Ten Years Gone
NYTBR, 11 September 2011
Ten years ago today, nineteen people, including fifteen Saudis–using funding from the House of Saud and led by a distinguished member of that House–used airplanes to attack the U.S., destroying the World Trade Towers, damaging the Pentagon, and being prevented from attacking the White House only by the heroic efforts of passengers on board the fourth plane and a suicide mission by an unarmed U.S. fighter jet.
Fortunately, there was quick action from President Bush and his Administration. They detained all fourteen of Osama bin Laden’s relatives in the United States, interrogating each. This was followed by the execution of surgical strikes within Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden himself was hiding. By the time Special Forces troops captured him in the caves near Tora Bora, in part due to intelligence gained from his relatives, domestic uprisings and U.N. support led to the overthrow of the Taliban government.
There were rumors there would be war with Saudi Arabia. But he Administration enacted high-level discussions (using, allegedly, some still-classified data as incentives) that were quickly followed by regime change in Saudi Arabia. That country’s new leaders provided compensation for costs and victims, as well as intelligence on previously unknown Pakistani participation.
On the domestic front, Rudolph Giuliani–who had moved the NYC Emergency Response headquarters from the safety of the basement of One Police Plaza to the 25th floor of a building that had been attacked eight years before, and who declared spending money on upgrading communications equipment for firefighters a waste–was barely saved from a Lynch mob of New Yorkers. He is rumored to have moved to Arizona, having been shunned by the President and the news media.
So now, ten years later, we find some American authors writing alternative histories about that time. The most recent, and one of the most absurd, is Philip Roth’s Becoming Who We Are, in which the Bush Administration assists the Bin Laden family in flying out of the United States (even before domestic commercial flights resume), becomes even closer to the Saudi leadership (there is a scene in the novel of Bush holding hands with the Saudi King while posing for photographs), and declares war on Iraq.
Even more problematic, Roth imagines Giuliani being touted as a hero, while the Bush Administration tortures prisoners, committing what most readers will correctly view as war crimes.
Perhaps saddest of all, Roth postulates an uprising of “Christian Conservatives” who vociferously and repeatedly applaud both of the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and wanton torture of prisoners—and who, in this novel, are largely credited with re-electing President Bush despite those revelations and an economy driven to stagnation by war—cheering the mere suggestion that an execution, even of someone who is clearly innocent, will occur. After Roth’s frequent but appropriate mention of “blood libel” in The Plot Against America, one probably ought not be surprised that some “Christian” characters of this novel would act in such a manner, but it is a daunting leap of faith nonetheless. (That Roth’s narrator is aware enough to note that it is not the “Christians,” but rather those in the highest income brackets who are—for the first time in United States history—not taxed to pay for a war who make the difference in the 2004 election arguably is even more damning of his portrayal.)
Roth has had a long and noble career, and his recent forays into alternative history–most notably his portrayal of leading isolationist Charles Lindbergh [link added] in the aforementioned novel–have been based in a deep knowledge of the way those personages acted publicly and privately. That he would undermine that with an absurdist piece in which the President of the United States squanders opportunities and weakens his own country by starting multiple wars is unfortunate at best. We can only hope Mr. Roth’s next work recovers the historical veracity for which he is known, rather than this deranged flight of fancy.
Becoming Who We Are, by Philip Roth, Houghton Mifflin, 432 pages, $27.
In other news, Eurozone and Asian finance ministers criticized US Treasury and Federal Reserve policies for the aggressive retirement of US Treasury Bills after a decade of record surpluses reduced US borrowing needs yet again. We’ll be back after these messages.
Read Roth’s book more carefully. The “economic history” believed by the characters in the book is even crazier. It seems to be commonly accepted in his book that the economy grew quickly after Reagan cut tax rates. Rapid growth during JFK’s term is similarly attributed to tax cuts that came a year after he died. FDR caused the Great Depression. It’s hilarious.
Could you provide a link to more information about this book? There’s nothing on Amazon about it.
Mike – I have always taken it as a given that those assumptions were intentionally hilarious. I may be wrong.
Irony is dangerous, of course. always a good chance someone will take it seriously one way or the other.
i got lost in Mike’s double negative (i think). and wasn’t sure i understood the bit about an unarmed fighter jet.
as for the jfk tax cuts, you have to understand that “insiders” knew of the tax cuts in advance so they were able to invest in confidence. everybody know kennedy was a supply sider.
The “unarmed fighter jet” is probably a reference to the story of Heather “Lucky” Penney who was one of the pilots sent to intercept flight 93. She had just finished some training exercises which involved use of blank ammunition, so the only feasible way to bring down flight 93 would have been to collide with it. I think the other pilot was in the same situation, but his story lacks the extra human interest angle of “first female fighter pilot” and hasn’t gotten the same media coverage.
thanks. as for “first female…” there was a female navy fighter pilot who i think came first. i watched a film of that lady landing a plane with one of the landing gear malfunctioned. she was a very talented pilot. she was killed later when her jet flamed out during a carrier landing.
but i suspect the media is no more accurate about female fighter pilots than it is about Social Security.
btw, as for the “suicide mission”
i am no expert, but i’d be willing to bet
that a good fighter pilot could cause an airliner to crash without crashing himself, by knocking off a wing tip or rudder. if he broke something important on his own plane, he could always bail out.
he could also match speeds with it and settle on it ever so gently. this would make the airliner really hard to fly. once it was in an “unusual attitude” your average terrorist pilot is not going to recover. your average fighter pilot is always practicing unusual attitudes.
her name was kara hultgreen. she was killed in 1994.
Hultgreen was the first (US) carrier-based female fighter pilot. She probably wasn’t the first female fighter pilot because she failed in her first effort, got in on the second. The program opened up to women in 1993.
Penney is quoted in a recent article saying she was “first in line” which sounds as much like an expression of her eagerness as an assertion about who was first. Penney was among the first class of woment to fly fighters. Unless one counts down to the minute the paperwork went in, it will be hard to identify “the first” because there was a first class of fighter pilots in each flying service which included women, all of whom earned their place at the same time.