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Je me souviens (lest we forget):
NYC bombings were not unprecedented
by Albert Donnay
September 18, 2001

A little historical perspective, especially for the Americans among us.

I'm both an American and Canadian citizen, and moved to Montreal just before martial law was imposed by Prime Minister Trudeau in 1971 to try to stop the political kidnappings, murders and bombings of the Front for the Liberation of Quebec. It was the first time I ever saw troops with machine guns patrolling city streets. My English high school was often evacuated to the armory next door due to bomb threats, and one day a mail bomb blew up in a mailbox across the street from the main entrance ...

Now, 30 years later, I have seen armed troops on the street again, as they were deployed in downtown Baltimore in front of government buildings immediately after the bombings.

Whether terrorists slaughter innocent civilians one by one, as they did then in Quebec, or by the thousands as they have now in New York, for whatever ideological or military cause, with or without a formal declaration of war, it usually has the same impact on the targeted community -- horrifying them, of course, shocking them from complacency, strengthening their resolve and rallying them to seek revenge. This has been the public response to prior terrorist attacks all over the world -- in the US, Ireland and England, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America. Even the German blitz bombing of London and Coventry and the Allies' fire bombing of Hamburg and Dresden in World War II only boosted the determination of those being bombed to survive and fight on.

Only once in modern history has an entire nation ever surrendered swiftly, completely and without resistance after just two terrorist bombings. These two attacks, like those on the World Trade Center towers, were well planned with great secrecy for years and conducted with military precision. Then too, the selected targets were not military but civilian, and the attacks were timed for weekday mornings (a Monday and a Thursday) so as to kill the maximum number of people in the downtown area just as they were getting to work and school. In both cities, the bomber planes approached alone out of a clear blue sky without warning. And as in New York, both explosions occurred not on the ground but about 1500 feet up.

Those who survived reported seeing a huge fireball, feeling a massive shock wave, and then the day turned dark as a great plume of first thick black and then white smoke filled the sky, visible for dozens of miles. As the cloud rose, a rain of gray ash began to fall which continued for days, just as in New York, coating everything below. Directly under the fireball, people were incinerated and/or blown into tiny bits, while entire blocks of buildings were flattened into a tangled heap of burning rubble. Over 130,000 civilians died in the first explosion. Three days later, over 70,000 died in the second.

Still many survived, although most were horribly burned, wounded and in shock: none had ever seen bombs of this kind or ever imagined that such massive destruction was possible from a single explosion. Their government could not cope with the aftermath and quickly surrendered to all the demands of the terrorists. Half-way around the world, the citizens of the supposedly civilized and democratic country responsible for these unprecedented terrorist attacks upon unarmed civilians--bombings that to this day remain the deadliest single acts of mass murder in the history of humanity--rejoiced when they heard they news. Millions of people literally danced in the streets in celebration. And of course, they thanked their God for his blessing.

All the people involved in making and dropping the bombs were hailed as heroes. None was ever indicted or tried for these war crimes and none ever even apologized. The plane involved was preserved by the bombers and eventually restored and given a place of honor in their national Air and Space Museum. The terrorists were so pleased with the results of their super bombs that they built over 30,000 more of them. They also threatened to use them on many an occasion against civilian targets, great and small, all over the world in order to promote their political ideology. Just like any terrorist weapons, they didn't need to be fired to be used -- only pointed and threatened, with or without a formal declaration of war.

Only twice in the 55 years since these weapons of mass destruction were first used against civilians have grassroots movements arisen in protest, in response to which the terrorists responsible have made some minor concessions. They agreed to stop testing the bombs in the atmosphere and under the sea, and not to deploy them in certain zones. They even eventually agreed to reduce the number of super bombs in their arsenal, but thousands still remain pointed at the civilian cities of their ideological enemies, any one of which, if ever fired, would kill many times more people than died on September 11 in New York and Washington combined.

Most incredibly, even though the survivors of those horrific bombings never forgot what happened (memorial services are still held every year in these two cities on the anniversaries of the bombing), and even though many are still suffering from the bombs' latent effects -- they, generations of their children and even their once so ignominiously defeated and humiliated leaders have learned to live in peace with the terrorists who bombed them. Their governments soon became allies, their economies are now closely intertwined, and they even play baseball together.

Who in September 1945, in the aftermath of those two terrorist bombings that killed over 200,000 civilians, could have ever imagined such a thing?

And who now in September 2001, in the aftermath of terrorist bombings that killed what fortunately appears to be less than 3% of this number, can imagine that Americans might one day be the allies and business partners of the terrorists who just bombed New York and Washington?

Stranger things have happened. I tell this story as the only person on this planet who has met both the only person who flew on both terrorist bombing missions in 1945--an American Air Force navigator--and the only person survived both of these bombings, a Japanese Christian who was living in Hiroshima on August 6 and who in the aftermath, miraculously uninjured, made his way alone to Nagasaki. He thought he would be safe there since it was both the largest Christian city in Japan and, like Hiroshima, unbombed up to that time . But of course it was bombed on August 9, the day after he got there. (Even if you believe that the US decision to drop a uranium bomb on Hiroshima was militarily justifiable as an act of war, the dropping of a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki was clearly nothing more than a science experiment to see if it too could destroy an entire city since the Japanese government had by then already asked to negotiate an end to the war.)

By coincidence, I met both the Japanese survivor and the American navigator in Baltimore: The first became a crystallographer and visited my parents at Johns Hopkins University where they were teaching in the 1960s; the second settled in Baltimore after the war and participated in a heated public debate with me in the 1980s over the morality of nuclear weapons (I was then director of Nuclear Free America). He proudly defended what he'd done and said he'd do it again. I'm sure whoever is responsible for the civilian bombings in New York City would say the same. As for the survivor, he became a devout Christian, believing his life had been saved by God so that he could preach the importance of forgiveness to all the world.

Lest we forget.

-- Albert Donnay Westmount High School Survivor, Class of 1975

(this message may be reposted but not edited without my permission)

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