Ten years later

I’ve been listening to the repeat broadcast of the Howard Stern Show, recorded live in New York as the 9/11 events unfolded. It’s been a transporting experience. The anger, bewilderment, confusion and fear are all there.

I was at our house in Montecito, California when it happened. My sister Jan called right after the first tower was hit, and we watched the rest on TV. Then I switched to the radio and blogged a number of posts through the day. Here they are (in reverse chronological order):

Stars. Just stars. 

Walking back from a meeting at school this evening, the kid and I looked up at the sky, as always. But it was … different. What was that behind the high branches of an Oak tree? A star or an — no, it couldn’t be an airplane. There were no airplanes in the sky tonight. Only stars: a condition we haven’t seen in nearly a century.
“Why aren’t the planes flying, Papa?” he asked. I explained. He asked again. I explained again. I stopped the questioning when the count got to four.
But it won’t stop.

What’s down? 

I get a steady flow of email, up to hundreds per day. But after 5:13 tonight, nothing. Is it just that everybody’s watching CNN now? No idea. Seems creepy.

More perspective 

Here’s Morgan Stanley, which had 3500 people working in the World Trade Center:
Because of the enormous emotional and physical toll that these events have taken and will take among many of our employees and their families…

Close to home 

We just lost power for a few minutes. No idea why.

One answer 

Here’s Eric S. Raymond on our “First Lessons” about terrorism.


Dean points out that today the United Nations opens in New York on the International Day of Peace.


Here are Blogger sites mentioning “World Trade” or “terrorist.”


BBC says the pilots would surely have been killed first, since they would never follow orders to fly into a building. I notice that all four planes involved were 757s and 767s, which have roughly identical cockpits.
Odd how we mull details like these to get a small grip on an immense tragedy. Right now I don’t even want food. Just details.

Now it gets personal 

Our West Coast family members check in fine. One is in Ohio, and will probably drive home to L.A. So far we’re lucky. East Coast, not so sure. I have a cousin who works in the Pentagon. My sister is a retired Navy officer, recently moved from Arlington to North Carolina. “I lost friends today,” she tells me. But who? So far we also don’t know very much about who lived, who died, who’s lost, trapped or worse.
Dave points to a press release reporting the death of Danny Lewin. He was on the American flight from New York to Los Angeles that crashed into the World Trade Center. I didn’t know Danny, but I’ve met him. He was a good guy. According to his bio, he was also a member of the Israeli Defense Forces. I imagine he would have done his best, as a passenger, to stop this thing.
And there were so many others lost today. So many families waiting, right now, for loved ones to call, to show up at the door.

The deepest human substance 

Now is the time to give blood, not take it. Wherever you are, please give some. For New York, call 1 800 933-blood or visit http://nybloodcenter.org/.

Declaration of Peace 

One of the surprising things to me about blogging is how much I don’t say. I tend to be a very disclosing guy, but if anything I tend to disclose less personal stuff than I ever thought I would have when I started this thing in 1999.
But today I’ll tell you where I come from on the matter of war.
I am a pacifist. I applied for contientious objector status during the Vietnam War, and I would have served in that capacity if I hadn’t received a medical deferment.
I went to a Quaker college, and have always felt most at home, philosophically and morally, with the Society of Friends. Although I currently attend a Catholic Church, my beliefs are the same.
What happened today brings out the pacifist in me, and the linguist as well. Just about everything we believe, and say, is framed up by conceptual metaphors. In the words of George Lakoff, written at the height of the Gulf War, metaphors can kill.
We have a choice about the ones we use. For the sake of those still with us, and the souls of those we’ve lost, choose your conceptual frameworks carefully.


We hear that 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Center alone. Consider these numbers:
  • 4,435 U.S. soldiers died in the Revolutionary War, and another 2,260 in the War of 1812.
  • Including civilians, 373,458 died in the Civil War.
  • 53,513 combat deaths in World War I, plus 63,195 “other.”
  • 292,131 combat deaths in Word War II, plus 115,185 “other.”
  • 33,651 combat deaths in the Korean War (no “other” listed)
  • 47,369 combat deaths in the Vietnam War, and 10,799 “other.”
  • And for the Gulf war, the respective numbers were 148 and 145.
Here’s another summary.


