I was working in the weeks and months after 9/11, was nearly universal. The attacks, if we had turned them over to intelligence agencies and diplomats, might have opened possibilities not of war and death but ultimately reconciliation and communication, of redressing the wrongs that we commit in the Middle East and that are committed by Israel with our blessing. It was a moment we squandered. Our brutality and triumphalism, the byproducts of nationalism and our infantile pride, revived the jihadist movement. We became the radical Islamist movement’s most effective recruiting tool. We descended to its barbarity. We became terrorists too. The sad legacy of 9/11 is that the assholes, on each side, won.


What an article.

I feel the same way

My first thought was: "I'm speechless". Hedges has been in the zone lately.

oh, really?

Interesting that Hedges ADMITS that journalists take down all the information and evidence, and then use it to fit the story that their society wants to hear, embellishing and distorting what the facts are saying.
He completely misses the most important part of the story of 9/11................that it was an inside job.

Crazy. This world is absolutely crazy.

Hedges, I want you to read this...........

WHY THEY DID IT................(maybe they did it for the good of us all)

WHY DID THEY DO IT? It is the one question that is seldom asked, and never difintively answered.
We know that the official story is a lie. We know 9/11 was an inside job. We don't need more information or evidence to convince the people here of any of this. It is great to gather all the evidence we can, and analyze it, but it for convincing others, not ourselves............we already KNOW!

But the question remains. Why did they do it?
Many quickly answer, with answers like, "oh, they did it to make more money", or, "they did it because they are power hungry". "They did it for the oil". "The Jews did it to take over the Middle East".
We hear these and other reasons for why so many became involved in this conspiracy to attack Americans and the icons of America.

But none of these reasons really ever sat well with me. I look at some of the people involved. Bush, Cheney, many of the Neocons. High officials in the Pentagon and other agencies like NIST. Most of these people are successful enough and wealthy enough, some beyond belief and with lots of opportunities to make plenty of money in the future, and it just doesn't make sense that they would do something so heinous and evil as to destroy so many people's lives, all so they could set an agenda of invasion and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to enrich themselves or gain in power. I just don't buy it.

Most of the people involved have really nice families, families that I'm sure would be appalled, and even destroyed, if any of the truth really got traction throughout the public. The risk of being publicly outed, and convicted of these crimes is pretty high, even if they have won the propaganda war so far. I think we know and they know that one day history will realize that 9/11 was an inside job. I don't think most of these officials really would have done this if all they would get was some more wealth and some more power. The risks were too great that their families would suffer horribly, forever, for the sins of these perpetrators. And, really, I've looked at some of their families. These are not generally psychopathic or sociopathic people. They honestly seem normal. Many have very likable and nice families.

But they seem driven. They work all the time. Travelling sounds great to many of us stuck in jobs 8 to 5, week after week, but travelling and going to meetings all the time, like many of these driven leaders that seem to have been part of 9/11, is very draining and difficult work. Even at advanced ages, when most of these people could have been enjoying their money and fame and families, they continue to work for issues they believe it. They already have the fame and money and power. Could it be that they are working so hard when they don't need to because they are working for a higher purpose or goal?

Ok, so what am I getting at? What, then, do I think is the reason they planned and executed 9/11?

I think they did it for us. Well, they did it for the good of humanity, for mankind. Yes, people were killed. Lots of innocent people. But is it possible that they decided that this horror was worth the price to accomplish something far greater and more important, that would save the world from far, far worse fate? What if allowing 3000 to be killed meant that they were saving the ultimate deaths of millions and millions, maybe billions?

I think this

could be the case. I think there are events coming in our future, that they were well aware of, that could easily bring the deaths of millions and bring horror and terror to billions. I think these events will come as a result of Peak Oil and other overwhelming problems facing the world today.
Peak oil is coming, or has passed recently. We are running out of cheap oil, and this is predicted by many who study peak oil, like Richard Heinberg, to bring us a catastrophic collapse of industrial society. Our world simply cannot continue as it is without lots of oil, and growth based on oil. Our financial systems, our agricultural output, transportation, all of what we need every day, would come to a grinding halt if we cannot keep the supply of oil pouring into countries all over the world. Add to this the problems of global warming, overpopulation, loss of soil, forest depletion, diminishing supplies of fresh water, pollution, etc etc, and we have a massive breakdown in what it takes to keep seven million people alive and functioning. We live in a finite world, and we are using up the earth's resources in a non renewable, unsustainable way. And we need a continuing and growing supply of all of these resources. Just a few breaks in the scheme and the whole thing could collapse.

