Larry King on 9/11/2001

September 23, 2001


As you know, I lived in or around New York for thirteen years before I moved to London. I still consider it home, in the sense that when I think about moving back to the U.S., I think about moving back to New York.

My mental landscape of the city includes the twin towers of the World Trade Center. When I try to envisage the new skyline, without the Trade Center towers at the southern end of Manhattan, I fail. I literally can't imagine New York without them.

I was lucky. No one I'm close to got hurt or killed. But that's just among the people I know best. A friend of mine was the first person who put into words an idea I'm still getting used to -- it's going to take a long time to find out about everybody.

My friend is a bond trader. During his usual day, he'd probably call Cantor Fitzgerald LP, maybe several times. Cantor is the broker's broker for the bond market -- if you buy or sell bonds for a living in the U.S., you'd deal with somebody at Cantor at one time or another.

Cantor's main offices were on the 101st, 103rd, 104th, and 105th floors of the north tower of the Trade Center, the first one hit. More than a thousand people worked in those offices. About two hundred and seventy of them got out or weren't in the office in the first place. The other seven hundred or so are presumed dead.

My friend almost certainly was acquainted with some of them. Some he'd had a drink with a few times. Some he'd dealt with only over the phone. He didn't necessarily know their names. He was the first person who put what I was feeling into words: He said he'd realized it might be months before he finds out about all the people he's met. Some of them he might never find out about.

Almost everybody who lived in Manhattan and had a college education and a white-collar job is in the same position. We all knew casually people who worked in Wall Street. We might never know about those casual acquaintances and friends of friends -- people we ran into a couple of times, people we had dinner with once or talked to at a few parties because we knew people who knew each other. A friend of mine in Amsterdam who's from New York called it six degrees of separation from hell.

That may have something to do with another reaction among the New Yorkers living over here. We all want to go back. Not to live, necessarily, just to return for a little while. Maybe we're feeling some urge to re-connect with those secondary and tertiary circles of acquaintances, to see how much damage was done.

Actually, though, I think the reason is more primeval. The tribal village was attacked. The tribe's instinct is to band together.

That would be appropriate, wouldn't it? New York was attacked as if it were a tribal village. Barbarians motivated by stone-age fear and hatred hurled themselves at it, trying to kill as many people as they could to satisfy the demands their primitive superstitions.

Going back wasn't practical for most of us and would have been pointless for all of us. We couldn't have done much to help anyone. So we're rather helplessly marinating in much the same emotional stew as everyone in the U.S., I should think. Anger predominates.

In my case, at least, the anger is split. I'm enraged at the sub-humans who committed the attacks, of course. I'm also infuriated by the western scum who are apologizing for them and trying to justify what they did.

The stunted creatures who hijacked the planes were warped and twisted by a vicious, polluted culture. We could expect no better from them.

The journalists, academics, politicians, and miscellaneous commentators -- what the British call, with pinpoint accuracy, the chattering classes -- have no excuse. I cannot fathom those who are whining that the U.S. somehow brought this on itself. Some of the worst go slightly further, and claim Americans deserved it.

They're a minority, though, and they know it. I also think they know they are simply wrong this time. Nobody in the U.S. did anything to deserve the choice between leaping from the 98th floor of the World Trade Center or being incinerated by burning jet fuel.

The rest of the populace in Europe looks to be pretty much on our side. They may not be as eager to go kill Islamic fundamentalists personally, but they're perfectly willing to see them get killed.

One reason probably is the fact that many European countries have a sizable Islamic community. England has Afghans, Pakistanis and miscellaneous Arabs. France has Algerians and miscellaneous Arabs. Germany has Turks, Spain Moroccoans, Italy various Mideasterners.

Not all of them have assimilated terribly well. And like some urban blacks in the U.S., some of them have learned to play the victim game. Everything bad that happens to them is the result of discrimination, or the fault of past imperialism, or something.

In fact, a number of the Muslims here rushed to claim victim status pre-emptively. They set up an outcry about how the most important thing now was to prevent a backlash against British Muslims. I think it's fair to say most people responded, Well, no, that's not the most important thing. It's pretty far down the list, actually.

By the way, almost no backlash occurred. I gather that's the case in the U.S. as well. A few thugs got drunk and picked fights with convenience store clerks. A few bricks got tossed through mosque windows. Considering some of the mullahs here were preaching that the attack was a wonderful thing and all good Muslims should rejoice, I thought that showed remarkable forbearance on the part of the civilized population.

The point is, when Europeans think about Muslims, the local community is on their mind, and the local community is not always something they are terribly happy to have in their midst. The intelligent and liberal-minded among them try to discount the bad impression left by the jerks among the Muslims and maintain a level of tolerance, but it's not always easy, the same way it's not easy to stay liberal and tolerant in the U.S. when a gang of loudmouthed black teenagers invade a restaurant, clearly trying to be as obnoxious as they can. You know they're not necessarily representative, but they're still obnoxious.

