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Comments on 9/11

Posted 14 October, by
Posted 9 October, by
Posted 4 October, by

Of Twins and Heroes
     There is a scar in the horizon where the Twin Towers once shot forth into the sky.
     I miss them already.
     I cannot look at a building without imagining what it would be like if it collapsed.
     I try and put into perspective the implications regarding the destruction of these massive symbols. To me, they symbolized civilization, ingenuity, humankind, New York City and to a greater extent, the world.
     Did we lose all that when the buildings crumbled?
     I try and put into perspective the massive loss of life. The human toll is incomprehensible in terms of numbers. People are not numbers. I did not know anyone personally that was killed. But when I see people on the street burst into tears, I empathize. I understand that they are lost and scared and they are missing somebody very close to them. I begin to comprehend the enormity of the situation when I see these lost souls on the street and grieve with them.
     I am afraid of what I will see when I look people in the eye.
     I heard on the news that a couple jumped from the towers holding hands. Later, a friend told me they knew a couple in the tower who were to marry the next day. I couldn't help but think it might have been them that jumped together, hand in hand, to escape the flames. I cried.
     I heard that a falling body crushed a fireman. Now I can't walk down the sidewalk without thinking that I might get hit.
     There is a scar in the sky. There is a scar within us all.
     Many firemen are dead. They risked their lives to save those who were trapped in the Twin Towers. I've always respected Firemen as heroes. It is they that I feel connected to, it is to them that my heart goes out. They symbolize the best of humanity with their unselfish acts of courage and duty to save others' lives, even at the cost of their own.
     I am deeply saddened, hurt, confused and scared by the events of September 11th, 2001, the destruction of the Twin Towers and the death of all the Firemen... and consequently, all they represent. Physically and psychologically, their loss is ours, but deep in my heart I know that while symbols can be destroyed, the ideals they represent can never be annihilated. A symbol is not the truth, but a reminder of the truth. Take it away and what is left? The Greater Truth. Now, with our symbols gone, it is important to remember. And in remembering, make those ideals stronger than ever before.
     It would be a great tribute if we as a people, as a nation, as a world, embodied those ideals that the Twins and Heroes stood for, inspiring in each other an unselfish sense of duty to create an enlightened and civilized world.
     Scars heal. Scars fade.
     Scars always remain a telltale reminder.

R. Andrew Heidel
Publicity Manager,
20 September 2001

9 October 2001

Note from the editor: has a tribute page, Reflections on September 11, 2001, with essays by Bruce Sterling, Gardner Dozois, Terry Bisson, and others.

Further comments are welcome here as well, though, beyond the two letters below, we'd prefer to leave the debate about contingent political causes of the attacks to the general press; on this topic we recommend this New York Times op-ed by Thomas L. Friedman.

Dear Locus Online,
     I'm a playwright, SF writer (most recently, a story published in the DAW Books anthology Star Colonies) and fan who lives in NYC. A friend of mine escaped the second tower after the first plane hit, my neighbor lost her brother in the attack, and a business acquaintance of my wife's was also lost. I have been impressed by the thoughtful letters sent to Locus in this time of national tragedy. But I've been concerned about a few of them, which seem to treat this attack as a "chickens coming home to roost" scenario. In particular, I was struck by the following by Robert Brown: "the US supports Israel in its oppression of Palestinians... hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died in the wake of US-demanded UN sanctions, etc. Were these people not innocent victims? Are our dead bodies of a finer vintage than their dead bodies?"
     While I have a number of problems with US foreign policy in a number or regions, it is important to state unequivocally that Osama bin Laden and his ilk do not want a better US policy in the Middle East. They want no policy. It's one thing to say that the US should be more balanced in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (although the Clinton administration did try very hard to bring about a fair and lasting peace agreement). But Osama bin Laden will not be happy until Israel is destroyed, and the Jews of Israel massacred. And UN sanctions are not responsible for the deaths of Iraqis. Saddam Hussein's diversion of aid to his military and his ruling class is. This is proven indisputably by the fact that in the Kurdish north, which is a recipient of the same aid, there is no such privation among civilians as exists in the areas controlled by Hussein. It also must be recognized that if restrictions on Iraq were lifted, Hussein would recommence his genocide against the Kurds, against whom he has already used chemical weapons (in 1988, at a time when the US supported him, a foreign policy choice for which we may justly be criticized).
     Yes, the Iraqis who have died under sanctions are innocent victims, but they are Saddam's innocent victims, not ours. And, certainly, our bodies are not of a "finer vintage" than Palestinian ones, although I find this metaphor repugnantly insensitive. But seven hundred people, both Israeli and Palestinian, have died since the new Intifada. Somewhere around 5000 died in the attacks of 9-11. There is no way that such an attack can be seen as remotely proportional or justified by American foreign policy, flawed though it may be.

