“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” – George WashingtonSeptember is always hot in inland Southern California—not just hot, but nasty, ungodly hot. The kind of hot that makes vinyl dashboards turn brittle and crack when you leave your car parked at the Galleria with the windows rolled up. The type of hot that softens asphalt and makes it stick to your shoes. A new record, 111 degrees with 39 percent humidity was set, but nobody was cheering. Due to a shortage of power plants on the West Coast, rates for electricity have skyrocketed and many people can no longer afford to run their air conditioners. Chrissie, our Labrador, is pregnant again and suffers in silence. Thank God I didn't get rid of the evaporative cooler in the living room when we had central air installed some years back.
I work late on Sunday and don't wake up until nearly noon on Monday, September 10. Being 53 years old, my bladder beckons me to the bathroom. But when I flush the toilet, it goes down sluggishly and flows over onto the floor. After slogging down a bowl of corn flakes, I go outside and remove the cover of the sewer clean-out on the side of the house nearest to the bathroom. To my surprise the sewer is as dry as a bone. Every couple of years, tree roots invade the clay joints and I have to run a snake through it to unclog the line. But that doesn't appear to be the problem this time. Perhaps something fell into the toilet bowl and got stuck going down. I go out to the tool shed and get a length of baling wire with which to probe the bowl, but the wire encounters no obstructions and I am left scratching my head.
Did I mention that I fancy myself to be a fair-to-middling do-it-yourself plumber? With the help of how-to books I've tackled everything from installing a small diameter backyard well to roughing in the new bathroom. The only thing I haven't managed to master is how to change those rubber non-washers in washerless faucets. To admit that I have no clue as to why the toilet is leaking might deflate my ego. Decidedly better to employ my overactive imagination to concoct some ridiculous theory as to how the wax gasket has induced a reverse suction, thereby nullifying the Law of Gravity and causing water in the toilet bowl to flow upwards. Pulling the toilet from the floor to replace the gasket uses up the entire afternoon. When I finally get everything back together, the results are spectacular. Now, not only does water leak over the wax gasket onto the floor, but it also backs up into the bathtub. The shutoff valve had been frozen and I had had to turn the water off at the main. Nothing can compare to the rich aroma of raw sewage simmering in 100+ degree heat. It permeates my clothes and interferes with my decision making abilities. It is getting dark. Either I must get this stupid toilet fixed right away or I am going to have to prepare dinner with filthy hands and go to bed without a shower.
So why not replace the whole thing? I jumped into my battered old Mitsubishi Mighty Max and drove to Home Depot where, fortunately for me, the toilet I wanted was on sale. But, best of all, they were displaying a new device, the cutting edge in toilet gaskets, a complicated, but relatively inexpensive doohickey made of rubber and plastic that was absolutely, positively guaranteed not to leak for 10 years. Exactly what I needed!
But when I got home and went to assemble the leakproof gasket, I found it had more O-rings than the space shuttle, all of which had to be stretched to fit various cylindrical plastic parts. And - somewhat predictably - after putting it together there was one piece missing which I had to drive back to the store to get. However, it was worth it, because the gasket performed as promised and my troubles would have been over were it not for one small detail: the porcelain toilet tank had a hairline crack near the handle through which water seeped in agonizingly slow droplets.
Racing down the freeway, I managed to make it to Home Depot before it closed. I didn't bother to stand in line at “Customer Service/Returns.” After leaving the defective tank at an empty checkstand, I hefted another one from a pallet in the Plumbing Department, stopping only for a second to peel back the packaging to check for imperfections before bolting for the door. What the heck, I had a sales receipt. Let them try and stop me.
It's now after 9 and I hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. Neither had the dogs so I splurged and got three takeouts from a Japanese restaurant. Labradors in Southern California wolfing down Japanese cuisine—a truly international banquet that could have been festive were it not for the circumstances. As it was, there was no water with which to wash my dirty fingers—not even enough to wet a dishrag to wipe the table.
