September 9, 2006


Imagine the Twin Towers Hadn't Fallen on 9/11 (Tom Engelhardt, September 9, 2006, The Nation and

[H]ere was my what-if thought. What if the two hijacked planes, American Flight 11 and United 175, had plunged into those north and south towers at 8:46 and 9:03, killing all aboard, causing extensive damage and significant death tolls, but neither tower had come down? What if, as a Tribune columnist called it, photogenic "scenes of apocalypse" had not been produced? What if, despite two gaping holes and the smoke and flames pouring out of the towers, the imagery had been closer to that of 1993? What if there had been no giant cloud of destruction capable of bringing to mind the look of "the day after," no images of crumbling towers worthy of Independence Day?

We would surely have had blazing headlines, but would they have commonly had "war" or "infamy" in them, as if we had been attacked by another state? Would the last superpower have gone from "invincible" to "vulnerable" in a split second? Would our newspapers instantly have been writing "before" and "after" editorials, or insisting that this moment was the ultimate "test" of George W. Bush's until-then languishing presidency? Would we instantaneously have been considering taking what CIA Director George Tenet would soon call "the shackles" off our intelligence agencies and the military? Would we have been reconsidering, as Florida's Democratic Senator Bob Graham suggested that first day, rescinding the Congressional ban on the assassination of foreign officials and heads of state? Would a Washington Post journalist have been trying within hours to name the kind of "war" we were in? (He provisionally labeled it "the Gray War.") Would New York Times columnist Tom Friedman on the third day have had us deep into "World War III"? Would the Times have been headlining and quoting Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on its front page on September 14, insisting that "it's not simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism." (The Times editorial writers certainly noticed that ominous "s" on "states" and wrote the next day: "but we trust [Wolfowitz] does not have in mind invading Iraq, Iran, Syria and Sudan as well as Afghanistan.")

Would state-to-state "war" and "acts of terror" have been so quickly conjoined in the media as a "war on terror" and would that phrase have made it, in just over a week, into a major presidential address? Could the Los Angeles Daily News have produced the following four-day series of screaming headlines, beating even the President to the punch: Terror/Horror!/"This Is War"/War on Terror?

If it all hadn't seemed so familiar, wouldn't we have noticed what was actually new in the attacks of September 11? Wouldn't more people have been as puzzled as, according to Ron Suskind in his new book The One Percent Doctrine, was one reporter who asked White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, "You don't declare war against an individual, surely"? Wouldn't Congress have balked at passing, three days later, an almost totally open-ended resolution granting the President the right to use force not against one nation (Afghanistan) but against "nations," plural and unnamed?

And how well would the Bush administration's fear-inspired nuclear agenda have worked, if those buildings hadn't come down? Would Saddam's supposed nuclear program and WMD stores have had the same impact? Would the endless linking of the Iraqi dictator, Al Qaeda, and 9/11 have penetrated so deeply that, in 2006, half of all Americans, according to a Harris Poll, still believed Saddam had WMD when the U.S. invasion began, and 85% of American troops stationed in Iraq, according to a Zogby poll, believed the US mission there was mainly "to retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9-11 attacks"?

Without that apocalyptic 9/11 imagery, would those fantasy Iraqi mushroom clouds pictured by administration officials rising over American cities or those fantasy Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles capable of spraying our East Coast with chemical or biological weapons, or Saddam's supposed search for African yellowcake (or even, today, the Iranian "bomb" that won't exist for perhaps another decade, if at all) have so dominated American consciousness?

Would Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri be sitting in jail cells or be on trial by now? Would so many things have happened differently?

This is actually where all the Bush lied rants fall apart--does anybody really think that, in a presidency largely defined by avoiding and rectifying his father's mistakes, George W, Bush was going to leave Saddam in place?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 9, 2006 8:37 AM

This is like reading Lewis Carroll - and this guy believes 8 impossible things before breakfast.

The Towers were doomed from impact, but if they had not fallen (had the fire been more dispersed, or if the planes had been nearly empty, or whatever), they would certainly have been demolished anyway - who was going to certify the steel as sound?

But this is the zenith of denial - if only, if only, if only. If only Bill Clinton had still been President, perhaps the Towers wouldn't have collapsed. We could have made peace with everyone and no one would hate us.

Of course, this guy doesn't care that hundreds of Africans died at the embassy bombings (which were an act of war all by themselves). Or that attacking the USS Cole was an act of war. Or the Khobar Towers. Or the first WTC bombing.

And we haven't even started to talk about the Taliban, the evils of Saddam, and this guy's blissful ignorance of Iran. Of course, this guy would write the exact same thing if a nuclear weapon went off in Manhattan ("if only the wind had been blowing a different way, or if the bomb had gone off at 2:00 AM instead of 2:00 PM").

If only.....

Too late for that. There are better mottos out there ('he who dares, wins', or 'no better friend, no worse enemy', or 'death from above'). This guy should learn some of them. Even in his cocoon, they protect him.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 9, 2006 10:05 AM

My forensic engineer brother worked on the WTC clean up. He thinks that if they were able to use asbestos as a fire retardant, the buildings might not have collapsed so quickly giving people time to evacuate safely and sparing the lives of the many rescue workers who were killed trying to save them.

Here's a great article by Peggy Noonan in today's WSJ .

Posted by: erp at September 9, 2006 10:47 AM

Just another example of how desparate the Left is to deny the obvious, that their policies, when implemented, lead to death and destruction on a massive scale. (When those policies, as typified by Soviet Socialism, aren't themselves death and destruction on a massive scale.) Because if they'd survived that day, and we'd treated it as another criminal matter, as it seems this clown desires, we'd have been hit even harder within the last year or so. If nothing else, the Bojinka type plots like the one recently stopped in London would have succeeded. (Hey, I can play the "what if.." game too.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 9, 2006 11:42 AM

I assume Mr. Engelhardt also believes that if the USS Arizona had somehow managed to stay afloat (despite all hands dead), WW11 could have been avoided.

Posted by: Peter B at September 9, 2006 1:04 PM

Peter - very good.

Posted by: ratbert at September 9, 2006 9:07 PM