Peter Ullian
New York City
4 October 2001

Dear Locus Online,
     "Mostly it's the fact that the US supports Israel in its oppression of Palestinians, that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died in the wake of US-demanded UN sanctions, etc. Were these people not innocent victims? Are our dead bodies of a finer vintage than their dead bodies?...Gee, what have intelligent Muslims got to be upset about."
     Considering that these terrorists are Taliban supporters instead of intelligent Muslims, they're possibly upset that the US and Israel haven't killed enough Palestinians. Killing innocent Muslims can't upset them, because they do it themselves all the time.
     Under the Taliban women are beaten and even killed for earning a living, going to school past age 8, exposing their eyes in public, etc. That government would rather leave widows and orphans to starve than allow humanitarians who hire women to bake bread or who eat lunch with coworkers of the opposite sex to feed them, and would rather leave new mothers to die of childbirth than allow doctors or midwives to help them. Meanwhile, while conditions in Palestine are grueling, many women and girls there still work hard and study hard. Some female Palestinians even expose their hair outdoors and use the Internet and lay flowers in front of the American embassy in Jerusalem without getting killed for it! No wonder al-Queda is upset.

4 October 2001

Dear Locus Online,
     For me, as a writer and reader and above all as a human being, the September 11 attacks were both a terrible sadness and a great shock. Our world has changed. And it's changed not because of something new but something old, as old as the human heart—hate, and fanaticism. We were in beautiful New York in April and were amazed both by its beauty and its human liveliness and approachability. As someone who is both of the Old World and the New, I was brought up on the Nazi Occupation stories of my French parents; I thought I understood history, not only of the West but of the Middle East, as some of my family live there. But now I know the truth, the gut-wrenching truth of it. The fact that it is written in human blood; that for some any means will justify their apocalyptic rage; and that sadly they will find echoes of that rage everywhere...
     I have conceived a great admiration for the US in this time of black sorrow and pain. May love and honour and justice crown the efforts of a great and human nation.

Sophie Masson
2 October 2001

[ The following two letters refer to Candas Jane Dorsey's Meditation
--ed. ]

Dear Locus Online,
     The 2001 that we dreamed of back in 1968 will never be. Rather than the optimistic cities-on-the-moon, Pan-Am-shuttle buy-a-ticket-to-space future we thought we deserved, we are instead treated to a poorly-written excuse for a doomsday skiffy flick, perpetrated by hideous characters whose one-dimensional cardboardiness would never pass muster in any publishing house worthy of the name.
     In this banality of horror, the terrorists have massacred thousands of Americans. And now we Americans—with our friends and allies from civilized nations, or by ourselves alone—have to go kill them and eradicate the scum who support them. Our odyssey in this year of 2001 is not to The Monolith, but one of retribution to a Dark Lord of Evil.
     In the aftermath of this atrocity, as is so predictably typical of world-weary pseudo-intellectuals, we have naive missives from Canadians and sadly, even some so-called liberal Americans, who, in their late-60s-twentieth-century-blame-everything-on-the-West-the third-World-is-the-conscience-of-humanity angst, are so intellectually and emotionally deficient that they proclaim they are more afraid of democratically elected leaders who may cause "collateral damage" while killing the enemy than they are of a mass murderer like bin Laden who "knows who the enemy is and is very clear about expressing it"—that is, he will try to massacre every Western man and woman who won't become one of his ignorant, suicidal maniacs, savages worse than the Nazis and Communists who at least preferred not to die themselves as they committed their own millions of atrocities around the planet.
     Would that all living SF and fantasy writers publicly state their views on whether they prefer Western values of individual rights, freedom and democracy, or choose to live in the kind of world the terrorists prefer—the mass murder of innocents, genital mutilation of hundreds of millions of females, unthinking devotion to maniacal self-appointed gurus, destruction of ancient treasures, promotion of ignorance, and the enslavement of billions.
     Then I could know who among us is truly human, and who alien.