Richard Heinberg, in his book, The End of Growth, presents the possible scenarios, most of them horrible. He feels, though, that if the whole world really worked together to prepare for the moment of real breakdown, we could at least smooth out the horror somewhat and keep industrial society going at a somewhat lower level. But I believe that the leadership that was part of the inside job of 9/11 did not feel that there was any way that the richest nations, mostly democracies, would ever be able to handle a smooth transition to a lower energy level system, without incredibly violent and disruptive rebellions all over the world, with many wars and disease and starvation. A lot of people who study what we may be facing as we hit the limits to growth feel the same way.

In 2001 there were meetings held, probably the most secretive meetings ever held, in which the most important and powerful people on earth met to talk about, what was later leaked, peak oil. They knew then that oil was running out. Nobody knows just what was discussed for sure, but it is surmised that plans for handling the problems that we will face with the depletion of oil were hatched, and probably included plans to take control of all of the major oil producing areas. Along with that, a worldwide system of military and police infrastructure was planned, along with changes in the laws of many nations to allow a dilution of rights and freedoms, particularly in emergency measures during crises. They probably wanted in place a system in which, as oil runs out and the world becomes angry and violent, the powerful world leaders would have the military and police infrastructure to control it at some level and bring on an international system of stability. I'd imagine they envisioned a system in which some countries and regions and groups would receive the needed resources in greater quantity than others, all based on their own views of who is the neediest or most deserving.

One thing is clear: we WILL be passing peak oil soon, if we haven't already, and as the supply of oil becomes more and more depleted, we will be faced with a breakdown in normal industrial society, and it will be very, very disturbing and destructive. I think we have already seen the beginning. Many feel that our financial woes, all over the world, are caused ultimately by rising fuel costs and the inability of industrial nations to keep growing, which eventually collapses financial institutions based on lending and borrowing and debt and interest payments. We are seeing this NOW, and I feel this is the beginning of a slow decline, which can eventually lead to a more catastrophic collapse. We don't know when it will come, but I feel the world's leaders, at those energy meetings in 2001, understood it would happen within a couple decades, at the most. They simply wanted to take control, put the necessary controls in place before it happens. And they have been generally successful. The US military and police swat teams are in place all over the world. Legal changes have changed, torture and repression is more accepted now and routine. US bases are all through the middle east. A weaponization of space is continuing. It is bragged that US forces can, when necessary, take out, within a few minutes, any home or auto anywhere in the world. The control that will be necessary when the collapse and violence begins is in place.

Most very powerful people in history who have done horrible things have done them for reasons that at least they felt were of huge importance, even driven by god. Hitler felt he was doing god's work. It is quite possible that Bush and Cheney and Wolfowitz and Perle and General Myers and many others really feel, in the long run, when history looks back on our age, that they set up a system that saved humanity from itself and heroicly and bravely risked great retribution and punishment to themselves for the sake of mankind. It may be a mad scheme or it may prove to be one of the most important takeovers of power for the good of humanity of all time. From our vantage point, in the middle of it all, it is hard to say. But I for one still would like to spread the truth of 9/11 truth and let the world know just what happened. But maybe it is better that we don't. Maybe the plan I feel they have been working on is for the good of us all, and best left unknown to most of the public. Only time will tell.

I generally like reading Hedges;

but I found this to be disappointingly ordinary. At least with respect to the points that stood out most with me.

On most matters, I find him to be much sharper and more observant and hard-hitting than the standard liberal and left commentators. But when it comes to 9/11 itrself, he seems to just blend in with the rest of the herd. Like so many other commentaries, he seems to fault the Bush administration for being reckless and unwise in the aftermath of the attacks. Readers cannot be expected to get insight from Hedges (that I can see) into the fact that these post 9/11 invasions were pre-meditated. The position which he and so many other liberal commentators seem to believe is the correct one is something like: Feel guilty over how our government has acted since the 9/11 attacks, but don't ever question what that government has told you about those attacks. His statement that 'we became the radical Islamist movement's most effective recruiting tool' is also a familiar cliché for those who don't want to go any further, in that it contents itself with this observation, without going on to encourage readers to the questions of: recruited ultimately by whom? For what purpose? To whose benefit? Or to consider how these groups had come into being in the first place (and to whose beneift). Or to look at things from the reverse direction, to consider how great a 'recruiting tool' the official 9/11 story has been to the imperialist warmongers of this country--spurring the recruitment of young people into the armed services (espcially in the immediate aftermath), and of the civilian population into the ranks of compliant sheep.