The would-be kamikaze of 9/11

The passengers on Flight 93 rose up against the hijackers, who crashed the plane in a Pennsylvania field rather than the White House or whatever their target was.  We now know that if that hadn’t happened, the military was prepared to take down the airliner, passengers at all.  But it was even worse than that.  Incredibly, the available jet fighters were not armed.  Two pilots scrambled to take down the airliner in a kamikaze attack.  One of the suicide pilots was a woman.  She told her story, after a decade of silence, to the WashingtonPost:

Late in the morning of the Tuesday that changed everything, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney was on a runway at Andrews Air Force Base and ready to fly. She had her hand on the throttle of an F-16 and she had her orders: Bring down United Airlines Flight 93. The day’s fourth hijacked airliner seemed to be hurtling toward Washington. Penney, one of the first two combat pilots in the air that morning, was told to stop it.

The one thing she didn’t have as she roared into the crystalline sky was live ammunition. Or missiles. Or anything at all to throw at a hostile aircraft.

Except her own plane. So that was the plan.

Because the surprise attacks were unfolding, in that innocent age, faster than they could arm war planes, Penney and her commanding officer went up to fly their jets straight into a Boeing 757.

“We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft,” Penney recalls of her charge that day. “I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.”

For years, Penney, one of the first generation of female combat pilots in the country, gave no interviews about her experiences on Sept. 11 (which included, eventually, escorting Air Force One back into Washington’s suddenly highly restricted airspace).

But 10 years later, she is reflecting on one of the lesser-told tales of that endlessly examined morning: how the first counterpunch the U.S. military prepared to throw at the attackers was effectively a suicide mission. . . .

On that Tuesday, they had just finished two weeks of air combat training in Nevada. They were sitting around a briefing table when someone looked in to say a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. When it happened once, they assumed it was some yahoo in a Cesna. When it happened again, they knew it was war.

But the surprise was complete. In the monumental confusion of those first hours, it was impossible to get clear orders. Nothing was ready. The jets were still equipped with dummy bullets from the training mission.

As remarkable as it seems now, there were no armed aircraft standing by and no system in place to scramble them over Washington. Before that morning, all eyes were looking outward, still scanning the old Cold War threat paths for planes and missiles coming over the polar ice cap.“There was no perceived threat at the time, especially one coming from the homeland like that,” says Col. George Degnon, vice commander of the 113th Wing at Andrews. “It was a little bit of a helpless feeling, but we did everything humanly possible to get the aircraft armed and in the air. It was amazing to see people react.”

Things are different today, ­Degnon says. At least two “hot-cocked” planes are ready at all times, their pilots never more than yards from the cockpit.

A third plane hit the Pentagon, and almost at once came word that a fourth plane could be on the way, maybe more. The jets would be armed within an hour, but somebody had to fly now, weapons or no weapons.

“Lucky, you’re coming with me,” barked Col. Marc Sasseville.

They were gearing up in the pre-flight life-support area when Sasseville, struggling into his flight suit, met her eye.

“I’m going to go for the cockpit,” Sasseville said.

She replied without hesitating.

“I’ll take the tail.”

It was a plan. And a pact.

Penney had never scrambled a jet before. Normally the pre-flight is a half-hour or so of methodical checks. She automatically started going down the list.

“Lucky, what are you doing? Get your butt up there and let’s go!” Sasseville shouted.

She climbed in, rushed to power up the engines, screamed for her ground crew to pull the chocks. The crew chief still had his headphones plugged into the fuselage as she nudged the throttle forward. He ran along pulling safety pins from the jet as it moved forward.

She muttered a fighter pilot’s prayer — “God, don’t let me [expletive] up” — and followed Sasse­ville into the sky.

They screamed over the smoldering Pentagon, heading northwest at more than 400 mph, flying low and scanning the clear horizon. Her commander had time to think about the best place to hit the enemy.

“We don’t train to bring down airliners,” said Sasseville, now stationed at the Pentagon. “If you just hit the engine, it could still glide and you could guide it to a target. My thought was the cockpit or the wing.”