Arlan Andrews, Sr.
Padre Island, Texas
3 October 2001

Dear Locus Online,
     "Bush, Blair and co. (including our Prime Minister running to keep up with the big kids), are willing to fire into the crowd, unmindful of 'collateral damage,' in the hope of hitting someone culpable."
     I'm very interested in where Ms. Dorsey is getting her information. From everything I've been hearing on television broadcasts, listening to on the radio, and reading in newspapers & magazines, the U.S. government is doing a careful systematic search to identify and find the persons responsible for the heinous attacks. I haven't seen any missiles launched or commencement of a bloody ground war.
     Seems to me that Ms. Dorsey is allowing a pre-existing political slant to infect her otherwise-rational article. And Pres. Bush, et al, scare her more than Osama bin Laden? She must be one tough cookie.

S. Klobas
1 October 2001

[ We were specifically not looking for political analyses, but we got them. The next two letters refer to the links and quotes in Aether Vibrations.
--ed. ]

Dear Locus Online,
     Thank you for the miscellaneous quotes concerning the WTC incident. I hadn't encountered some of them yet. I must say I am disappointed—not surprised, but disappointed—in the intelligentsia of this country, which has almost uniformly jumped on the condemnation bandwagon with every talking head-corpse on TV. This incident is not without precedent, after all. US policies in the "Middle East" and in central Asia directly incited the anger and justified enmity toward us which inspired the extreme and counter-productive response of mass murder; further mass murder does not bring back the dead to life and does not solve the problem. Much as in the drug war, the US and its clueless barbarian "leaders" are looking through the wrong end of the telescope (probably because they never bothered to learn how the telescope works­­ they're "Americans" after all.)
     Irony lives, sarcasm lives, science fiction lives, debate about social security lives, the world goes on and we all have to pay our bills. It is a sorry way to remember the dead to continue pounding away at one's special pleading instead of addressing the real problems. Only Karen Armstrong comes close; if there's an element of culture war here, its­­ maybe­­ one of modernity against tradition. Mostly it's the fact that the US supports Israel in its oppression of Palestinians, that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died in the wake of US-demanded UN sanctions, etc. Were these people not innocent victims? Are our dead bodies of a finer vintage than their dead bodies? The self-righteous response makes one wonder. Frankly, I'm mortified by the vitriolic histrionics being exhorted through the megaphone of the US media machine. We get cheap dry goods, cheap gasoline, fresh fruit year-round and cruise on out netsurfboards straight into tech-heaven while Arabs and other Muslims starve. Gee, what have intelligent Muslims got to be upset about. Wake up, US, before it's too late.

Robert Brown
28 September 2001

[ Part of the point of the Aether Vibrations selections was that everyone resorts to their preconceived world-views, their 'special pleading', at least at first... ]

Dear Locus Online,
     I'm a longtime reader of Locus and have only recently begun surfing to the website. It is very well-done and a common visit for me now. However, I'm uncomfortable with the elision made between the horrible terrorist attacks of 9/11 and fundamentalism in the September Aether Vibrations. A quite treacherous slippery slope of reasoning is made in the citations, and even creationism comes into play. Even though some Time essayists and the noted scientist Richard Dawkins are quoted in the tidbits, let me posit a more likely religious reason for the 9/11 tragedy (and others): cults.
     Cults and fundamentalism are not the same. Fundamentalism is usually a return to a more literal reading of a religion's scriptures, and an abandonment of modern dogmatic practice for more traditional dogmatic practice. Note, however, that this need not, usually doesn't, mean the use of violence to accomplish one's ends. A fundamentalist can usually refer directly to scripture as a basis for his/her beliefs and practices.
     The real culprits for the 9/11 tragedy and others (of, of course, much smaller scale) are cults. Cults may have their base in some mainstream religion, but at some point the message has gotten misinterpreted, twisted, perverted, usually by some demagogue with messianic pretensions. The distinction between a cult and a fundamentalist sect can usually be made by showing that a cult has adopted a practice or belief directly contraindicated by its own scripture. The true cultist won't believe you, typically because he/she is no longer following the scripture, but the demagogue who is making his/her own interpretations of reality. (By this definition, of course, Christianity might well be only a "cult" offshoot of Judaism; it depends on whether you believe in the divinity of Christ. But, for the sake of argument, let us work with the more common meaning of "cult", which is a minority sect not endorsed by most mainstream followers.) I know that fundamentalist Western religion is a common target and whipping-boy for participants in the SF field, and some of the past criticisms are well-justified. But the September Aether Vibrations reads like a real reach. It is quite unfair—even inflammatory—to tie in the suicide missions of some Arabic cultists with Western fundamentalists. Let's be a bit more responsible in our zeal, eh?