ZeldmanDeanAdamDaveCamEricAkamaiRichardBrentSusan. Grant.East/WestUltrasparky. QuesoKottkeMegMetafilterEvGlennScoble.
I need to pick up the kid from school soon. This morning he wanted to know why his parents were crying. We couldn’t begin to explain.

Open choices 

What happened today may have been an act of war, but it was also an act of insanity.
Many people we know are dead. Many more are dying. This is a time to open our hearts, our homes, our wallets and our minds.
There is only one sane choice open to us all: What can we do to help?
If there is anything you think I can do, let me know. I just added AIM instant messaging to my suite of contacts. My handle, no longer a joke, is “Celeprosy.”

A time for love and mourning 

Pray, find your loved ones. Give help.
And God help us all.

Maybe because I have it 

Wanted to test out the latest AOL Instant Messenger today, so I downloaded it. But first I had to come up with a name. Searls, Dsearls, Dsearls1 and Zdilmidgi were all taken, by me, in the past. But AOL wouldn’t make them available to me because they had to clear it with the now-dead email address I used when I registered those identities. So I gave up on those and tried all kinds of names, finally going with “Celeprosy.” It took. Haven’t installed it yet, though.

What’s the commercial model for your toilet? Your light socket? Your floors? 

I was asked today what the ‘commercial model’ was for a blog hosted on a home computer. It amazes me that the Net is still being asked to justify itself commercially.
But as long as it is, we need Larry Lessig to rant about it. (Thanks to Tom for that link.)
And while we’re on the blog subject, check out the Lockergnome interview with Evan Williams. I ran into Chris Pirillo at TechTV when I was up there recently. Great guy. And he really does look like that Lockergnome dude in the illo.

Well, obviously 

Says here I’m infatuated with Google search results. Actually, amazed is a bit more like it.
Curious: what real competition does Google have these days? Looking here, it’s as if nobody has even bothered reviewing the matter in almost a year. At this point Google rivals the browser itself as a Web interface. It’s a portal that doesn’t act the part.
Is it making money yet? I have no idea.

Because smart people don’t always do that 

Eric Raymond: How to ask questions the smart way.

Blogging was young then. There was no Twitter, no Facebook. Yet blogging felt, and was, far more social — at least for me — than anything else we’ve seen since.

Some thoughts, ten years later:

  • Yes, everything changed that day.
  • We did go to war, as I expected we would, given the president we had and the mood of the country after being attacked. But the war, billed as one against “terrorism,” has been one of “regime change” in two countries. Since then other regimes have changed that needed changing, without our intervention, and at approximately zero $ cost to the U.S.
  • The cost of going to war has been many $trillions, and has nearly (or perhaps actually) bankrupted the country. There was a rope-a-dope strategy behind the attack, and we took the bait.
  • The U.S. hasn’t been attacked in the same way again, and for that I am grateful.
  • The results of the War on Terrorism are debatable, although they are not much debated.
  • The motivations for the attacks on the U.S., besides “they hate us and our way of life” and similar staples of talk radio, have not been visited at much depth, at least by sources the American people pay much attention to. That anybody might have a legitimate gripe against the U.S. is a question no politician wants to ask. And not many ordinary citizens, either.
  • Many young men and women in my extended family have served in these wars. I am proud of them. I also wish they hadn’t needed to go.
  • The peace movement, in which I played a small part during the Vietnam War, is now dormant. Almost nobody questions the need for war now.
  • The hate we felt for Al Qaeda, the self-appointed enemy that attacked on 9/11, has since shifted to each other. I’ve been alive for a long time, and I can’t remember any period, including the Vietnam War, when it has been harder for political opponents to listen to each other, much less understand what the other is saying. Ad hominem arguments rule.
  • One reason for our uncompromising political posturing and rhetoric is the loss of the moderate center that was held in place by the mainstream media, and especially by the evening network news. Even as late as 2001, we turned en mass to network TV and newspapers for reporting and analysis that at least tried to be unbiased, accountable and responsible to the whole country and not just to partisan factions. Now even CNN looks like an informercial to me.