Nobody knows how long the European solidarity with the U.S. will last or how far the support will extend, but I suspect it's stronger and will go further than many imagine. Europeans know more about both terrorists and Muslims than Americans do; they've had to put up with both for a lot longer. Deep in their hearts, I think they'd like to see the fear of God put in the whole nasty, quarrelsome, troublemaking crowd overseas, if for no other reason than to remind the local troublemakers who's boss.

Part of the reaction here provided a little comic relief, as well. That was the British insistence on acting as if anybody much cared what they were doing diplomatically or militarily.

The great cultural memory here is World War II, and the Brits persist in acting as if every prime minister were Churchill, showing Americans how the war should be fought. That the Americans spent much of their time fending off Churchill's ideas about how the war should be fought is not something they acknowledge or in many cases are even aware of.

So last week we saw the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, boldly visiting Iran, the first visit by a British foreign secretary since the revolution in 1979. The Brits hailed this as a breakthrough, bringing Iran into the anti-terrorist coalition, and evidence of the deft touch the subtle, delicate British diplomat can bring to a situation that blunt, tough-talking Americans would botch.

Straw was headed for Israel next, but before taking off he managed to give a little talk in which he referred to the problems in the Mideast being basically all the fault of the Israelis, for ignoring the ``plight of the Palestinians.'' The prime minister and the president of Israel both refused to meet with him as a result.

And barely had Straw cleared Iranian air space before the main ayatollah and the supposedly moderate, pro-reform president both gave speeches denouncing the West and particularly America and declaring they'd never cooperate in any western military effort. They even revived the chant of `death to America, death to Israel' that they'd considerately dropped from political discourse for a few days after the attacks.

Straw then headed for Egypt. Somehow, he managed not to say anything that incited the local terrorists to blow up the pyramids. Clearly, the Brits are missing a great opportunity. They ought to send Straw to Kabul. The Taliban would collapse before he got back to Whitehall.

Also last week, the prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, waded into trouble. He made some impolitic remarks, endorsing the idea that at bottom what we're seeing here is a clash of civilizations, and Western civilization is superior to the Islamic civilization. Much hue and cry resulted; when you're the leader of a country, you're not supposed to go around chanting, Nyah, nyah, my culture's better than your culture.

I think it might have been Michael Kinsley, the former editor of The New Republic and now the editor of Slate, who pointed out that what journalists call gaffes usually consist of a politician saying something that's true. A politician who let on that he doesn't especially like children and would rather have teeth pulled than visit Newark commits a gaffe. In that sense, Berlusconi committed a classic politician's gaffe.

He was a bit crude about it and he didn't explore how the two worlds have often managed to co-exist, but in fact the basic tenets of Islam, as a lot of Muslims understand them, are antithetical to western values. Berlusconi was just trying to make the point that if you have to choose, you'd choose western civilization over Islamic civilization.

And I'm afraid we're going to have to choose at some point. We face a huge, ugly contradiction. Much of the Muslim world wants to see Israel wiped out. They'd like to kill all the Jews, but even they know enough not to push that point. The U.S. and Europe are not going to let that happen.

It is hard to see a neat way to resolve this situation. My own feeling is, it won't be resolved, in the sense Americans like to resolve things, where rational people debate what is the right and what is wrong, until the people who are wrong say, oh, yes, I see, I'll set about mending my ways.

You can't really resolve the contradiction with logic and compromise. The Muslims aren't acting out of logic. They're doing Allah's will by slaying infidels and cleansing the holy places of Zionist filth.

The only real solution I see is brutal. We would have to kill quite a few of them, and occupy several of their homelands. Over the course of a couple of decades, we would establish democratic, secular states in those countries, much as we did in Japan and Germany after World War II. We would beat into them a lesson the west learned during several bloody centuries, which is that you can't build a civilization if you kill people because you think God wants you to.

Some other course of action may work, although if by ``work'' what you mean is, eliminate both the existing threat of terrorism and the source of future terrorism, I doubt it. That contradiction is just too stark.

This is not necessarily a solution I advocate. It's a little cheap and easy for somebody well past draft age, who lives far from the probable front lines, to advocate all-out war -- and that's what it would be, a war until one side doesn't just sue for peace, but is effectively destroyed.

I'm simply saying, that's the situation. Given the situation, it's foolish to talk about fighting terrorism as if it's some impersonal force of nature, like flooding or mudslides, which can be contained and countered with proper engineering and a few sensible precautions. We have to come to grips with the fact that an entire culture is opposed to our culture.

What we do after that . . . damned if I know


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