He also thought about his ejection seat. Would there be an instant just before impact?

“I was hoping to do both at the same time,” he says. “It probably wasn’t going to work, but that’s what I was hoping.”

Penney worried about missing the target if she tried to bail out.

“If you eject and your jet soars through without impact . . .” she trails off, the thought of failing more dreadful than the thought of dying.

But she didn’t have to die. She didn’t have to knock down an airliner full of kids and salesmen and girlfriends. They did that themselves.

It would be hours before Penney and Sasseville learned that United 93 had already gone down in Pennsylvania, an insurrection by hostages willing to do just what the two Guard pilots had been willing to do: Anything. And everything.

via F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on Sept. 11 – The Washington Post.

This is disturbing in SO many ways! Like what?

The 9/11 attacks ten years later

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. So we need to observe the occasion. And yet I find myself experiencing grief fatigue, outrage fatigue, war fatigue. I wish we could get beyond 9/11, put it behind us. Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, could we downgrade from threat level orange and keep our shoes on in the airport? I do realize we must remain ever vigilant because the threat remains. And I do agree that we should never forget what happened, honoring those who died, those who helped the victims, and the soldiers that enacted our national retribution. Still, I can’t help my post 9/11 exhaustion.

So where do we stand 10 years after the attacks?

Has “everything changed,” as was widely said at the time?

Does it take an attack like that to give us a sense of national unity? Why didn’t that last longer than it did?

What is the big picture, historical, and cultural impact of those plane crashes?

One legacy of 9/11: More interfaith services

Ecumenical News International reports that the number of interfaith worship services–that is, those in which people of different religions worshipped together (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.)–have doubled since the 9/11 attacks:

Interfaith worship services have doubled in the decade since the 11 September attacks, according to a new study released 7 September, even as more than seven in 10 U.S. congregations do not associate with other faiths.

The survey by an interfaith group of researchers found that about 14 percent of U.S. congregations surveyed in 2010 engaged in a joint religious celebration with another faith tradition, up from 6.8 percent in 2000, Religion News Service reports.

Interfaith community service grew nearly threefold, with 20.4 percent of congregations reporting participation in 2010, up from 7.7 percent in 2000, according to the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership. After the attacks, “Islam and Islamics’ presence in the United States (became) visible in a way that you couldn’t ignore,” said David A. Roozen, one of the report’s authors and the director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

National Muslim groups tried to build bridges to other faiths, who in turn “reached out in new ways to be neighborly,” he said. Reform Jewish congregations led the way, with two-thirds participating in interfaith worship and three-quarters involved in interfaith community service.

The largest percentage of interfaith-worshipping congregations (20.6 percent) was in the Northeast, which is home to a disproportionate percentage of more liberal mainline Protestant churches. About 17 percent of interfaith-worshipping congregations are in a big city or older suburb, where greater diversity makes interfaith activity more likely.

The study implies that the more liberal a congregation, the greater likelihood for interfaith activity. Approximately half of Unitarian Universalist congregations held interfaith worship services, and three in four participated in interfaith community service. By contrast, among more conservative Southern Baptist churches, only 10 percent participated in interfaith community service, and five percent in interfaith worship.

The study shows most of the 11,077 congregations surveyed reported no interfaith activity, a finding that troubled the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Washington-based Interfaith Alliance. “The reality in our nation now is we have a major problem with Islamophobia, and that fear is being fed by people in large enough numbers that we need probably ten times as many people involved in interfaith discussions and actions,” Gaddy said.

via Paul McCain: Interfaith Worship on the Rise Since 9/11 | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

But if we have a major problem with Islamophobia, why the growing popularity of Christians worshipping with Muslims?  The bigger question is surely, why the vogue of interfaith, syncretistic worship in the aftermath of 9/11?  Do any of you have an explanation?

