Home 9/11 Pieces of the Truth
Home 9/11 Pieces of the Truth

Pieces of the Truth

Time brings distance to all events. No pain is as fresh twenty years later as on the day it happened. The shock of the impossible becomes the new normal and then it becomes more background noise.

"A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic," Joseph Stalin said. The statisticians in Doha, Tehran and Riyadh know it quite well when they count up their numbers. Compound death is more than a statistic; it is incomprehensible.

The banal media coverage of September 11 grapples with a story too big to tell that can only be broken down into human fragments of personal stories.

This is true for most of the dark footprints of history. There is no story of the Holocaust, there are only countless personal stories of survivors and the procedural story of the Nazi killing machine. These perspectives never come together into a single story only human fragments and procedural details, the departments and mechanisms, how many milligrams of Zyklon B it takes per kilogram to kill a person and how many people can be loaded on a train in how much time.

The coverage of 9/11 breaks down into these same mini-stories, survivors describing how they escaped, the families of the dead relating how they reacted to the news, the stories of firefighters and officers, and the procedural questions, how long it takes a falling body to achieve terminal velocity and what happens to the human body when it breathes in enough ash and soot. On the other side are the killers who plotted and planned, checked flight schedules, got their boxcutters and their korans and killed thousands for Allah.

The story of the attacks cannot be told because there is no boundary to it. Where do we begin, with a handful of upper class Muslims in Hamburg? With a scion of the Bin Laden clan becoming a Ghazi or with Hassan Al-Banna finding inspiration in Third Reich propaganda to modernize Islamism? With the Gates of Vienna, the Shores of Tripoli or Mohammed in Mecca? All but the last are incomplete, and even the last leaves too much out.

When a murder happens we trace back the motives of the killer. Was he abused as a child, did the authorities fail to act in time, what made a once sweet boy turn into a killer? To do the same for September 11 is to travel back over a thousand years and still come away with few answers except that sometimes human evil can be congealed into an ideology and passed along from generation to generation like a virus of hatred and cruelty.

"Where were you when the planes hit," attempts to orient us in time. But the question is only an attempt to make the impossible seem real. The businessman covered in ash and stumbling over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Seattle housewife waking up to see news coverage of it on television are more human fragments of a thing that is more than human. War.

War fragments perspectives, and though we have grown used to formal stories of war which began with a legal declaration of war and end with a surrender, these things have as little to do with war as a coroner's statement has to do with death. The laws of war, the treaties and the formalities are ways that human civilization attempts to make the wild force of human nature into a manageable thing.

Europeans and their colonial descendants may pen laws of war, but only they are constrained by them. In the real world outside the dinner parties of Washington D.C. and Brussels, there are no laws in war. Islamic law which has regulations for which foot to use when entering a bathroom (the left foot) and which side to sleep on (the right) has very few laws of war that cannot be nullified by necessity or even whim. On the battlefield, Islamic jurisprudence is boiled down to, Do what thou wilt in the cause of Allah, that is the whole of the law.

The West has tried to make war into a moral force by governing its means, without regard to its ends. But in the Muslim world, war is moral so long as its ends are Islamic-- the means are a technicality that Islamic scholars may squabble over the way they do over every petty matter, but in practice it's anything goes so long as it serves the Ummah. And even those technical debates over civilians in war and terrorism are governed by the ultimate welfare of the Ummah.

What happens when people who believe that the ends justify the means fight against people who believe that the ends never justify the means? In Afghanistan and Iraq the people who believed that the ends justify the means have gained their ends-- while we have lost both the ends and the means, not going far enough for the hawks and going too far for the doves.

This is the broken way of war that we practiced in Vietnam and Korea, constrained by invisible boundaries of our own making that did not prevent us from bombing cities, but did keep us from wiping out entire villages. To our enemies, these morals of ours seem every bit as senseless as their foot washing regulations seem to us. Why do the people who bombed Dresden beat their breasts over Mai Lai, and why was Shock and Awe acceptable, but not Abu Ghraib?

The answers invariably come down not to some externally consistent philosophy or divine law, but our need to feel good about ourselves by setting up a code that makes us seem moral in our own eyes. That makes us feel good about war. And the first law of that code is that killing en masse without really meaning to is more moral than pointing a gun at a man and pulling the trigger. This is the plausible deniability morality of the firing squad which uses enough dummy cartridges so that no one can be sure who fired the shot. No wonder drone attacks are a favorite of an anti-war administration putting as much automation and distance as possible between the soldier and his target.

Laws tell much about a people. Our need to legislate the use of force, and their need to legislate everything but the use of force. We have learned to be afraid of our lurking potential for evil.

It is a fear absent in Islam where a man who serves Allah cannot be a devil no matter what he does, but we know all too well that the devil can come wrapped in a saintly cause. We know it so well that we sometimes forget that while devils do occasionally come wearing halos, mostly they come wearing horns. To our great pain and woe, we have forgotten that we are not our own enemies.