Adrenaline kept me going. I got the tank on, but it wobbled. A glance at the parts bag told the story. The only items remaining were four acrylic spacers. The assembly instructions said they were optional, neglecting to mention that the two options were to use the spacers and have the tank rest solidly atop the bowl or not use them and permit the tank to shake like jello. Off came the tank, on went the spacers, and, several hours later, after nearly stripping the bolts with a monkey wrench, the tank was sitting squarely atop the bowl, a testament to the perseverance of an All-American do-it-yourselfer, proof positive that stamina could triumph over brains (or lack thereof).
But the adrenaline was wearing thin. I went outside and had to concentrate to remember which way to turn the water back on. It was still dark, but I could make out the first trace of daylight on the horizon. There was a time when staying up all night had been fun. Now it simply served to gauge my age.
Flushing the toilet several times and discovering no leaks, I feel no elation whatsoever. Force of habit makes me put away my tools, load the dishwasher, and then run a mop over the bathroom floor. The rest of my actions that night are blurred in my memory: In one surreal, disconnected sequence, I level a carbine and three bullets tear apart a buried peanut can—the final resting place of a stillborn puppy—while scorching hot water melts ripe avocados, pouring me into bed. The worst night of my life has come to an end as the worst day in America's history is about to begin.
It's long past noon when I wake up, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Speedo and Chrissie are sleeping at the foot of my bed and I am careful not to stumble over them as I trudge to the bathroom. But I'm still shaken by what happened the previous evening and I'm a bit nervous about flushing the toilet. I decide to wait until I am dressed. Should it overflow, I want to be able to immediately do something about it. So instead of flushing, I go into the kitchen and, passing a radio nestled amongst potted plants on a shelf in the garden window, I flick it on.
At 8:45 AM this morning a hijacked Boeing 767 airliner struck the north tower of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, setting it ablaze. A half hour later, a second hijacked 767 slammed into the other tower. Both have collapsed and continue to burn. The number of casualties is not yet known, but is thought to be in the thousands. Shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center, a third hijacked airliner crashed into the Pentagon, tearing a huge hole in the west side of military headquarters. Despite severe smoke and flames, the living, injured, and dead are being pulled out from beneath the rubble. For more on this hellacious calamity, an unprecedented three-pronged attack by terrorists on our eastern seaboard, we take you to Washington, D.C., where . . .
“Not very plausible,” I say to myself. This must be an updated War of the Worlds broadcast. Hadn't Orson Welles fooled millions in the 1930's with a breaking news version of H.G. Well's classic science fiction yarn? I wasn't about to be taken in by a dusty trick and, reaching for the knob, somewhat indignantly turned the dial to what I thought to be a reliable all-news-all-the-time station.
. . . a fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Pittsburgh. There are no known survivors. Police and firefighters are combing through . . .
Oh my God! It's for real. Thousands of Americans - civilians for the most part - mangled, crushed, burned, and buried alive in a sneak attack that by comparison rendered Pearl Harbor a scuffle in a bathtub. Organized terrorism, the kind that involves lots of money and planning, had been confined to the fringes of our collective radar; a daily occurrence in Beirut and Tel Aviv, but not perceived as a pressing domestic problem. This was a wakeup call, a reminder that we are part of a shrinking world where a fire in our neighbor's house needed to be put out lest it spread to our own.
But why? Why us and why now? Was it God's punishment, a prelude to Armageddon? I just couldn't buy that. New York and Washington, D.C. weren't exactly Sodom and Gomorrah - as a matter of fact they weren't anywhere near as decadent as Amsterdam and Bangkok. No, despite the shrill raspings of mullahs and Osama bin Laden, the United States was no Great Satan. If anything, we were simply too complacent, too trusting.
And then it hit me. Sometimes the toilet overflows. You never know how or why. Often there is no quick fix. Like the bumper stickers say, “Shit happens.”
The news does not sit well with my breakfast. Feeling queasy, I go back to the bedroom, intending to make up the bed and get dressed. But I can't escape the carnage. Through an open window in the living room, I can hear my next door neighbor's television set blaring full blast as he surfs through the channels. Most stations have preempted their regular programming and are airing live telecasts of frightened people fleeing Manhattan on foot, refugees in suits and ties; a drab, depressing, portrait painted gray on gray by boundless soot, smoke, and debris.
