Fathoming the Atrocities
On that cloudless Tuesday morning in September, downtown Manhattan was engulfed by an eerie fog, a fog of dust and ashes. From the top floors of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, plumes of smoke billowed, and inside an inferno raged. The courtyard at the foot of the towers was strewn with aircraft debris, shattered glass, corpses. These were the bodies of “suicides” who had sought escape from the intense flames, fed by hundreds of gallons of airplane fuel, that were ripping through the towers. Hundreds of other desperate souls, hurrying down fire-escapes, were pulverized under tons of buckling girders and cement.
The massacre of September 11, 2001, claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
But it was calculated to kill many more. Of the other hijacked airplanes, one rammed into the Pentagon; the intended target of the fourth plane was the U.S. Capitol. By seeking to destroy the headquarters of the Department of Defense, the nation’s legislature, the global hub of financial markets—by striking at organs crucial to the security and prosperity of America—the attacks were an assault on everything that depended on those organs. The attacks were intended to devastate the entire country.
The hostility unleashed against America on that day has extended also to our allies. On March 11, 2004, bombs on commuter trains in Madrid transformed the vibrant bustle of rush hour into a scene of unspeakable carnage. Human limbs and random chunks of flesh lay on the ground, amid pools of blood. Nearly 200 individuals perished, but, as with the attacks thirty months earlier in New York, the killers had hoped for a higher death toll. Police found and safely detonated three further explosive devices. Then London, in the summer of 2005, was hit by suicide bombings on three Tube trains and a No. 30 bus in the center of town. On one of the trains, the explosion left remains so mutilated and burned that they were scarcely recognizable as ever having been human. Fifty victims died, and 700 were injured; some had massive burns, some had limbs blown off. (Three weeks later another team of bombers attempted to strike the Tube system again, albeit unsuccessfully.)
The hostility of the killers is fierce. They diligently toil for our destruction. To them, human life is cheap—not merely the lives of their victims, but also their own. Unlike soldiers risking death in hopes of living to see their nation’s army triumph, the attackers who strap on dynamite vests, who drive trucks laden with explosives into buildings, who deliberately crash airplanes into skyscrapers, do so certain of their own annihilation. They have no hope of surviving to see the success of whatever goal they are working to achieve. This perverse willingness to kill themselves in order to kill Americans makes the atrocities all the more bewildering.
Who are these killers? What drives their gleeful slaughter of human beings? What motivates their rabid hostility to America?
Explanations that have surfaced since 9/11 can be divided into two basic types. One exculpates the killers and blames America. The other exculpates America and blames the evil kingpins who put them up to it. . . .