Monday, September 10, 2007

Six Years Ago, Tomorrow: Remembering 9/11

Six years ago tomorrow, people died when New York's World Trade Center towers collapsed. More died when the Pentagon's walls were breached by an airliner, and the passengers and crew of Flight 93 stopped terrorists from completing their mission.

Not that other countries haven't had trouble with airliners. Take Korea, for example.

In 1978, Korean Air's Flight 902 strayed into what was then Soviet airspace. Soviet air defense identified the airliner as a Boeing 747, then they shot at the airliner. Two passengers died, and the Korean pilots were forced to land on a frozen lake.

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 got too close to Soviet territory in 1983. This time everyone on board died. The airliner was shot down by the a Soviet fighter. This attack may be understandable. The fighter pilot's commanders were under the impression that it was an American spy plane.

Contrast these little misunderstandings with Flight 85, on September 11, 2001. This account takes a while to tell, but I think it's worthwhile to recount, as an example of what kind of a country America is.

By the time the Korean Air flight was approaching American airspace, American air traffic control and the U.S. military were already tense. Two hijacked airliners had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. Another set of hijackers had rammed an airliner into the Pentagon. Passengers and crew of another airliner stopped the hijackers in their plane, but died in the process.

Air controllers in America and Canada were in the process of getting hundreds of airborne vehicles to the ground, safely, in as little time as possible.

Meanwhile, over the Pacific, Korean Air Flight 85 was headed for Anchorage, on its way to New York City. The airliner started transmitting a coded signal (HJK) which warned air traffic control that there were hijackers on board. Korean Air officials said that it was all a misunderstanding.

Downtown Anchorage was evacuated, and American fighters armed with guns and live missiles intercepted the airliner.

An extreme response? Under the circumstances, no. Not at all. There was no way of knowing how many rogue airliners were still in the air.

The sensible thing to do would have been to shoot Korean Air 85 out of the air while it was still over the Pacific.

Especially since, when asked by air traffic controllers, the Korean pilots declared themselves hijacked. That is, "they set their transponder, which transmits information about the flight to radars, to the four-digit universal code for hijacked - 7500."

Americans aren't sensible, not that way. While the airliner kept transmitting the hijacker signal, air traffic controllers, working with U.S. and Canadian military, gave the pilots maneuvering instructions, which they followed.

Despite the "7500" signal and what was going on in the eastern part of the USA, it seemed possible that there really weren't hijackers on the airliner.

US and Canadian officials decided to have the plane land at an isolated spot: Whitehorse International Airport.

The 747 crew may have been surprised at being diverted to a small town in western Canada, and more surprised when armed RCMP troopers ordered them out of the plane. They apparently didn't know that they were transmitting a hijacking warning.

With a nation under attack by hijacked airliners, an airliner whose radio was yelling "I'm hijacked!" was brought to a safe landing.

I think it's a good idea to remember realities like that, when reading words of journalistic wisdom like "There has never been an American army as violent and murderous as the one in Iraq" (Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist Seymour "My Lai" Hersh).

Back to 9/11.

Last year, I watched the president, the first lady, and a marine place a wreath of flowers on two pools of water in what New Yorkers called The Pit.

Bagpipers played while they walked from one pool to another, and as they walked away. Notes of "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies" bounced off walls of The Pit.

Those pools marked the World Trade Center tower footprints in lower Manhattan. The wreath-laying was the first memorial observance I noticed that year.

Finally, here are a few quotes that I can find comforting. It looks like folks weren't any more wise, or daft, in the past than they are now.

"The outcome of the war is in our hands; the outcome of words is in the council." (Homer (800 BC - 700 BC), in The Iliad

"Let him who desires peace prepare for war." Flavius Vegetius Renatus (about 375 AD), in De Rei Militari

"The name of peace is sweet, and the thing itself is beneficial, but there is a great difference between peace and servitude. Peace is freedom in tranquility, servitude is the worst of all evils, to be resisted not only by war, but even by death." Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC), in Philippica

"My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds." Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940), in a speech at Downing Street, London, after his return from making the Munich Pact. September 30, 1938

"We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analysing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a programme would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators" Neville Chamberlain, in a speech to the House of Commons, justifying his policy. October 6, 1938

"Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided." Senator William Borah, (1865-1940, Idaho's Progressive Republican "Lion of Idaho"), when he heard that Hitler had invaded Poland. September of 1939

2 comments:

American Interests said...

Interesting read especially about Korean Air Flight 85, I am going to refer to this post whenever I come across dimmies who embrace misplaced notions such as the Pulitzer-winning journalist to which you referred.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

I appreciate that. I was interested, but not surprised, to read posts and articles whose authors seem to regard the scrambling of fighters to intercept Flight 85 as evidence of the dangerously hostile and suspicious nature of the U.S. military. Perhaps I misconstrued their remarks.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.