Kevin Denelsbeck
29 September 2001

[ OK, but mainstream commentary about fundamentalism, bin Laden's or Jerry Falwell's, has been widespread; and no one refers to either as members of a 'cult'. 'Fanatics', perhaps.

Anyway, the other point of the Aether Vibrations selections was their sequence, with the last two explicitly suggesting that commentators, not unlike letter-writers, are working from preconceived notions; that perhaps irony is preferable to "certainty"... ]

[ What we were looking for was commentary about how or if the 9/11 terrorist attacks affect the way we readers and writers think about what we do. ]

Dear Locus Online,
     I'm a 41-year-old SF/Mystery/Horror writer (with one story published in a small press pub). I lost no one in the disasters of the 11th, but I have family and friends in the Service who may well be in the middle of whatever action the U.S takes. So, I wondered, should I be trying to write crime stories and horror stories? How can anyone take that right now? And I realized that those stories are reassuring: Good wins over Evil, pretty usually in the mystery story, and we usually find solutions. Horror Stories confine the scares to the page, and tales of supernatural horror are reassuring, in the knowledge that there is something after this world.
     As for Science Fiction, that which deals with the future, even when the portrayed future is gloomy, at least there is a future. I've been scared a lot these last few weeks, but I do feel there is a lot of reason for optimism. Just think about the courage of the passengers on Flight 93, who thwarted the hijackers who planned to use the flight as a weapon.

Jeff Baker
1 October 2001

Dear Locus Online,
     When I first saw it on the TV news, some tacky movie moments came to mind right there. Armageddon was one, with its detailed, realistic visual effects. Another is an obscure flick that parodied disaster movies. The title is Drive-In, a 1976 film [IMDb] about various teenagers going to a drive-in theater which was playing the ultimate disaster movie. That movie-within-the-movie was all banality and cliché, and its special effects were cheap and phony. One scene in particular showed a Boeing 747 crashing into a tower of the WTC, obviously a plastic toy plane hand-thrown into a papier-mâché model and coming to rest sticking halfway out. It was laughable because it could never happen in real life.

Rick Riffel
30 September 2001

Dear Locus Online,
     After the events of September 11, I find that Horror (at least for now) is less on my reading diet, because, let's face it, real life trumped fiction in spades. Strangely, I find myself re-reading short stories, Zelazny, Asimov, Davidson—his especially, as I have to pay attention to his prose. It's an escape. Thank you for your time.

Robert Reynolds
Tucson AZ
29 September 2001

Dear Locus Online,
     Here's an article I wrote for my weekly online arts column at It's partially in response to Gary Wolfe's essay, so I thought you might find it of interest.

Edward Willett
28 September 2001

Dear Locus Online,
     One of the things I find amazing is how prominently the cell phone figured in the Sept. 11th tragedy. Much has been made of how the Internet helped people communicate after the attack, and rightfully so. It was wonderful to be able to read that friends were safe in e-mail and on websites. But just think, if not for the cell phones, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania might well have hit its target.
     I have a cell phone that I strap onto my side and forget about every day of my life. It rarely ever rings and I hardly ever use it. More times that not, I look at it as an annoyance.
     I have to admit, I have a newfound respect for it and for what it can do. In many ways, we are all living in a science fictional world; one in which the attack was both aided and hampered by technology that would have been unimaginable a century ago.
     Video games that can almost simulate piloting an airplane, the Internet, jet fuel that burns like "clingfire", cell phones that are only a generation away from being Starfleet communicators...
     I don't think I'm as likely to take these things for granted anymore.

Garry E. Davis
28 September 2001

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