Nine Eleven and the Man with a Bullhorn

by Victor Davis Hanson

I was on a flight to Hillsdale College to lecture on, of all things, misinterpreting Gen. George S. Patton. Suddenly after an early morning take-off, a furious American Airlines pilot came on the intercom, relaying a weird story about some fool in a light private plane who had crashed into the World Trade Center, and so shut down the system — wrecking our flight way out here in the Central Valley of California.

We all sighed, “How could anyone be so clueless as to crash into a skyscraper?” Our jet banked and turned right around, back toward Fresno. The terminal was already shut down when we landed. I immediately called Hillsdale College to apologize that I would miss the lecture, and promised to take another flight out that night. Some promise.

By the time I got out to my office at Fresno State the towers had fallen, and our old lives as we knew them were gone. A book I wrote about the long tradition of Western military dynamism, Carnage and Culture, had just appeared a few days earlier, so by afternoon as bin Laden’s face hit the television screens, I kept thinking, “that guy is not going to like what follows.”

My only surprise was not the panic of the media as it forecast hourly probable new attacks, or warned us that we had little recourse for direct retaliation — but its uncertainty about culpability, as too many pundits on screen pondered why Bin Laden had “lashed out.” For some reason I remembered at the time a line from Dirty Harry. It seemed as likely an answer as their pop philosophizing—“because he likes it.”

For that first year, I had not followed George Bush’s presidency closely, and knew little of him or of his prior tenure in Texas. But three days later when he stood at Ground Zero, put his arm around that noble-looking retired fireman Bob Beckwith, grabbed a bullhorn, and extemporaneously announced to the crowd, “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” I thought, ‘I’m relieved this guy, at this moment, is president.’ And through all the tragedy of the next nine years, I am still.

©2010 Victor Davis Hanson

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