I can’t shake the feeling that, in ways we don’t want to admit, the terrorists have won something. 9/11 gave us fear, and the will to attack. It changed our hearts and minds.

When I look back on human history, starting with our diaspora out of Africa only a few dozen millennia ago, I see persisting through it all a will to kill and dominate that is hardly diminished by civilization. We have hated and killed The Other for the duration. For all its many virtues, our species remains a violent and homicidal one. We’ve killed others who looked or spoke differently than we do. We’ve killed for land and religion and resources, which included each other, whom we often kidnapped and made into slaves. Even in our own country we killed each other by the dozens of thousands, over differing notions of freedom. (The Civil War is only two generations back on my father’s side. One great aunt, whom I remember well, was twelve years old when Lincoln was shot, and told stories about it. She was born when slavery was still more than legal in the U.S.)

How many people have died because of 9/11, since that day? Have their deaths been worthwhile? Have they bought peace, really? Will anything, ever? I have my doubts, and those started ten years ago today.

[Later…] Deaths in the War on Terror, according to Wikipedia, as of today:

  • Iraq: 62,570 to 1,124,000
  • Afghanistan: between 10,960 and 49,600
  • Pakistan: between 1467 and 2334
  • Somalia: 7,000+

And then,

Total American casualties from the War on Terror
(this includes fighting throughout the world):

US Military killed 5,921[109]
US Military wounded 42,673[109]
US Civilians killed (includes 9/11 and after) 3,000 +
US Civilians wounded/injured 6,000 +
Total Americans killed (military and civilian) 8,800 +
Total Americans wounded/injured 46,000 +
Total American casualties 54,800 +

Draw, or re-draw, your own conclusions. I still don’t have any. Or many. The older I get, the less certain I am of my own opinions, especially about War, the reasoning methods for which which seem to be hard-coded into human nature. In my heart I’m still a pacifist, but in my mind I’m not so sure.

Here’s what I wrote in Deliberate Explosive Devices last year:

I think there lurks in human nature a death wish — for others, even more than for ourselves. We rationalize nothing better, or with more effect, than killing each other. Especially the other. Fill in the blank. The other tribe, the other country, the other culture, the other religion, whatever.  “I’ve seen the future,”Leonard Cohen sings. “It is murder.” (You can read the lyrics here, but I like thevideo version.)

Yet we also don’t. The answer to Matt’s question — How did we keep from blowing ourselves up for all those years? —is lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov, and others like him, unnamed. Petrov had the brains and the balls to say “No” to doing the crazy thing that only looked sane because a big institution was doing it.

We’re still crazy. You and I may not be, but we are.

War is a force that gives us meaningChris Hedges says. You can read his book by that title, (required reading from a highly decorated and deeply insightful former war correspondent). You can also watch the lecture he gave on the topic at UCSB in 2004. The mystery will be diminished by his answer, but not solved.

Still, every dose of sanity helps.

Still true.

Bonus link from Euan Semple.

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15 Responses to Ten years later

  1. James Barnes says:

    Those who have nothing still have nothing to lose. Those who have more than enough still have everything to lose. No lessons learned in ten years.

    Thank you for your heartfelt words.

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  3. Martin Geddes says:

    There has been cultural progress since 9/11. One example that speaks to me personally is the integration of gay men and women into the mainstream — in politics, marriage, family structures, the military, professional life. So there is hope for a better, more just, and less violent future.

    What strikes me reading this list ten years on is that we still are looking for a commercial model for the Internet, rather than accepting that culture doesn’t come wrapped in plastic cases from Disney.

