“We’re going to rush the hijackers.”

Two years ago I wrote this:

The only part of the American national security establishment that successfully defended America on 9/11 was the portion of the reserve militia on board Flight 93, acting without orders, without hierarchy, without uniforms or weapons, by spontaneous organization and action.

The lesson I derived:

Bottom-up, inductive, spontaneous self-organization is the essence of America.

After a decade I can say we have wasted a decade failing to learn from that lesson.

We had better do better over the next decade.

“Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”

A minute by minute narrative of Flight 93, done as tweets today, is here. Scroll from the bottom. Very much worth reading.

My recollection of the day was in a comment here, written on September 11, 2004 — below the fold. It is funny how after ten years I had forgotten some of the details I had remembered three years later. You can say “we will never forget” but your brain fades away, and you forget whether you want to or not.

The weather this morning was exactly like the day ten years ago: Clear, warm, blue skies.

God bless America.


I was standing in my kitchen, running late, getting ready to head out the door. We had the radio on when the reports started coming in. No TV. Thank God. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Oak Park. Kids were playing in the yard. I just paced up and down in the kitchen as the news reports came in. My wife said to me, you are not surprised and I said I wasn’t. I remember thinking, how in the Hell are they going to repair the damage of a jetliner-sized hole, then the first tower fell. Len Walter on WBBM, the business reporter, was reporting all morning, I remember. My wife tends toward being a pacifist. I said something like, this is like the Vietcong going global, and I asked her will you support it when we retaliate, when we find out who did this? She said, I remember it like if was five minutes ago: “the Vietcong never fucking attacked New York.” Right on.

Sometime after the second plane hit, Jonathan calls me. He says something like, “well they got us”, and I said something like, “yeah, the fucking bastards got us.” Neither of us was surprised. The method was a surprise, but we had both been saying that the USA was living in a dreamworld and that we were overdue for a massive terrorist attack. I expected an Oklahoma City type of bombing, maybe. I also had long thought I’d get to work one day and find out Lower Manhattan had just been leveled with a nuclear bomb. That may yet happen.

I remember praying to God, “grant that we will find and destroy the people who did this. Grant that we will find and thwart and stop the people who did this. Not vengeance. No vengeance. I don’t want vengeance. You judge their souls. That’s your business. I don’t care about that. No. Justice. Only justice. Give us justice. Make us instruments of your justice.” Along those lines, over and over, and praying for the people being incinerated, the people who’d been snuffed out in an instant on board the planes, the people falling and dying smashed on the pavement, the people going into the buildings to rescue others and being crushed under countless falling tons of steel and cement.

I didn’t go to work that day.


Todd Beamer:

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16 thoughts on ““We’re going to rush the hijackers.””

  1. You can split politics in America between those believe this, and those that don’t:

    “Bottom-up, inductive, spontaneous self-organization is the essence of America”

  2. Mr. Beamer led the only successful counterattack on the day.

    He got up that day an ordinary citizen, and within a few hours, without notice, he was a frontline soldier defending America.

    He and those with him succeeded.

    There should be a statue of him in DC.

  3. Self-0rganizing, bottom-up, in our local communities, depending on our personal connections with others. I believe over all, it is the only way that we can save ourselves, in an immediate emergency, and long-term as well.
    We, the people.

  4. That morning I had an appointment with a seamstress in downtown New Orleans. We were selecting fabric for my next Mardi Gras costume. Then the Catholic love of life was overshadowed by the Islamic love of death.

    A few days later you found your voice and e-mailed a call to arms entitled “Declare war, state aims.” I wish I still had it.

  5. Don’t forget those who sacrificed themselves so so many others could live. So many more could have died on that day without their efforts. If Beamer was offense, they were defense.