Could my son be one of them? He is a helicopter pilot with the 10th Mountain Brigade at Fort Drum, New York. Manhattan is where my son and his buddies hang out when they get the chance. However, I recall that he has used up all his leave time. Still, I am uneasy until he phones me and lets me know he is all right.
I have only been to Manhattan once. It was the day after my son's graduation from West Point and he took me around to see the sights. Because of the heavy surface street traffic—gridlock worse than a freeway during rush hour with delivery trucks double and triple parking—we only get as far as the Flat Iron Building which is the worst excuse for a skyscraper imaginable with an ancient elevator that jerks to a halt and then struggles to align itself with floor level. In the distance I recognize the twin towers scaled by King Kong in a remake that was no match for the original. King Kong swatted planes like flies. Too bad he was nowhere to be found on September 11.
But where were the Patriots? You know, the missiles that downed Saddam's SCUDs during the Gulf War. Surely an airliner flies lower and slower than a SCUD and presents a better target. A thirty minute search on the internet confirmed my suspicions. The Patriot was originally developed to intercept aircraft and only came to be employed as a SCUD buster out of necessity. It packs a 90 kilogram warhead—enough to knock down the biggest airliner and then some. There is almost no lag time; it can be armed in 9 seconds, goes supersonic 20 feet out of the starting gate, and has a maximum flight time of slightly less than 3 and a half minutes. The M901 mobile launcher carries its own control center and 4 missiles. Following launch, a computer steers the missile to its target. And a proximity fuse makes a near miss as lethal as a hit. An airliner would be a sitting duck for any one of these, let alone four. This baby has DEATH TO TERRORISTS written all over it.
Somebody high up must have messed up big time. Either there weren't any Patriots within 70 kilometers of Washington, D.C. or New York—unthinkable, considering that U.S. built Patriot missiles are protecting Israel, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Taiwan, and the Netherlands—or the air traffic controllers didn't have the ability to communicate directly with Air Defense, or local commanders don't have the authority to launch without going through channels. Needless to say, there is no room for excuses when it comes to our nation's security.
Patriots aren't the only ordnance capable of bringing down an airliner. Hand held Stingers could have done the job. Anti-aircraft flak and artillery projectiles can also score hits on a low flying subsonic jet. Even small arms are capable of igniting a fuel tank. Isn't it strange that we didn't have so much as a peashooter defending the skies over Washington D.C. and the Pentagon? Let's face it, we got caught with our pants down.
During the Cold War, we had sufficient forces to deploy troops throughout the world and still have enough to defend the homeland. Afterwards, being the only remaining superpower, we grew complacent, closed what were mistakenly labeled “surplus” bases, downsized our military, and left ourselves open for a sucker punch.
In the days and weeks to come, I was able to piece together what had gone wrong from reports appearing in newspapers and magazines. American Airlines Flight 11 had departed Boston on schedule at 7:59 AM on the morning of September 11. Shortly after takeoff, the air traffic controller loses all contact. His transmissions receive no response. Then a strange, unidentified voice ominously pierces the prolonged silence, saying, "We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you'll be OK. We are returning to the airport."
The controller demands, "Who is trying to call me?," but receives no response. A short pause and then the mysterious voice from the cockpit resumes, "Nobody move, please, we are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves."
Apparently someone not familiar with the sophisticated equipment was trying to talk to the passengers, but was instead transmitting on a frequency used for communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. It was at this point that the military should have been alerted.
At 8:14 AM a second American Airlines Boeing 767, Flight 175, departs the gate at Boston, headed for Los Angeles. After takeoff, the air traffic controller asks for help in locating Flight 11.
At 8:41 AM Flight 175's captain answers, "We heard a suspicious transmission on our departure from BOS. [It] sounds like someone keyed the mike and said, 'Everyone stay in your seats.'"
