Reconsidering 911

I love America and I consider myself very fortunate to be among those who are from this great country or who have adopted it as their home.  I feel we have one of the greatest nations that has ever existed on earth up to this point.

Simultaneously, however, I think that we’re in need of a great healing as a nation and as individual people, as well.  Part of this healing, I believe, includes a self-examination and a reconsideration of the resentment that many of us have been holding on to ever since the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

There cannot be any denial of the horrific nature of the attacks of 911 against all of those innocent people who were killed on that day.  Certainly anyone with any degree of sensitivity or empathy at all felt sickened, devastated, outraged, etc., when they witnessed what happened back then.  I know I certainly felt all of those things in response to what I saw on TV on 911; and I also experience these feelings again when I think about, or see replays of, the events of 911.

Anyone involved in committing the awful crimes of 911, who is still alive, should be brought to trial and should be made to face severe consequences for their actions; of that, there is no doubt in my mind.

Yet, in addition to all of this, and without negating any of it, I believe it would be beneficial for each of us to ask ourselves whether or not it’s time we begin releasing our fear and resentment regarding what happened on 911, which many of us have been harboring ever since that fateful day. 

Many of us reacted with feelings of hatred and an intense desire for vengeance in the aftermath of 911, which should be understandable to anyone, given the scale of the tragedy. Yet, is continuing to bear our grudge all these many years later something we really want to do?

We can’t go back and change our emotional reactions of the past; and self-condemnation or regret for any emotional reaction we’ve had previously is unnecessary.  All of our different kinds of emotions and feelings are valid, and are worthy of being accepted and acknowledged, I believe.

However, on sober second thought now, perhaps it’s time at this point for us to release any long-standing hatred towards others, as well as fear, that we may still be clinging to over 911.  Additionally, maybe we can think about the possibility of some measure of forgiveness for the perpetrators and their supporters; and possibly seek some degree of understanding of them, and perhaps even reconciliation, as well.

Maybe we can attempt to understand,  at least in some small degree, what were the pre-conditions that might have led people to even think of carrying out the terrible acts that they  committed on that day.  Perhaps we can make room in our hearts for the possibility of reconciling with those whom we consider as enemies; or at least with the people of the two countries our nation invaded following 911 in what many were led to believe was our country’s effort to exact justice.

Below is the reprint of an article that I found fascinating and insightful, and which I agree with.  It offers some unique  and paradoxical approaches to attempt to prevent another 911 from occurring in the future.

It’s written by Richard Farson, who’s a psychologist and respected business management consultant.  Farson writes and speaks a lot on the theme of using paradox and counter-intuitive approaches, in business and life, for long-standing problems that aren’t responsive to any conventional approaches we’ve tried.  He’s the author of the best-selling book “Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership.”

Please take time to consider the message contained in the below article.  Any comments you have on this are appreciated.

– Eric Falcon


A Paradoxical Approach to Combating Terrorism 

by Richard Farson

Reducing the possibility of terrorists’ attacks is worth taking the most advanced and intelligent management approach. Enlightened leaders in all fields are beginning to have an appreciation for the paradoxical nature of human affairs. They understand that when it comes to human behavior, things don’t work they way one might think they should. Consequently, these leaders see the need to embrace paradox as a management and planning strategy.

Fundamentally, paradoxical management means thinking counter-intuitively, freeing ourselves from traditional, rational approaches as well as knee-jerk emotional reactions. It means considering what would be contrary to the ordinary reaction to events, going opposite directions at once, and doing things that would seem at first look, completely wrong, absurd. If the following examples seem too outrageous, remember that in a paradoxical strategy, the opposite course must also be considered simultaneously.

Reassess September 11th. Instead of continually reliving the terror and pain of September 11th, and giving in to the outrage and fear and protective reactions that episode stirs up, we might try to re-evaluate that experience by stripping it of our emotional reactions. Even though the horrifying acts of September 11th were carefully planned, we knew then that the terrorists were not quite as skilled as their success made them appear. They were surprised, amazed really, at the scale of death and destruction that they reaped.

The terrorists could not have counted on the two factors that made those events so spectacular and dramatic: the completely unpredictable collapse of the buildings and the live media coverage, enhanced by a chance amateur video of the plane actually crashing into the tower.

Real time global viewing of the unintended collapse of the buildings escalated our treatment of the event as cause for declaring war. Had the buildings not collapsed but only suffered the intended damage, and the media coverage been more like it was for the Oklahoma bombing, viewing the devastation only after the fact, we might not have experienced the overwhelming outrage and the sickening fear that followed. Seeing those giant buildings fall, crushing all those inside, did it.

The terrorists could not have had any idea that they would succeed so spectacularly, deaths would be in the thousands, our financial system would shut down, airlines would go bust, and we would be plunged deeper into a recession. They could only dream that their actions would lead us to wage war against Middle Eastern nations, and that we would pour billions into efforts to make ourselves secure, driving ourselves into financial deficits. So far we have obliged the terrorists on all counts. We need to remember that we have survived terrorism before. As appalling as their actions were, we need to base our reactions on the fact that all they did was hijack some planes and crash them into two of our national icons. Most of the resulting financial troubles, psychological damage, and oppressive security measures, we did to ourselves, with our panicky reactions. We need to stop, and rethink.

