By Alex Berger
“What is at stake today is nothing less than the survival of civilization!”
– Benjamin Netanyahu
“I think it would be a good idea.” said Albert Einstein when he was asked, “What do you think about civilization.”
America must now add to their list of unforgettable dates September 11, 2001. It will be in the company of a few others including the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, the sudden death of President Roosevelt during World War II, and the shooting of President Kennedy in Dallas. Who among us will ever forget our newest, ignoble day beginning at 8:48 a.m.? Who will ever forget what they were doing at that moment?
On that September morn, I was busy at work hammering out an innocuous column on that Ole Navigator, Christopher Columbus, whose birthday we soon will be celebrating. Gloria then screamed, “A plane just smashed into the World Trade Center.” Deep in thought at that time, and not wanting to be bothered, I shrugged her off. But then, when Gloria shouted that a second plane hit the other tower, I jumped out of my seat and dashed to the television to see the confirming sight.
It left me with an enveloping daze. I was in a stupor for several days, and I am still fighting the effects of the funk a month later. So, please, dear Chris, forgive me when I say that I must forego column about you this year. I am sure as the great explorer that you were, you will understand.
Yes, as all over the age of 3 will remember for the rest of their lives, it was Tuesday, September 11, 2001 that a band of hijackers flew two planes screaming into the Twin Towers and another into the Pentagon, sending shock waves throughout the nation and around the world.
To numerically quote the Internet: “The date of the attack was on 9/11 (9+1+1 = 11). September 11 is the 254th day of the year (2+5+4 = 11). After September 11 there are 111 days left to the end of the year. 119 is the telephone area code to Iraq and Iran (1+1+9 = 11). The Twin Towers, standing side by side, look like the number 11. The first plane to hit the Towers was Flight No. 11. The State of New York was the 11th state added to the Union. New York City has 11 letters; Afghanistan has 11 letters; the Pentagon has 11 letters; the name, Ramzi Yousef (convicted of orchestrating the attack on the WTC in 1993), has 11 letters; Flight 11 had 92 passengers on board (9 + 2 = 11); and Flight 77 had 65 passengers on board (6 + 5 =11). Quite a coincidence — I wonder if 11 might eventually replace 13 as unlucky in the annals of superstition.
The attack has left thousands of innocent people with lost love ones, including my dear friends, Dick and Rot Lynch of Douglaston who lost a son.
The tragedy has left many grisly stories from the Relief and Recovery mission in Staten Island, where the debris was transferred, with a multitude of small body parts still embedded. Many dedicated people have the horrific job of sifting through the mass of metal and glass rubble in hopes of finding human remains that may identify some of the victims.
A severed hand, with fingers clenched, was found by one searcher. When he pried it open, he discovered that it was holding a child’s hand.
The bloody deeds of the terrorists seem to us like the acts of madmen. Whether they were clinically insane is for the psychiatrists to debate. What we do know is that they believed they were fighting a great evil — The “Great Satan” United States — and that they would receive divine rewards in a paradise to include the services of 72 virgins. They also receive a promise from the organizers (who, interestingly, are not giving up their own lives) that their families will be taken care of.
For the first time in American history, a dangerous and functional foreign-born “fifth column” (the name given to spies who perform acts of sabotage and terrorism within our country) is at work on American soil.
Their umbrella terrorist organization is Al-Qaeda. It includes a wide range of groups, including Hezbollah (Lebanon), Islamic Jihad (Egypt), the Armed Islamic Groupo (Algeria), as well as a raft of Iraqis, Sudanese, Pakistanis, Afghans, and Jordanians. Each of these groups has the capability to carry out its own independent recruiting and operations. They are coordinated through a kind of board of directors that include representatives from the many groups. They meet on a regular basis in Afghanistan. Even if Osama bin Laden (who also has cells in many American cities including Brooklyn and Jersey City) were to be killed or imprisoned, the network would survive and continue to expand, sustained by its ideological adhesion.
How do we combat it? Well, in February 1982, the secular Syrian government of President Assad faced a mortal threat from Islamic extremists in his country, who sought to topple his regime. Assad identified the rebellion which emanated from a city named Hama, and he literally leveled it with cannon fire. Once the guns fell silent he plowed through the rubble and bulldozed the city flat. It was estimated that up to 25,000 Syrians, mostly civilians, were killed in this merciless crackdown. Syria has not had a Muslim extremist problem since. But, of course, we cannot exercise the same response to our enemies as Syria did to theirs.
Our president declared that “from this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” The fight will not be easy. Regular warfare seems out of the question. No one, not Alexander the Great, nor the Persians, nor the British nor the Russians, has successfully occupied Afghanistan. It is a nation of warriors, where children glue broken glass to their kite strings to cut down other kites, boys are given rifles at puberty, and old men keep thrushes in wooden cages trained not to sing, but to fight. But, as Winston Churchill once said to his enemies, “We will have no truce or parley with you or the grisly gang who do your wicked will. You (may) do your worst – we will do our best. “ And we shall.
So, fellow Americans, stand tall. They threw the first stone, and we will soon bury them in a mountain of rocks. As George M. Cohan wrote during the First World War, “We’ll be over, We’re coming over, And we won’t come back ’til it’s over, over there.”
And as Irving Berlin wrote in the Second World War, “God Bless America.”
Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.