Less than two minutes later, Flight 175 became the second plane to be hijacked. After taking control of the plane, the hijackers veer sharply off course. By now the Long Island air traffic controller must surely be aware that an emergency exists. However, no action is taken. Continuing to watch and wait, the controller observes, "There's no transponder, no nothing, and no one's talking to him." Is he afraid to voice a conclusion that may later prove to have been unwarranted?
Manhattan is restricted airspace, so everyone on the ground looks up when a fast-flying commercial airliner suddenly appears overhead. It is flying so low that a police officer clearly discerns the number on its tail. At 8:45 AM Flight 11 slams into the north face of the northernmost tower of the World Trade Center from the ninety-second to the ninety-ninth floors, snapping 41 ton exterior steel beams like matchsticks, as a 20,000 gallon high octane fireball erupts over the financial district. And at 8:50 AM an anonymous pilot asks the portentous question, "Anybody know what that smoke is in Lower Manhattan?"
At 8:53 AM, while hijacked Flight 175 is skimming the treetops of the Hudson River Valley at 500+ miles per hour on its way to the south tower, the truth finally hits home. "We may have a hijacking," admits the controller. "We have some problems here right now."
One of the problems was with communications. The right hand wasn't attatched to the same body as the left hand. Being a democracy, civilian and military avionics in the United States are seperate entities with seperate radio frequencies. Unfortunately, that makes for slow reflexes.
Shortly after Flight 11 crashes into the north tower, an air traffic controller in Indianapolis tries to reach Flight 77 which is flying from Dulles in Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. There has been no response from the pilot since he acknowledged directions to fly towards a navigation beacon in Kentucky.
"American 77, Indy," the controller keeps repeating. "American 77, Indy, radio check. How do you read?"
Another missing flight, presumably hijacked. By 8:46 AM the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has notified NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) of the situation and two 1970's vintage F-15's armed with heat-seeking and radar guided missiles are scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base at Falmouth, Massachusetts. Prepardness has been allowed to deteriorate since the end of the Cold War and there are only 14 National Guard jets on standby alert status (it is a sleepy job which the pilots refer to as "Dozing for Dollars") to protect the entire nation. Ten minutes after the fighters become airborne, United Flight 175 plows headlong into the second tower. A veteran New York City firefighter, James Filomeno, watches in horror from a nearby fireboat as the jumbo jet comes in over his head and explodes in a fireball on impact with the second tower, plunging some of the tower's residents cartwheeling on fire to certain death on the promenade a thousand feet below.
Meanwhile, United Airlines Flight 93 flying from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California, receives a text message from a flight dispatcher sitting at United's transcontinental desk outside Chicago warning them to "Beware cockpit intrusion." But there isn't much that Captain Jason Dahl and his co-pilot, First Officer LeRoy Homer, Jr., can do. They are unarmed and the door to the cockpit was intentionally designed to come open under 150 pounds of pressure in order to prevent the crew from being locked out. As Flight 93, flying at 35,000 feet, approaches the Cleveland regional air traffic center that guides long-range, high altitude flights, a voice screams "Hey!" over the air traffic control frequency. A startled air traffic controller then asks, "Did somebody call Cleveland?" Seconds pass in silence. Then comes the distinct sound of a scuffle, followed by an American voice screaming "Get out of here!" Like the others, Flight 93 will soon vanish from the screen. But shortly before it does, a male voice with an Arabic accent says, "Ladies and gentlemen, here, it's the captain. Please sit down. Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb aboard." His hands slippery with the blood of his victims, an out-of-breath terrorist has inadvertently keyed the radio instead of the intercom and is saying to the authorities what is meant to be heard by the passengers. The airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were each hijacked by five terrorists. For some unknown reason, the terrorist team that took over Flight 93 has only 4, only one of whom stands guard over the passengers in the cabin. The passengers overpower their captor while the flight attendants douse him with boiling water. Having gained control of the cabin, the emboldened passengers attempt to use a food cart as a battering ram to get into the cockpit. It might have worked had the jetliner not been flying at treetop level. Attempting to turn back the passengers, the inexperienced hijacker pilot attempts to do a roll and winds up plowing the upside down jetliner into spongy earth while going more than 575 miles per hour. By the time the Shanksville Fire Department arrives at a copse of pines adjacent to the crash site, nothing larger than the hood of a car remains of the fuselage. There are no survivors. Later, upon being told while flying back to Washington aboard Air Force One that an airliner has gone down in Pennsylvannia, President Bush asks, "Did we shoot it down or did it crash?" He is relieved to find out that the 38 passengers and 7 crew members aboard Flight 93 went down fighting.
