What President Bush has called the first war of the twenty-first century has much in common with the great wars of the century just past. Now, as then, the root of the carnage lies in radical discontent with modern industrial society, a hydra-headed historical phenomenon that is well described as the Industrial Counterrevolution.
Two millennia before the World Trade Center soared over the New York skyline, another creation of commerce served the same purpose of peace and prosperity and faced the same threats from thugs. The Silk Road, an ancient highway recently celebrated in Yo-Yo Ma's music and recreated on the Mall in Washington, D.C. by the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in the summer of 2002, started as a series of trade links in the sixth century B.C., stretching all the way from Babylon (near Baghdad in present-day Iraq) to Xian (in central China).
The terrorist attacks of September 11 showed us good and evil, heroism and villainy. There were people who stared death in the face and, setting fear aside, did what they thought needed doing. Firefighters and policemen strode into burning buildings to save lives. Passengers attacked armed hijackers with their bare hands. And the hijackers steadfastly flew stolen airliners into their targets at the price of certain death. Given this basic similarity, why were some acclaimed as martyrs and heroes while others were deplored as fanatics and villains? Is the only difference whether the moral assessment emanates from New York City or from Kandahar?
Awakening on the morning of September 11, 2001, we Americans were proud, happy, and confident. We knew ourselves to be the only Superpower—the world's economic colossus, the global center of culture, the planet's most potent military force. We thought these things made us invulnerable. We know differently now. 
Most of us still find it impossible to grasp the destruction of the World Trade Center. It was real, we saw it, but it does not belong in any reality we can understand. We saw the airliners, full of people who might have been us, streak incomprehensibly toward the walls of steel and glass. We saw them morph into fireballs that trapped thousands of people, working at their desks on a routine morning, in an inferno that killed most of them. We saw the shimmering towers collapse, and the towers of volcanic smoke that rose to take their place in the New York skyline.


Donate to The Atlas Society

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please consider making a donation. Our digital channels garner over 1 million views per year. Your contribution will help us to achieve and maintain this impact.

× Close Window
Anthem Slider

Newsletter Signup

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive the most recent news and articles directly to your inbox.