A hundred years ago the attacks of September 11 would have marked the beginning of a war, but in this century they only marked a day of pain and sorrow, and years of a war that was never truly a war. It is this conflicted un-war that the anniversary marks. A war that never ends, because it never began.

War is a framework for violence, which the Muslim world hardly needs. While we search for an enemy to declare war on, all they need is a Fatwa with a clerical argument dubbing us the enemy, our nation, our soldiers, our civilians and our children. All of us.

We have no comfortable war framework except nation building which pretends that war is really the Peace Corps with bombs, habitat for humanity with the homes blown up before they can be rebuilt.

Are we fighting because they attacked us or because girls in Afghanistan can't go to school or for some figment of regional stability in a country where stability isn't even a word. That lack of clarity is fragmentation.  And fragmentation makes all stories seem senseless.

The pain and shock of the attacks gave us a measure of clarity. We were hit hard enough that we felt once again that justice was on our side and we no longer had to feel guilty for standing up for ourselves. In a society whose highest morality has become that of the victim, we were suddenly victims and entitled to defend ourselves.

The need to question ourselves temporarily went away and it felt good. For a brief shining moment the country became aware of external enemies and was united. We stopped being fragments warring with each other and we became Americans.

Had that clarity been sustained, the country today would be a dramatically different place. But it diminished and fell apart, and our identity went with it.We were once again our own enemies and the real enemy went unrecognized. Now the anniversary of the attacks has become like the memory of an old war that was fought once, but no longer really matters. The nation is at war, but it doesn't know that it's at war. And those who know that we are at war, often can't even state who the enemy is.

Without that clarity and unity, all we have are fragments, individual stories without the means to wrap them together. Stalin was right, a million deaths is a statistic unless you find a way to bring together what it means to an entire people. For the Holocaust, it was "Never Again." For 9/11 it was a more ambiguous, "United We Stand", but what do we stand for and what do we stand against?

The anniversaries have long since been reduced to a national therapy session, with pain released and healed in the media's own talking cure. But it isn't the pain that matters, it's what we do with it that counts. We have not yet lost the war-- but we are losing it, and unless we decide as a nation what we stand for and what we stand again, then we will lose. It will take time, like our banks we are too big to fail, but given enough appeasement, enough immigration and enough terrorism-- it will come.

Over a decade of war has passed, and before that a thousand years of war with lulls and pauses, but the din of the scimitar being sharpened for war never truly stopped. Each year that passes is a chance to learn the lessons of the years that have gone by and to remedy their mistakes. The best way to pay tribute to the dead is to unlearn our mistakes so that what happened to them will not happen again. Everything else is the fragmentation of self-indulgence, the therapy of tears, the sensitivity of grief, that will ease our pain, but not our fate.

Every man and woman must defeat their own doubts before they can defeat the enemy. Only then they can they battle the false reasonableness of the consensus that denies war and the enemy, with a consensus that briefly formed after the attacks and that forms even more briefly after every attack, to see ourselves in relation to the outside enemy. To unite against that enemy and to rebuild our identity around a common conflict with those who want to subjugate and destroy us. It may be ten more years before we are ready to do that, but as long as it takes-- that unity is our only hope.

The raw reaction in the aftermath of an event is the true one and the more distance we put between ourselves and that reaction also increases our distance from the truth.

The years of war have added layers of distancing between that first raw reaction when we saw the towers fall. And it is important this day to return not only to the emotion of that moment, but to the clarity that is our greatest weapon. Only that clarity will end this war.

Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article previously appeared at the Center's Front Page Magazine.

Thank you for reading.


  1. This is an excellent essay to read on the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9/15 and to read tomorrow, as well. Thank you, Daniel.

  2. Anonymous11/9/16

    Clarity. That's precisely it. George Bush started out right about countries that equivocated would be enemies. Then he got all wobbly and proclaimed Islam a Religion of Peace. W was just plain stupid and played into the Red-Green cabal in so many bumbling ways.

    We didn't really need victim status to assuage all the bad guy guilt we had been fed. I would have preferred a good old "Day of Infamy" speech a la Dec 8, 1941. FDR (not my hero) nevertheless got that right.

    Then Obama unleashed his sanctimonious finger wagging routine after each domestic Muslim bloodbath. He invoked the image of hoards of racist Americans with torches and pitchforks charging their local Mosque. As if we were all Archie Bunker coming home from a bad day at work and kicking the dog.

    After 15 years of shameful hand-wringing, can we attain Clarity now? YES!! Since the first Republican Primary Debate, the seismic positive reaction to the unmistakable Trump Clarity proves it. Let's roll!


  3. You're a 4-Star General in the Counter-jihad Daniel.

    Perfect essay for 9/11 + 15 years: Introspective, persuasive, instructional, and motivational. The work of a leader.

    Stay strong Brother.