More than a half hour passes after the hijackings are confirmed before the order comes to scramble the F-16's who have been waiting on alert at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia. At 9:30 AM three F-16's, capable of flying at Mach 2, leave the tarmac and climb to 25,000 feet. Flying at just under the speed of sound, they hear over the radio that the FAA has ordered all civilian aircraft to land - their first indication of the seriousness of the situation. It is too late to intercept Flight 77 before it can take the lives of 123 brave men and women at duty stations in the west wing of the Pentagon.
"It kept us from having to do the unthinkable," Major General Mike J. Haugen of the North Dakota National Guard would later say.
Next comes a loud squawk from the F-16's transponders, an unmistakable notice that Huntress (call sign of NORAD sector control) is placing them on wartime alert. Then Huntress asks them if the Pentagon is ablaze. Looking down, the lead flier confirms that it is indeed on fire.
The day is yet young; it is only 9:46 AM. Less than a minute ago, the White House began to evacuate. In four more minutes extensive fire damage will cause the south tower of the World Trade Center to lean to the right prior to collapsing. Seconds later, smoldering debris falls on the 47-story structure known as 7 World Trade Center, igniting 42,000 gallons of diesel fuel used to run emergency generators. An additional 24 minutes will tick by before Flight 93 goes down in the woods of western Pennsylvania following a brave struggle by its passengers to overcome the hijackers. Almost simultaneously, a portion of the Pentagon collapses. Because the airliner entered at an angle, the destruction is much worse than it appears from the outside. Three of the five rings of which it is composed will have been gutted by the time that weary firefighters depart, 8 days from now. Another 39 minutes will elapse before the north tower, its steel supports softened by 2,000 degree heat, will collapse. It has been a gruesome morning, these first few hours of daylight on Tuesday the 11th day of September, a morning unsurpassed in treachery, a morning drenched in the blood of patriots, a ghastly morning that has witnessed the collapse of the tallest skyscraper in the world, the World Trade Center, together with a collapse of a portion of the largest building in the world, the Pentagon, a morning that has seen more than its share of death and destruction. The White House, the United Nations, and the World Bank have been evacuated, all flight operations at domestic airports have been halted, the FAA has diverted all inbound trans-Atlantic air traffic to Canada, Vice-president Cheney is in hiding and the United States is at war. September 11, 2001; a day of sneak attacks, a day in which a trusting nation fell prey to the evils surrounding it, a day which will burn in our collective memories for a thousand years - we cannot forgive and we shall not forget.
* * *
It bothers me that much of the blame for the hijackings has been placed on airport security. Having missed a flight prior to September 11 despite getting in line a half hour before takeoff, I can testify that security at international airports has always been tight. More than once I have had one or two coins in my pocket set off a metal detector. I suspect that the hijackers resorted to boxcutters because they figured they couldn't get by security with knives and guns. There is legislation pending in Congress to make security screeners at international airports federal employees. It does seem that the level of security varies between airports: between 1991 and 2000, security personnel at Los Angeles International confiscated 1932 weapons while during the same period Newark International reported 74 violations (while screening approximately twice as many passengers as Newark, security personnel at Los Angeles found 26 times as many weapons). Beefing up security is always a good idea, but we must be careful about how we do it lest we turn traveling by air into a major chore.
Just how vulnerable large airliners are was made abundantly clear three weeks later when on October 4 a Tu-154 airliner with 78 Israeli citizens aboard was accidently shot down over the Black Sea by a Ukrainian S-200 missile. It goes without saying that the S-200, based on aging Soviet-era technology, is no Patriot. The simple fact is that airliners are totally defenseless. They have no stealth capabilities. Even with the transponder turned off, a commercial jet should make a fat blip on radar. Given that much of the East Coast is restricted air space - off limits to civilian aircraft - it seems strange that the military had to learn about the hijackings from the FAA.