    All the emergency personnel and Rick Rescorla

  6. I will never forget Rick Rescorla or the others who rescued people. But Beamer and the other passengers actually struck during the attack and took 1/4 of the enemy force out. Further, that fourth plane was headed to the National Capital or the White House. Either of those would have been symbolic victories far beyond what the other three planes accomplished. The attackers had their priorities wrong. The first planes should have hit DC. The WTC was a valuable building, and the lives of the people in the buildings were priceless. But their symbolic value was not the highest the enemy could have targeted. Fortunately they under-informed as well as evil.

  7. Yes, and let us be thankful that the assassins were ignorant that that Tuesday was an election day and a number of people stopped off to vote and reported to work late – their civic duty thus saving their lives.

  8. “The first planes should have hit DC. The WTC was a valuable building, and the lives of the people in the buildings were priceless. But their symbolic value was not the highest the enemy could have targeted. Fortunately they under-informed as well as evil.”

    Wasn’t the planning such that all 4 targets would have been struck at very nearly the same time, had the planes all departed on time? I believe that Flight 93 was significantly delayed–isn’t that correct? (Also, it’s been my personal belief since the first few days after 9/11 that the plane that hit the Pentagon was supposed to hit the White House but couldn’t find it. This is based on the actual flight path it took over DC, where it flew over the Pentagon, towards the Capitol where it turned around, flew back to the Pentagon, and dove nearly straight down, a path that makes no sense if the Pentagon was the target unless you think they just wanted to get some last minute sight-seeing in).

  9. Just confirmed my memory on wikipedia–93 was delayed for 42 minutes, plus the hijackers waited 15 minutes longer after takeoff before striking than the other groups had.

  10. All future 9/11 style hijackings were already prevented a few weeks after the incident by the following changes.
    1. Pilots changed their procedure from cooperating with a hijacker to prevent violence, to resisting them to keep control ov the plane.
    2. Passengers and flight crew did the same.
    3. Once the cockpit door was hardened, and pilots armed, even if hijackers somehow overcome everybody and took over the passengers, they could still not get control of the plane.

    Once these changes were made, we had already ensured that a future 9/11 could not occur. TSA was completely unecessary. And the idiotic procedures put in place to prevent things like the shoe bomber, and the underwear bomber were completely overboard, from a cost vs risk perspective. Those incidents could have killed passengers, or even crashed the plane, if successful, but could never have led to a loss of control of the plane, and thus still would not have been another 9/11. Better to just stop with the 3 changes described above, scrap the TSA, and all the searches added since then, and simply accept things like the underwear bomber threat as a standard risk of air travel.

  11. “3. Once the cockpit door was hardened, and pilots armed…”

    I wasn’t aware that pilots had won the argument that they should be armed. If, as you say, they did then I’m glad to hear that.

  12. Arming of airline pilots is at the pilot’s option, as part of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program. Apparently TSA has not been very supportive of this program, and for at least some airlines, attendance at the required class is at the pilot’s own personal expense.

    The Airline Pilots Security Alliance says:

    Unfortunately, the Transportation Security Administration obstructed the FFDO Program by discouraging thousands of volunteer pilots, and disqualifying hundreds of others. Pilots who are former federal agents, police officers, firearms instructors and military pilots have been told they are not qualified. Rules requiring armed pilots to carry weapons in locked containers, an onerous application bureaucracy, little support for international flight protection, and lack of leadership or management support, cause 50,000 pilots to now avoid the FFDO program.

    So, years after 9/11, only a small percentage of our pilots have been armed against terrorists, in an environment where a terrorist has a 95% chance of successfully passing a weapon through airport screening or carrying a lethal weapon on board legally.

    I personally think that for “heavy” aircraft–those capable of doing maximum damage to a target on the ground–an armed Captain and First Officer should be required, not optional.

  13. The FFDO program is very effective, even considering the road blocks thrown up by the TSA and Homeland Security. The fact that only a small percentage of pilots are armed at any one time throws an element of risk into the equation making any potential hijackers think twice. I agree that the TSA should be dismantled and we should all accept the risk of “living in today’s world”. TSA airport screeners have done nothing except taken away liberties that have been hard fought for in the past.

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