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The Hidden Meaning of 9/11
Michael DiMercurio | September 12, 2006
I couldn't help myself from tuning into the streaming video feed of CNN's coverage of the events of September 11, 2001, synchronized to real time. The video was eye opening, but not just because of the obvious things. Here are the first things I noticed:
I'm not saying that CNN was incompetent. They actually did one of the best jobs on the air that day, and five years later had the guts to put their real time news on the air.
So how should we interpret our 9/11 naivetÈ? And were our leaders as stunned and surprised as CNN and the American people were? Many people have wondered about the extent of the government's foreknowledge, and if someone in power ìallowedî the attack to happen (just as allegations have been made about Roosevelt evacuating the aircraft carriers from Pearl Harbor and letting the Japanese take their best shot as a means to get America into World War II). Several elements point to this not being the case.
Later, 9/11 came to be blamed on a ìfailure of imagination.î Government agencies and officials couldn't imagine a time-on-target suicide attack being so successful, and no one wondered what would happen if airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center.
But fiction authors did. Late in CNN's morning coverage, author Tom Clancy was asked about the events of the day. At first, I wondered if CNN were truly desperate, asking a fiction writer to comment on the catastrophe, but Clancy gave the best and most cogent analysis of anyone on the air that morning. He mentioned that one of his novels depicted a hijacked jumbo crashing into the Capitol during a joint session of Congress, decapitating the government. Maybe Osama likes Tom Clancy novels.
I ran into this phenomenon of fiction writers being out front myself. One of my novels, written before the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, described a cruise missile with a nuclear ìdirty bombî as its warhead launched by a submarine belonging to a uniting dictator of a pan-Islamic West-hating organization called the United Islamic Front of God. The Islamic dictator was called ìThe Sword of Islamî and carried a dagger in the belt of his robes. Just like our pal Osama later did. The target of the dirty bomb was Washington, D.C.
It was chilling to get an email from a U.S. Army soldier stating that this novel was found in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. It was apparently well-read and dog-eared.
While none of us would ever want to give terrorists a leg up, it wouldn't hurt to infuse the governmental planners with a little of a fiction author's imagination -- and perhaps his clairvoyance as well.
But were our government officials as clueless as CNN anchors? And if they were, is there meaning in that cluelessness? In the moments after the first plane hit, President Bush was in a classroom in Florida emphasizing reading (Perhaps the government's version of a fluff fashion model segment). After Bush had been informed of the first crash, he went on reading to first graders for another nine minutes. For that kind of reaction, you have to imagine more than just ìa failure of imagination.î You'd need to see that what our government suffered was what we in the nuclear Navy called the ìoh sh**î factor.
The ìoh sh**î factor happens when an emergency arises out of nowhere -- an emergency so whacky and unprecedented that it leaves you stunned and paralyzed. Four hundred feet below the Atlantic, I was running a nuclear reactor drill surrounded by three senior officers, each having a decade-and-a-half of experience in operating nuclear plants. I and another officer had less experience, but were still sharp, and we stood behind a seasoned reactor operator -- the best on the ship. It was a drill, but was still a true ìcasualtyî because the reactor was actually tripped out and we were trying to recover it (if you can do it without sinking, that's a good thing).
Suddenly something happened that no one had ever thought of, drilled, talked about or even theorized, and it caused a reactor runaway reaction. In the cold light of the post-emergency investigation, it was clear that someone should have hit the kill switch and ìscrammedî the reactor. That one button would have made everything safe. No one even thought about it during the two-minute freak accident. And although all the signs were there on the instrument panels to see, we all froze. If the automatic protection circuits hadn't acted as designed, the nuclear power spike and resulting steam explosion -- a ìprompt critical rapid disassemblyî -- would have blown open the hull and we would have coasted all the way to the rocky bottom of the cold Atlantic two miles beneath us.
That feeling of all your thought processes coming to a complete, paralyzed stop is the famous ìoh sh**î factor. It is the reason that we drilled on every catastrophe or crisis we could think of. And if I learned one thing from the Navy, it was that what you sweat goes fine. It's what you don't think of that comes to get you.
This came to mind a month ago when I was watching a comedy movie in a dark theater with my five-year-old daughter. I'd always wondered what I would do if she were to choke, as it was one of my parenting fears. Suddenly she laughed and choked at the same time, and by the dim light of the screen I could see her eyes bug out in panic, and the choking sound stopped. Before a tenth of a second passed I grabbed her, and while running down the aisle steps toward better...
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