I suspect that the real reason why our elected officials did not ask the right questions after September 11th is that they already knew the answers. A substantial portion of America's multi-billion dollar defense budget goes to entrenched defense contractors who employ retired generals to curry favor and lobby incessantly to keep Congress from pulling the plug on the research and development programs that keep them in business. In the judgment of Colonel David Hackworth and many other experts, wonder weapons haven't lived up to expectations. An investigation into why our defenses proved vulnerable would most certainly have revealed that all that whiz-bang gadgetry amounts to nothing unless it is properly deployed under local commanders who have the authority to engage an enemy should it prove necessary. There was no attempt made to establish blame because any such inquiry would have most certainly have proven embarrassing to the military-industrial complex.
There appears to be a large, gaping hole in our national defenses. If someone had told me on September 10 that an unidentified subsonic jet could fly over the White House without being challenged, I would have laughed in his face. The four hijacked aircraft flew back and forth over six states for hours buzzing densely populated cities with impunity. When I was a boy growing up in Long Beach, California, it was commonplace to hear jets breaking the sound barrier. Far from being a nuisance, it was comforting in the Cold War era to have them flying overhead. Somehow, somewhere, we misplaced our priorities. Just as a dog cannot protect his master unless he is allowed in the house, so we dare not restrict our supersonic fighters from pushing the envelope over residential areas. Shattered windowpanes and occasional static snow flurries interrupting someone's soap opera/sitcom are a small price to pay for not having to worry about some suicidal maniac playing havoc with the good life. Security comes first - otherwise we might not be around to debate what comes second.
If we are going to blame anyone for what amounted to a poor showing of our military forces on September 11, we will have to start with ourselves. When communism crumbled, everyone expected a peace dividend. Part of the price of that dividend was base closures. Those that were not serving any useful function deserved to be closed. However, in my opinion, we went too far. When you dial 911 for an emergency, the speed with which the fire or police department responds is directly related to how far the station is from your house. The same thing holds true for the armed forces, i.e. the nearer a military base is to your community, the better they can protect you. As the last remaining superpower, we have become the policeman for the world at the expense of homeland defense. Here are some of the major bases that we have shut down since 1988:
Hamilton Army Airfield, California - Closed SEP 94
Presidio of San Francisco, California - Closed SEP 94
Bennett Army National Guard, Colorado - Closed JAN 89
Cape St. George, Florida - Closed FEB 88
Fort Sheridan, Illinois - Closed MAY 93
Lexington Army Depot, Kentucky - Closed SEP 95
New Orleans Military Ocean Terminal, Louisiana - Closed DEC 94
Fort Douglas, Utah - Closed NOV 91
Cameron Station, Virginia - Closed SEP 95
Defense Mapping Agency, Herndon, Virginia - Closed OCT 93
Tipton Army Airfield, Fort Meade, Maryland - Closed SEP 95
Naval Station Lake Charles, Louisiana - Never Opened
Naval Station New York, New York (Brooklyn) - Closed MAY 93
Naval Hospital Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Closed APR 93
Naval Station Galveston, Texas - Never Opened
Naval Station San Francisco (Hunters Point Annex), California - Never Opened
George Air Force Base, California - Closed DEC 92
Mather Air Force Base, California - Closed SEP 93
Norton Air Force Base, California - Closed MAR 94
Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois - Closed SEP 93
Pease Air Force Base, New Hampshire - Closed MAR 91
Fort Ord, California - Closed SEP 94
Sacramento Army Depot, California - Closed APR 94
Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana - Closed Sep 95
Fort Devens, Massachusetts - Closed MAR 96
Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Tustin, California - Closed JUL 99