  4. Infidel11/9/16

    Brilliant article (haven't finished yet, already so many points I want to mention that I thought I better write them down :)

    Often overlooked is that the Holocaust was a gigantic tragedy and loss for humanity, society, and civilization overall, not just to the Jews, the best and most productive elements in the human race. Think of how far down humanity has slipped from what it could have been, in medicine and health for example.

    Islam is easy to explain in terms of vicious circles with some prisoner dilemma stuff thrown in, but probably incomprehensible to those who haven't grasped vicious circle principles. Another difficulty is that there are so many different vicious circles at work it is difficult to even mention them all (FGM, Polygamy, Janissaries, Dhimmis, and so on ad infinitum), explain how each one works as a vicious circle, how they reinforce each other, and the naive might just see the surface phenomena, like FGM, as an isolated phenomenon, rather that as a vicious circle, part of a vast system of vicious circles reinforcing each other. All driving the Islamic world ever downward, and attempting to drag the rest of humanity into the vortex, which ends only at the very bottom.

  5. Infidel11/9/16

    Strategically, along the lines of your article on chaos, containment of Islam, possibly feeding conflicts between Islamic factions, might be the classical strategic solution. But that requires closed borders, or control of borders. It boggled my mind that the EU let in the hordes of Rapefugees, never occurred to me they would be that stupid. That made the problem vastly worse, Europe looks like it may fall to Islam as a result.

  6. Thank you for this today.

  7. Y. Ben-David12/9/16

    What is infuriating is the fact that, from the 9/11 terrorists point of view, the attack achieved everything they had hoped for. They wanted a massive American reaction which would suck them into the Middle East militarily, and in which they would ultimately be defeated, thus showing the Muslim umma that the West was vulnerable and could be overcome with Muslim force. The US was indeed sucked into Iraq, even though Saddam was not involved in the 9/11 attacks, and Afghanistan, and once in those countries, never really had a clear idea what to do once political control was achieved. Since then, Iraq has been more or less handed over tot he Iranian terror regime, Afghanistan is as unstable as ever, the US decided to chuck the whole thing by electing a Muslim-born President, Obama, who was supposedly capable of reaching out to the Muslim world and apologizing for the American intervention that followed 9/11. Out of this came ISIS. True, there is a very reluctant American and European reaction based on the feeling that ISIS went too far, but I don't see any real consensus on how to confront the Islamic offensive, other than using a little force and a lot of appeasement.
    It is possible that the massive, fratricidal slaughter the Muslims are inflicting on each other will lead to a general disillusionment with political Islam, just as the 30 Years War did for political Christianity, but it seems this will take time and it is not clear whether the self-destructive tendencies we see in the US and Europe will allow those societies to survive long enough to benefit from a possible Islamic implosion.

  8. Daniel,

    You assert that september 11 should have marked the beginning of a war. But a war against who exactly? Who were we supposed to be fighting against? What country were we supposed to invade and smash? What was the end goal?

    I propose that september 11 marked the beginning of one of the most terrible policy failures in history. The culmination of bad policy towards immigration and a complete misreading of the problem, followed by a host of "fixes" that not only didnt address the real problem, Muslim immigration and Muslim freedom of movement through the West, but actually made the problem worse, and created a bunch of new problems that may actually end up destroying Western democracy.

    By this, I refer to the unconstitutional expansion of government. An expansion that is without restraint, without oversight, that is terrifying in scope. The powers of government to spy on the people and the ability to kill or imprison American citizens without trial, is literally orwellian. The creation of an armed force on US soil to be used against the citizenry in the form of the "department of homeland security". The completely useless TSA agency, whose very existence upends the 4th amendment, and even worse, conditions the citizenry to accept such a practice. The effectively endless wars on foreign soil which has indirectly led to the suicide of more than a hundred thousand American veterans, etc.

    So I ask in all seriousness, who were we supposed to be fighting? What was the end goal? What were the conditions for actual victory?

  9. Anonymous9/10/16

    Dear Ron;

    Great question; and therein lies the Answer. Our paralysis comes from not being able to confront the answer. The Enemy is Islam. Islam is an indivisible ideology and fake religion. Muslims are carriers of this ruinous disorder, just as believers in Fascism, Naziism, Communism. Civilizations whose majority are not afflicted need to fight the afflicted ones, because according to Mohammed, Islam started fighting us 1400 years ago.

    Respect for the "religion" of Islam and compassion for Muslims place the survival of our civilization and children behind these false virtues. Would you value the malaria protozoan and the mosquito at the expense of human life?

    At the least, Islam and Muslims need to be quarantined back to their origins to preserve our countries' free cultures. Then we can stop the grotesque practice of security checks on children and grannies, and a hundred other government obscenities.

    Let's appreciate the preciousness of Western Civilization, act with firm resolve to teach our children of the danger of Islam, just as Islam has taught its children to hate.



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