Why there shouldn’t be clergy at Ground Zero

That Mayor Bloomberg is not inviting clergy to participate in the ten year anniversary events marking the 9/11 anniversary has provoked not a little outrage.  But Lutheran pastor William Cwirla presents a contrary view:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned clergy from participating in this year’s 9/11 memorial events at Ground Zero. Good for him! He’ll save us all a bunch of post-9/11ecumenical hangover headaches on Monday. As far as I’m concerned, clergy are best neither seen nor heard in the public square. And I’m one of them.

What makes clergy “clergy” is their appointment to serve their “faith communities” as we like to call them. Pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams and the like represent their various religious bodies and teach their various religions to their respective groups. They are public figures within their congregations and circles of influence, not within society at large. At least in this society.

The events of September 1, 2001 were not inherently religious in nature. I know Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and their ilk like to say they were, but they’d find any excuse to bash religion. Yes, the perpetrators were radical fundamentalist Muslims. Yes, they did what they did in part believing they were doing the will of Allah and would be rewarded eternally for their actions. But 9/11 was an attack against the United States of America for its policies and presence in the Middle East. It was not an attack on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or any other religion. In case we’ve forgotten, the targeted buildings were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and presumably, the White House. No cathedrals were harmed in the atrocity.

The reason we get all religious about 9/11 is two-fold, I think. First, it was an enormous, sudden and violent loss of life, property and personal security. The enormity of what happened that day is hard to fathom let alone put into words. I remember that Tuesday vividly and still don’t quite believe it. We were supposed to have our monthly pastors’ meeting. Instead, we planned our services for later that evening. I remember the silence of the skies overhead as planes were grounded. Events of such enormous loss seek enormous answers in a God who is bigger than the enormity of what happened. When really bad things happen, most people get religious. I do. I get that.

Second, we believe in our patriotic heart of hearts that our being American somehow transcends our being Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. That’s not true, though we like to believe it, at least on days other than Sunday. Hence the parade of religions around 9/11. We did it at the first 9/11 event at Yankee Stadium to show the world how we all get along and play nice in this country. It hasn’t always worked out that way since, but we like to pretend, at least when the cameras are rolling.

America’s civil religion has grown increasingly complex and diverse since our formative years when our largely Deist and Christian founding fathers carved out a place for Divine Providence in the public psyche. Ironically, a few of the founding fathers were skeptical atheists too, including notably Thomas Payne and Benjamin Franklin. But they, like the Deist Thomas Jefferson, saw the value of a little religion in public life, so long as it was neutered and kept on a short leash. We like our civic religions tame and domesticated in the public square. But as we who worship the Lion of Judah know, God is never tame or domesticated.

So as a Lutheran clergyman with a firm hold on the proper distinction of the two kingdoms, I say, “Good for you, Mayor Bloomberg.” And thank you for giving all of us clergy a day off from the public square. I’ll be sure to get together with my faith community on Sunday, September 11, as is our custom every Sunday, to hear of Jesus’ victory over Sin and Death and receive the gifts of His Sacrifice for the sin of the world.

And we’ll say a prayer for our country, for the government and those who protect us, including you, Mr. Mayor, as well as for all the nations of the world, for our fellow Christians scattered throughout all the world, for our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and for that peace that the world cannot give.

via Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere – No Clergy at Ground Zero.

9/11 planners to be tried in New York

The mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, as well as four of his other conspirators, will be tried in New York City. The Obama administration has decided to try them in criminal court rather than by a military tribunal in Guantanamo. Do you think this is a good idea?

Consider this:

Mohammed has made clear that he looks to spin an inspiring tale of martyrdom in the cause of God and a victory over a mighty infidel power. At a 2007 military tribunal hearing, he made a 31-point written statement affirming that he was “responsible for the Sept. 11 operation, from A to Z,” that he had “personally decapitated with my blessed right hand” Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and that he had planned future attacks with biological and radiological weapons on behalf of Muslims everywhere “oppressed by America.”

In counterpoint, Mohammed’s attorneys are likely to oppose their client’s guilty plea with evidence of his mistreatment during three years in CIA secret prisons. Interrogators subjected Mohammed 183 times to waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning that until then was universally described as torture by the U.S. and allied governments. Human rights lawyers have asserted that the abuse taints any subsequent confession.