Don’t act. Think. As a superpower we do not need to prove our strength militarily. We need to prove it by what will be seen, not as weakness or confusion, but as the exercise of wisdom and leadership. Take time to think and talk this through. Unfortunately, in keeping with the ordinary ways people react, we too soon waged a war against Afghanistan, killing upwards of twelve thousand people, mainly civilians. We failed to meet our objective, capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and the other major leaders of the Al Qaeda.

Moreover, by identifying our approach as a war on terrorism, we legitimized Sharon’s invasion of the West Bank in the name of fighting terrorism. We may have provided the same legitimacy for India, as it prepares to wage war against Pakistan. We have further enraged our enemies, and alienated our allies. The approach we are now taking has not worked, and will not work. It does not reflect advanced management thinking.

There are steps we can take short of more military conflict, but they require us to operate in ways that are not typical of us action-oriented Americans. We have to put the lid on our demand for revenge, our national pride in being a superpower, and our anger at having our way of life threatened. If we do, we have a chance of reducing further carnage on our homeland. When we do act, let’s make sure that those actions don’t make us more vulnerable than we already are.

We now know how easy it is for terrorists to launch an attack, and how permanently vulnerable we are. We can be sure that most of the terrorists in the sixty countries in which Osama bin Laden operates, are still alive and eager to act. Retaliation, however, is not as effective as it would seem. Israel has consistently responded with overwhelming military force to Palestinian terrorists, but the carnage continues.

Pursuit of the perpetrators is what is necessary, but as we are seeing now, that is best done by intelligence and limited action. We must not give the terrorists what they tried to provoke, an all out war between the West and the Arab world.

Forget security. It’s diversionary, expensive, and ineffective. Accept our permanent vulnerability. Security measures, no matter how Draconian, are not strong enough to prevent most such acts. Our own tests of airport security systems show that they fail two thirds of the time. Moreover, we can’t prevent what we can’t imagine. Even with advance suspicion of the flight training of the Saudi hijackers, September 11th was still unimaginable, even for our intelligence agents.

Israel has much tighter security than we do, but is almost helpless to defend against even the crudest terrorist activities. Our inability to keep drugs and weapons out of maximum security prisons should prove to us that no matter how much security apparatus we put in place, we cannot protect ourselves with a strategy that increases inspections, policing and surveillance, or places us in bunkers. With that strategy, our rights are abridged, and our paranoia is increased. We lose the very freedoms that make our nation strong. And it doesn’t work.

Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who lived through assassination threats while ambassador to India, and bombings of the Senate, still advises that we do “nothing” about security except to go after the perpetrators. That is the paradoxical approach, and likely to be much more effective. Most security systems do not make us secure. They make us afraid.

We only install security measures to protect against what has happened, not what could happen next. The terrorists are smart enough to escalate to a different mode of attack, always staying ahead of us. Paradoxically, the history of airplane hijacking, as shown by Malcolm Gladwell in a recent New Yorker article, shows clearly that our efforts at airline security result in increased sophistication of hijacking methods, and increased devastation and loss of life.

Treat our enemies as allies. Not the terrorists, but the many nations that are hostile to us, and often harbor these criminals. Our temptation, obviously, is to obliterate them. But on sober second thought, we realize that we cannot. Better, find out what we can do to improve our relations, what we may need to change about ourselves.

Try to cut through the centuries old layers of Western misunderstanding, exploitation and domination that play such a strong part in their hostile attitudes. Using diplomacy, coupled with an effort to give ourselves extensive education in the history and contemporary concerns of this conflict, we may overcome our fixed ideas about these people, and our lack of respect for them. That may enable us to build relations with them in spite of the fact that they are different in so many ways from us. We have much to learn, and we will be richer for it. In the 21st century, we will need more allies in the Arab world. Even beginning to make the effort will help.

The stakes are high. A few more wrong moves could escalate into a war of enormous proportions. The only way to be genuinely secure, to reduce the possibility of more such terrorist attacks, is to work with the other nations to contain the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons, safeguard nuclear stockpiles, and root out their terrorists. As we treat our enemies as allies, and teach ourselves more about them, we inevitably make ourselves less of a target, which of course is the best way to prevent attacks.

If the terrorism we experienced has not taught us that conflict in this century has fundamentally changed, and the old rules don’t apply, then we will not have learned the most important lesson we needed to learn. And we need to learn that paradox, seeming absurdity, is not the exception in human relations, it is the rule. It undoubtedly applies to this crisis. If we ignore it, the results could be tragic indeed.

Reprinted from

One Response to Reconsidering 911

  1. ericfalcon says:

    Here’s another insightful remark that I recently came across, which was written in 2004 by Rev William Sloane Coffin, former chaplain of Yale University and Vietnam War protester:

    The President [after 911] did not have to declare war. He could have called the terrorists mass murderers, their deeds crimes against humanity. He could have said to the American people and the world, “We will respond, but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor. We refuse to ratchet up the cycle of violence that brings only ever more death, destruction and deprivation. What we will do is build coalitions with other nations. We will share intelligence, freeze assets and engage in forceful extraditions of terrorists if internationally sanctioned. I promise to do all in my power to see justice done, but by the force of law only, never by the law of force.”

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