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  5. Brett Glass says:

    Here’s what *I* blogged that day:


  6. Peter says:

    Hear, hear,
    I have been avoiding all the coverage of the 10th anniversary since I can’t imagine the mainstream media – nor most of the alternative channels – adding anything meaningful.
    As an Australian even the emotional impact of the attack is only second-hand (at best). Intellectually I can understand the effect it must have had but the reaction has caused many more problems than it solved.
    Treating terrorism as a criminal matter (as was done by most other countries that were attacked afterward) seems to be more effective than giving the bad guys credibility by calling them ‘the enemy’.

  7. Doc Searls says:

    Thanks, Brett. The body’s immune system is an excellent metaphor. I love this line: …society cannot function on constant high alert any more than an individual can function with a constant fever.

  8. Brett Glass says:

    Relevant to this (though I could not, of course, have known it when I wrote the essay) is that for the past 10 years, TSA’s official “threat level” has never gone below “orange.” TSA has, of course, an interest in keeping it that way because — at least in their minds — it gives them and some of their more absurd rules a raison d’être.

  9. Mike Warot says:

    The best comment on 9/11 I’ve read to date in terms of matching my feelings about what’s happened was this post on SlashDot


    My version of things is based on that, with some reflection and a different perspective.

    9/11 CAN’T HAPPEN AGAIN… it couldn’t have happened on 9/12/2001 even with no changes other that the knowledge now carried by every passenger as to the real threat posed by hijackers.

    The only really good money spent since 9/11 was on better cockpit doors.

    We should have responded to a crime using the International Police, and the Intelligence agencies of the world.

    ALL of the warfare in response to 9/11 was wasted and wrong.

    We faced down the USSR, and didn’t give up our rights, why did we let 19 guys do to us what decades of cold war couldn’t?

  10. Brett Glass says:

    Alas, we are still attacking ourselves, our citizens, and our fundamental rights 10 years later. See, for example, http://shebshi.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/some-real-shock-and-awe-racially-profiled-and-cuffed-in-detroit/

  11. Doc…

    My family and I went up into the mountains to pick apples, and to avoid the 9/11-gasm of the news.

    Thanks for this post.


  12. Nikos says:

    Things were never the same again, I am not from the states but my cousin who prob had a great future ahead of him went to war twice. he is now only 27 years old but a war vet..

    My heart goes out too all living in the USA.

  13. Doc Searls says:

    Mike, agreed about the Slashdot piece.

    Worse, “homeland security” — a Soviet term if there ever was one — sounded to me from the start like the Soviets actually won something.

    Read Chris Hedges on The Myth of War. Or just go read his whole book on the topic.

    We are spending human, moral and monetary capital out the wazoo, and nobody wants to talk about it. Instead it’s all about our martyred dead, our heroic soldiers, our sacred cause.

    It’s not easy. My family is one with a strong military history, and a number of members currently in uniform and serving honorably, and with great skill and courage. It should be possible to respect what they do, and still talk about the reasons for going to war, and staying there, at the same time. But it’s very hard. So we don’t.

    And we’re paying the price, in so many ways.

  14. Doc Searls says:

    Martin, thanks for your reminder of what we’ve gained, especially for gay men and women — and for where we’ve stayed stuck. Indeed, the Net has no commercial model, just a lot of commercial activity we mistake for the Real Thing.

  15. Alexander Beloglazov says:

    I remember I’d just come home from the university that day. I turned on my TV and saw the 1st WTC tower on fire then the 1st seconds I heard that an airplane crashed in it. In the beginning I started thinking that it was a new action movie, but after 1 minute I started feeling sadness and fear and after the 2nd plane as you mentioned Doc the will to fight back. That was not a movie, that was a reality. I realized that those terrible things were going to change the world.
    I believe 1 day the humanity and common sense are going to be among human, not the animal instincts to be dominant like the #1 rase or #1 religion or whatever. WE ARE PEOPLE!

    Thanks for the post Doc.
    God bless.

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