Naval Air Station Moffett Field, California - Closed JUL 94
Naval Hospital Long Beach, California - Closed MAR 94
Naval Station Long Beach, California - Closed SEP 94
Naval Station Treasure Island (Hunters Point Annex), California - Closed APR 94
Naval Station Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Closed JAN 96
Naval Ship Yard Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Closed SEP 96
CBC Davisville, Rhode Island - Closed APR 94
Naval Air Station Chase Field, Texas - Closed FEB 93
Naval Station Puget Sound (Sand Point), Washington - Closed SEP 95
Eaker Air Force Base, Arkansas - Closed DEC 92
Williams Air Force Base, Arizona - Closed SEP 93
Castle Air Force Base, California - Closed SEP 95
Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado - Closed SEP 94
Grissom Air Force Base, Indiana - Closed SEP 94
England Air Force Base, Louisiana - Closed DEC 92
Loring Air Force Base, Maine - Closed SEP 94
Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan - Closed JUN 93
Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, Missouri - Closed SEP 94
Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina - Closed MAR 93
Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas - Closed SEP 93
Carswell Air Force Base, Texas - Closed SEP 93
Fort McClellan, Alabama - Closed SEP 99
Fort Chaffee, Arkansas - Closed SEP 97
Oakland Army Base, California - Closed JUL 01
Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Colorado - Closed SEP 00
Savanna Army Depot Activity, Illinois - Closed JUL 01
Fort Holabird, Maryland - Closed SEP 96
Fort Ritchie, Maryland - Closed OCT 98
Bayonne Military Ocean Terminal, New Jersey - Closed JUL 01
Seneca Army Depot, New York - Closed JUL 01
Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania - Closed SEP 98
Fort Pickett, Virginia - Closed SEP 97
Naval Air Facility, Adak, Alaska - Closed JAN 98
Naval Shipyard, Long Beach, California - Closed SEP 97
Ship Repair Facility, Guam - Closed SEP 97
Naval Air Station, South Weymouth, Massachusetts - Closed SEP 97
McClellan AFB, Calfornia - Closed JUL 01
Bergstrom Air Reserve Base, Texas - Closed SEP 97
Reese Air Force Base, Texas - Closed SEP 97
Naval Station Mobile, Alabama - Closed JUN 94
Naval Shipyard Mare Island, Vallejo, California - Closed APR 96
Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California - Closed JUL 99
Naval Air Station Alameda, California - Closed APR 97
Naval Aviation Depot Alameda, California - Closed MAR 97
Naval Hospital Oakland, California - Closed SEP 96
Naval Station Treasure Island, San Francisco, California - Closed SEP 97
Naval Training Center San Diego, California - Closed JUN 97
Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida - Closed SEP 99
Naval Aviation Depot Pensacola, Florida - Closed MAR 96
Naval Training Center Orlando, Florida - Closed SEP 98
Naval Air Station Agana, Guam - Closed MAR 95
Naval Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii - Closed JUL 99
Naval Air Station Glenview, Illinois - Closed SEP 95
Naval Electronic Systems Eng. Center, St. Inigoes, Maryland - Closed SEP 97
Naval Station Staten Island, New York - Closed AUG 94
Naval Shipyard Charleston, South Carolina - Closed APR 96
Naval Station Charleston, South Carolina - Closed APR 96
Naval Air Station Dallas, Texas - Closed SEP 98
Naval Aviation Depot Norfolk, Virginia - Closed MAR 97
Homestead Air Force Base, Florida - Closed MAR 94
O'Hare International Aprt Air Force Reserve Station, Illinois - Closed JUN 99
K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan - Closed SEP 95
Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York - Closed SEP 95
Newark Air Force Base, Ohio - Closed SEP 96Are any of these closed military bases near where you live? If so, you aren't quite as safe as you used to be. All those supposedly "surplus" beds in military hospitals could have come in mighty handy in the event of a biological or chemical attack on our big cities. Isn't it a shame we got rid of them? And if we hadn't shut down all those naval shipyards, we would have sufficient aircraft carriers to make rogue nations think twice before misbehaving. Call me an insensitive jingoistic imperialist pig if you must, but from the moment when I first saw the smoldering rubble that was formerly the twin towers of the World Trade Center, I became a staunch advocate of gunboat diplomacy.
