Friday, September 11, 2009

What the hell just happened?

The phone rang about 6:00 a.m..  The call from Toronto awoke me in San Francisco.  The caller advised me to turn on CNN.  Frightening events were taking place in New York City.

Later that same day, I took this photo from my hotel room in the heart of San Francisco.  What an odd sensation it was to be in one of the great cities of the world and walking streets that were virtually deserted.

So what's happened since 9/11?  What progress have we made in this world?

Estimates on civilian deaths in Afghanistan since the launch of "Operation Enduring Freedom"  range from 12,000 to 30,000.

Coalition forces losses are clearly tracked more accurately.  The cynical would suggest that's because they somehow matter more.  However, one hesitates to suggest that. 
Regardless, in the 8 years since that gruesome day in Manhattan, Pennsylvania and Washington, more than 16,000 to 35,000 people are dead.  No matter how you spin it, slice it, dice it and analyze it this is a tragedy on all fronts.
As I wrote...what happens now?  I'm reading a wonderful and inspiring book right now.  Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and  David Oliver Relin.  As the dust jacket reads, it is the "astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the Taliban's back yard. In 1993, a mountaineer named Greg Mortenson drifted into an impoverished Pakistan village in the Karakoram mountains after a failed attempt to climb K2.  Moved by the inhabitants' kindness, he promised to return and build a school.  Three Cups of Tea is the story of that promise and its extraordinary outcome.  Over the next decade Mortenson built not just one but fifty-five schools - especially for girls - in the forbidding terrain that gave birth to the Taliban."  So, hyperbole aside, it really is a very worthwhile story and I thought I might share just a few passages on this day.
"From his window seat in the mostly empty first-class cabin of the flight from Peshawar to Ryhiadh, where stewards had smilingly instructed Mortenson to sit, he saw the sky over Afghanistan pulsing with deadly light.
Steady turbulence announced they had left the land and were now over the awaters of the Arabian Sea.  Across the aisle, Mortenson saw a bearded man in a black turban staring out the window through a high-powered pair of binoculars.  When the lights of ships at sea appeared below them, he spoke animatedly to the turbaned man next to him.  And pulling a satellite phone out of the pocket of his shalwar kazim, this man rushed to the bathroom, presumably to place a call.
"Down there in the dark," Mortenson says, "was the most technologically sophisticated navy strike force in the world, launching fighters and cruise missiles into Afghanistan.  I didn't have much sympathy for the Taliban, and I didn't have any for Al Qaeda, but I had to admit that what they were doing was brilliant.  Without satellites, without an air force, with even their primitive radar knocked out, they were ingenious enough to use plain old commercial flights to keep track of the Fifth Fleet's positions.  I realized that if we were counting on military technology alone to win the war on terror, we had a lot of lessons to learn."
Further on he writes:
"I'm no military expert," Mortenson said. "And these figures might not be exactly right.  But as best I can tell, we've launched 114 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan so far.  Now take the cost of one of those missiles tipped with a Raytheon guidance system, which I think is about $840,000.  For that much money, you could build dozens of schools that could provide tens of thousands of students with a balanced nonextremist education over the course of a generation.  Which do you think will make us more secure?"
As my son Gabriel heads off to his first day of school next week, I think of how much we take for granted here and how little we understand that while agression is sometimes required that providing opportunities for people to share their beliefs in mutual respectful conditions could do so very much to heal the wounds of 9/11.