The Growing TBR Stack
My copy of Garrett M. Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 arrived yesterday at 4:56 PM. I retrieved it from our front porch where the Amazon Prime driver had dropped it off, and within a few minutes I had taken it out of its shipping packaging – which took some effort, cos that box was hard to open! – and started browsing through it.
As Graff points out in his Author’s Note, The Only Plane in the Sky is not a complete, detailed, or analytical account about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 men, women, and children, an even higher tally than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. There are other accounts that go into the history that led up to the awful horrors of that day, such as The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, and the details of the attack itself, such as the 9/11 Commission Report.
Instead, The Only Plane in the Sky is a collection of eyewitness accounts from eyewitnesses, including astronauts in the International Space Station and survivors of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan that range from first responders who managed to rescue people from the World Trade Center’s North and South towers before they collapsed. (Chillingly, because many of the calls from passengers and crew members aboard the four hijacked planes went to voicemail or were recorded by the call centers of American Airlines and United Airlines, their last phone conversations are part of the oral history as well.)
“We Have Some Planes….”
I only started reading The Only Plane in the Sky last night, and because reading at night makes me drowsy (except on those horrible long nights in which I suffer from insomnia), I did not get far past the chapter about September 10, but I can tell you this much – this book is good but not for the faint-hearted. As I said earlier, the calls from the planes – including the hijackers’ instructions to the passengers to remain in their seats and not resist (the terrorists in the cockpit thought they were on the in-plane public address system and weren’t aware that the air traffic controllers in Boston and New York were hearing them) – are here.
The 2019 book, which was published by the Avid Reader imprint of Simon & Schuster, also has two inserts of color photos, including the famous “Falling Man” image (taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew) of a man, who has never been positively identified, who chose to leap to his death rather than die in the burning North Tower. Also in the inserts are photos of then-President George W. Bush at Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida as he is briefed on the phone about the attacks and Vice President Dick Cheney monitoring events from his desk in Washington DC, as well as screengrabs from security cameras showing the impact of American Flight 77 on Wedge 1 of the Pentagon – screengrabs that show that someone mistakenly set the date on the camera – the date on the images shows as September 12, 2001.
I am, of course, not ready to write a review yet, but so far, The Only Plane in the Sky looks like it’s a well-done if a perhaps heartbreaking snapshot of a day that shaped the world in which we live today in too many ways to contemplate. It’s not for the faint of heart or for conspiracy theorists, though. You have been warned.
Observations on (Conservative) Perceptions of the Future
I have, as of late, been rereading The Third World War: August 1985, a “speculative fiction” book published in Great Britain and the United States in 1978 and written by several authors led by General Sir John Hackett, a World War II veteran and – in the postwar years – commander of the British Army of the Rhine, his country’s main force in Germany and a component of NATO’s Northern Army Group (NORTHAG).
I first came across The Third World War in 1980, when I checked the hardcover book out from either the Dade County Public Library system or the library at South Miami High. At the time, I had mixed feelings about the book; I liked the conceit that it was a book published in London in 1987 and that it was supposed to be a historical account of World War III rather than a novel a la Alas, Babylon or books that would come later, such as Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising or Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee.
However, when I read it as a high school sophomore, I usually skimmed through the “buildup to the war” chapters because – at the time, anyway – the political and economic elements of history (especially military history) did not have much appeal for me.
Now that I’m reading this at a time when I’m pushing 60 and I’m more educated than I was 42 years ago, I do read the chapters that examine how the authors, all of them Brits, all of them over the age of 50, and all either ex-military, government officials, or journalists who covered economic and political “beats” for the British press, perceived the world of 1984 when they conceived and wrote The Third World War in late 1977.
Of course, the biggest event in their vision of 1984-1985 – a major war in Europe started by Russia (then the cockpit of the larger Soviet Union) – never came to pass (at least, not in the way they imagined, nor at the time they predicted). Nor did President Jimmy Carter win re-election in 1980 and serve as President until noon on January 20, 1985, although he was replaced by a 40th President who was a former Republican governor with tough anti-Communist views as the book predicted.