Did I say that these bases were shut down? Actually, they were pillaged and raped. Instead of mothballing "surplus" facilities, thousands of acres of federal land and numerous structures were laundered through local government agencies and turned over to business interests in the biggest taxpayer ripoff since the right-of-way land grants to the railroad robber barons in the latter half of the 19th century. Need I point out that we never know when we are going to have another war? Living in Southern California, I know I would sleep a lot better at night if I knew jet fighters from March Air Force Base and El Toro Marine Base were guarding against intruders. I always viewed them like insurance - you hope you never need it, but you can't afford to be without it. Let down your guard, and, sooner or later, as what happened on September 11 aptly illustrates, some lowlife will take advantage of the situation and make you wish you hadn't.
On March 31, 2003, the first public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was held at the U.S. Custom House, One Bowling Green, New York City. The Commission is restricted to a $3 million budget to conduct its investigations which, according to the Washington Post, is much less than the $47 million that the government spent investigating the previous administration's involvement with the Whitewater and Monica Lewinski scandals. This restriction placed on funding, after President Bush resisted having an independent commission, and then tried to appoint Kissinger to head it, shows how serious he is about disclosing what really happened. Nor has the Commission been given full access to the officials and documents it needs to complete its investigation. Could it be that Bush is afraid that the Commission will dig too deep?
I agree with the Commander-in-Chief that we need to establish military tribunals. And the first person to be brought to trial should be the officer who was in charge at Langley on the morning of September 11th. Those fighters were capable of achieving Mach II+ but were held down to subsonic speeds so as not to upset civilians by breaking the sound barrier. Likewise, Army Air Defense was caught napping - no Patriots, no Stingers, not even an anti-aircraft gun to protect New York City and Washington D.C. Not a single shot was fired during a crisis that covered several hours and thousands of miles over the most densely populated region in the United States. Call it criminal negligence, call it dereliction of duty, call it what you like, but it's time to hang 'em high.
Unfortunately, the members of the 911 Commission who were supposed to investigate the attack were handpicked by President George W. Bush. By ignoring evidence and asking the wrong questions, they managed to clear everyone - George W. Bush and cronies included - of any negligence or wrongdoing. The proceedings can be summed up in one word: WHITEWASH. How else to explain the Commission's conclusion that inaction + incompetency = effective defense? Such is the formula for disaster. Lord help us because failure to learn from the mistakes of 911 bodes ill for the future of our beloved nation. There should be a Patriot battery staioned near every major American city. Would someone please explain to me why defending Riyadh is more important than defending Manhattan?
* * *Some people never learn (or is it that they just don't care?). On March 18, 2002, barely six months after the worst attack that the mainland United States has ever been forced to endure, our esteemed leaders in Washington D.C. decided to end around-the-clock combat air patrols over New York while maintaining 24-hour combat air patrols over Washington, D.C. to protect their own rear ends. They say the around-the-clock patrols have been a drain on the military, costing some $350 million. In my opinion, it was money well spent and it's only a small fraction of the overall defense budget. Is bombing Afghanistan and Iraq more important than defending the homeland? Bush seems to think so. He claims that due to improved aviation security since September 11, 2001, we can go back to having our jet fighters on 15 minute alert status. But if that wasn't good enough on September 11 when our supersonic fighters failed to catch up with the four hijacked airliners, it surely isn't good enough now. If we can afford to spend billions to develop Star Wars anti-missile missiles, then we can definitely afford $350 million to keep New York City and the rest of the nation safe from attack. Vice-President Dick Cheney can hide in the White House's basement, but the rest of us don't have that option. [Note: On 9-11-02, the first anniversary of 9-11, we resumed round-the-clock patrols and the White House announced that anti-aircraft missiles had been set up around our nation's capital—evidently they had been in place for quite some time, having been disguised as a "training exercise." Better late than never. Hopefully, our leaders have learned a lesson and we will never let down our guard again.]
This article is an excerpt from Chapter 18 of Bushwhacked by Fred Dungan.