The Day There Were No Planes
It’s a damn good thing I wasn’t the president after 9/11 because I would have . . . let’s not go there yet. But there are defining moments for every generation. The events of 9/11 were my generation’s defining moment, so we’ll start there.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in my garage watching TV like I usually do. It’s my morning ritual. When I’m home and off the road, I go out into the garage for a cigarette—because I can’t smoke in the house, which is cool. On that fateful day I dutifully retreated to the garage with my big mug of black coffee. I watched the Weather Channel to see if I was going to bother going outside, and then I flipped over to Fox News to start my day.
I was watching live news coverage when the second plane hit. As the shocking facts came together and it was apparent that the Twin Towers were being attacked by terrorists, I felt a deep rage building up to a boiling point. I was seething inside over the fact that someone would hate Americans so much as to commit such a heinous crime.
Then, like so many Americans, I needed to deal with the 9/11 tragedy on my own home front.
By lunchtime, after I had gotten over the initial shock of what had happened, I focused my attention on Mackenzie, my three-year-old little girl. I knew that what had just happened didn’t mean anything to her and that she had no idea what was going on.
At the time we lived just south of Nashville International Airport, far enough from it that the noise didn’t ever bother us, but still within its busy flight patterns. When the winds came out of the north, the aircraft flew high over our house on their approach to BNA. My little girl loved to watch the planes come over.
So that day, I took her outside and went to the front yard where we could both clearly see the sky. We lay down on our backs on a grassy knoll with the noonday sun beating down on our faces from a completely cloudless canopy.
I leaned over to Mackenzie and said, “Let’s see how many airplanes we can count.”
She was excited. So we waited. And we waited. There were no planes. No planes at all. Now, you can’t keep a three-year-old’s interest for very long.
“There are no planes,” she finally said and jumped up. “C’mon, Daddy, let’s go do something else.”
I held Mackenzie in my arms for a little while. Then I said to her, “Look at me, sweetheart, and I want you to remember this. There was a day when Daddy took you outside to see the planes and there were no planes flying anywhere in the sky. No planes.”
“Today the president said, ‘No one can fly planes today,’ so there are none. Today’s the only day this will happen. You will never see this again. I want you to remember what Daddy showed you on the day there were no planes.”
That was the only way I could impress upon a three-year-old the importance of that sad and terrible time.
The 9/11 attacks really made me think about my children and their future twenty years from now. Would they be free to pursue their everyday hopes and dreams without fear, without worrying that some evil person was going to plant a bomb in the mall or blow up an airliner? Were my children going to have to exist in a country riddled with fear?
Having to live in constant dread is like being forced back to the caveman days when every time you stepped outside, you had to worry about whether a saber-toothed tiger was going to eat you. Before 9/11, I thought civilization had progressed beyond that point. Yet with all this pent-up religious tension, I’m not so sure anymore.
Had I been president in September 2001, once we ascertained that Islamic fundamentalists had committed this atrocity I would have demanded a conference call with every Arab leader in the world:
“Listen. If this is the first salvo, the first shot, and if this is going to continue, then let it be known today that it will not continue for very long. We have the firepower to end this, and we’re willing to use it. My children and my grandchildren will not live in fear for the rest of their lives because that’s not living. That’s just existing.”
I would have put it all on the line.
“I’m warning you folks right now, I’m willing to end it all. I will incinerate this rock starting with Afghanistan, and I mean it. If you’re not going to get with the terrorist eradication program and get your shit together, and if you permit this stuff to go on in your own countries, by God, I will end this now. We will all go to our maker and we’ll let Him decide who was right.” (It would have been at that moment, hopefully, that some sensible person in my administration would have dropped a horse tranquilizer in my coffee.)
The United States didn’t ask to be the security force for the entire globe. That role is being forced upon us because nobody else will stand up against the evil in this world. That’s right. We’re being forcibly put in a position of responsibility because of the apathy and negligence of other world leaders. We didn’t ask to be the World Cop, and the American people don’t want that job any more than anybody else does.
I used to watch the television series West Wing. I loved that show and in the early days, although I’m a conservative, I never missed an episode and recorded the ones that I did miss. I dug it. It didn’t make me question any of my political affiliations; I enjoyed the show and kept it in perspective. My favorite episode was when Martin Sheen, as President Jed Bartlett, equated freedom and our way of life to the time of the Romans, when a Roman citizen could travel anywhere in the known world. And if ever he was confronted with potential trouble or danger all he had to say was, “Civis Romanis. I am a Roman citizen.”
So great and universal was the fear of retribution from Rome that any Roman citizen could walk anywhere in the known world cloaked in those words and immediately know that a given situation would be defused. He had the protection of the Roman Empire. Nobody messed with that. President Bartlett was saying on West Wing that that is the way it should be for American citizens today. We should be able to travel the globe and say, “Civis Americanis. I am an American citizen.”
We are the most powerful nation on the globe, and by God, that comes with benefits! I’m not saying we should travel in arrogance or cockiness and strut through downtown Baghdad expecting people to part like the Red Sea. All I ask is for the rest of the world to treat Americans with respect so we don’t have to kill you. (Oh, lighten up! I’m just kidding.)
Contrary to what some people on the left might intimate, Americans are not indiscriminate killers. We have to be provoked to strike. It’s like that famous World War II quote attributed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor: “I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Now whether or not he actually uttered those exact words, he surely knew what the Japanese had just done. They’d committed a military blunder. They had just opened up a big can of whup-ass. Retribution was coming, and he knew it.
As Americans, we won’t mess with you or bother you, but just know that when you kill innocent Americans, you’ve opened that can and we’re gonna come for you. Like the Romans did. For every one of our people you kill, we’re going to kill a thousand of yours. And if you think you have the Monopoly money to stay in the game, then keep on and know that every time you land on Boardwalk, we’re gonna collect.
i appeared on bill maher’s show Politically Incorrect on ABC exactly one month after the World Trade Center destruction. I was booked along with Julian Epstein, a former chief Democratic counsel for the House Judiciary Committee; an environmental writer named Bjorn Lomborg; and Elayne Boosler, a comedienne who had been active with the Democratic Party and the National Organization for Women. All through the show, those three guests were preaching this peaceful message of tolerance toward Muslims. Bill was having none of it and neither was I.
Maher quoted a New York Times Magazine article by journalist Andrew Sullivan saying that 9/11 was part of a religious war being waged by Osama bin Laden and extremist Muslims and that “the religious dimension of this conflict . . . represents a part of Islam that certainly cannot be denied or ignored.” Maher went on to quote a few intolerant verses from the Koran, including “kill them where you find them,” referring to all of us so-called “infidels.”
I was surprised at the reaction of the other three panelists. Boosler was quick to point out that such verses could be found in the Bible. Epstein emphasized that 9/11 should not ignite a war against Islam, and mentioned that some of the Christians who bombed Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict were also driven by the same kind of extremism. The tree-hugging author mentioned the Crusades from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and suggested that we help modernize and educate Islamic people so they wouldn’t buy into bin Laden’s beliefs. All three felt that education would help stem this tidal wave of extremism and terrorism.
Horse dookey! (Writing about this without cussing is hard.)
I thought to myself, Is this what the average American was thinking today, October 11, 2001? Hell no! I saw a full-scale guilt-trip pity party going on. I couldn’t believe these people were wringing their hands and talking this way one month after 2,973 America...