I’m still shaking my head, though, at some of the notions that Sir John and his collaborators had about how countries in the Third World would interact with each other as well as the two superpowers between 1977 and 1984. In their scenario for The Third World War, by 1984:
- India had broken apart into a bunch of separate nation states
- Several countries in southern Africa united to make war against South Africa, which itself had broken into several quarreling nations
- Jamaica went communist and replaced Cuba as the main threat of Communist expansion in Latin America and even Africa
- China and Japan banded together in a powerful alliance
- The Soviet Union retained its old guard of Marxist-Leninist leaders and became even more aggressive than during Stalin’s 29-year rule in the Kremlin
I’m a guy who, despite being more liberal than I used to be – thank you, post-1996 Republicans, for that! – is aware that having a strong and effective military is better than having a smaller, less capable one. I also believe that defense spending is important (if perhaps expensive), so I agree with the authors of The Third World War: August 1985 and its 1982 sequel, The Third World War: The Untold Story, when they argue that if you want peace, prepare for war. And although it is true that deterrence fails in cases where one side – like Russia in Ukraine, for instance – thinks the opposition is weak and victory is therefore assured, having a well-equipped military force with good leadership, motivated personnel, and realistic training often wins wars, at least conventional ones.
That having been said, I must admit that I roll my eyes – in 2022 – at the book’s alarmist views regarding Jamaica and Africa. Apparently, the writers, who as I said earlier were all white men in their late 50s and early 60s and saw the world from the perspective of post-Imperial Brits who were probably still grieving for the days when the “sun never set on the British Empire” – thought that the Third World would be far more susceptible to anti-colonial resentments stoked by Soviet propaganda and start a lot of wars that would somehow lead to a Third World War.
This kind of thinking simply confirms my belief – based on my observations about how American right-wingers see life – that conservatism is basically a fear-based world view, and that many of its proponents and powerful supporters (such as Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Robert Mercer and his daughter, and Charles Koch, for instance) promote it because it allows them control large segments of the population by stoking fears, encouraging anger, and belittling liberals, minority groups, and – especially – squashing women’s aspirations for reproductive freedom and social equality.
I’m not a person of color, but I represent two minorities (Hispanics and disabled), so I am sensitive to the fears and prejudices many conservatives have. As such, I think that many of the wars predicted by The Third World War but that thankfully never occurred were conjured up partly because the authors, no matter how noble their intentions were when they wrote the duology, thought that many African and Asian nations might inadvertently contribute to global war because they’d be easily goaded into it by the Soviets and their Cuban allies.
This doesn’t mean I hate The Third World War duology or its now-dead principal authors, but I do find it sad that I now detect more fearmongering than necessary within the covers of these two late Cold War works of speculative fiction. The military aspects of both volumes are still attractive, and if you’ve read any of my posts about M1 Tank Platoon, Cold Waters, or the more recent Regiments, you know I am fascinated with Cold War-turned-hot scenarios. It’s just a bit sad to see just how fear-based some of the conservative mindset was and still is.
 While I am glad that I will more than likely make it to 60 and even 65, I am saddened that this will be another “landmark birthday” – the first being my 55th birthday in 2018 – that I will observe without either my mom or my older half-sister present. I miss the former, but not the latter, yet I am vexed that my half-sibling’s mental health issues and Machiavellian ways led to our estrangement. Of course, she says similar things about me and refuses to admit that her personality – not to mention her actions over the past 50 years – caused the estrangement in the first place.
 Si vis Pacem, para bellum.
 Unconventional, asymmetric conflicts such as Vietnam and Afghanistan, show that even the best military forces can be defeated by a determined enemy fighting on its home ground and with more dedication than, say, the Americans and other Western nations who fought in Southwest and Southeast Asia in three different wars. Russia, of course, also experienced defeat in Afghanistan during the Cold War, and it is likely going to experience another defeat in Ukraine, at least in the long run.
2 thoughts on “On Books & Reading: An Oral History of 9/11, and Observations About ‘The Third World War’ Duology”
Yeah, I don’t see the Jamaica thing happening at all, and Africa is so fractured even without white interference it would be a stretch.
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Even in the 1980s, when I read the duology (I think I read the 1982 book in its entirety because I was familiar with the faux history book conceit and a bit more patient about the non-“action scene’ bits), I thought, “What? Jamaica? Communist?”
I mean, okay, it could have happened; Grenada, after all, did try going Marxist for a while. But it was such a remote possibility that it just stretched credulity.
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