Flight 93

Thanks to Trent, I was reminded of something that I have always considered to be the most important fact about 9/11, yet which is rarely mentioned in these terms:

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.

Most people don’t even know they are part of the reserve militia.

But the genius of the Founders lives on in this legal category, which recognizes that the ultimate responsibility for the defense of the country rests on and in the people. The standing Army, and the organized militia (National Guard) are the main line of defense, but the people are an army in latent form, the ultimate defense force, as any democratic people should be and must be.

This article, entitled The Militia And The Constitution: A Legal History, is very good. it establishes the deep roots of the militia concept, down to the American founding. Buried in the last footnote, it says:

The United States technically continues to have a national “general” militia, consisting of all able-bodied males between the ages of 17 and 45 years of age who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia. 10 U.S.C. § 311 (West Supp.1989). Likewise, state codes contain provisions establishing general “unorganized” militias. See, e.g., VA. CODE ANN. § 44-1 (Michie Supp.1989). For practical purposes, however, these “organizations” have ceased to play any real role in national defense.

(emphasis added) But look how wrong, how 20th Century, that last comment is. In the era of mass armies, the “practical purposes” of national defense did not have a place for the “reserve militia”. But in an era of scattered, seemingly random, attacks, by terrorists and saboteurs, the only reasonable hope to thwart, contain, defeat and respond to these modern enemies is if the population at large is resilient and mentally and physically prepared — and armed — to respond to the surprise and the initiative of the enemy, as the Flight 93 passengers did. For practical purposes, on 9/11 the “general militia” far from “ceasing” to play a “real role in national defense”, was the only “organization” that successfully played any role in national defense.

(The spontaneous evacution of Manhattan by ship and boat owners was a similar bottom-up response.)

The lessons of 9/11 have been left unlearned for eight years in America.

These lessons contradict most of what people claim to know about America, modernity, and how the world works.

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

It works in all fields when it is allowed to do so.

UPDATE: Jim Bennett wrote to remind me of his observation, “The Era of Osama lasted about an hour and a half or so, from the time the first plane hit the tower to the moment the General Militia of Flight 93 reported for duty.” Jim’s UPI column appears not to be online (why not?), but Mark Steyn quotes him here. We Anglospherists take the long view on these issues.

13 thoughts on “Flight 93”

  1. Lex,
    The above is why you should go read the first half of the strategypage.com piece I linked too:
    “American actions in the war on terror can be better understood if the unique role of the American people in American nationalism is considered. They feel they alone constitute the nation. This is quite contrary to other countries’ nationalism where the “people” are considered one of many domestic factions, and often an illegitimate one (“the rabble”). This distinction arose because the American people have always deemed America’s sovereign power to reside in themselves, while most other nations began their national consciousness with a hereditary monarch expressing the sovereign power. Other peoples identify themselves with their nations. Americans instead identify the nation with themselves, feeling they collectively are the nation.
    Many distinctive American traits grow from these feelings – exaggerated self-reliance and individualism, disdain for elites, self-confidence, etc. The American phenomenon of “populism” is a perfect example – a feeling that factions are illegitimate usurpers of power properly exercised solely by the people through governments which are supposed to be their servants. The American people are rightly confident they collectively can bend their governments, including the national government, to their will when necessary, but don’t hesitate to act on their own, as individuals or in spontaneously formed groups, to address issues as those arise. The unique vitality, power and independence of American local and state governments compared to those of other countries arises from the fact that sovereignty and power reside in the American people collectively and flow from the bottom up.
    These and other consequences of the American people’s role in American nationalism are directly relevant, and critical, to the war on terror. Public willingness to initiate and continue conflicts are in most countries the only arenas within which their peoples can affect their governments’ conduct of hostilities, but not in America. The American people’s proprietary attitude towards their country and in particular, its national government, leads them to additionally demand and get a say in the objectives, scale, scope and ferocity of hostilities. This has been true throughout our history, as well depicted in the American Revolution chapter in Michael Pearlman’s Warmaking and American Democracy.”

  2. Trent, I read it. it is good. Here is the distinction. I am saying that our constitution and our laws are actually wiser than we give them credit for. It is not just a matter of character. It is a matter of structure. Yet we fail to see that the structure we have inherited is far from obsolete, but is more valuable, and applicable, than ever. The era of massive-scale industrialized war is over. Yet we cling to the obsolete “lessons” of that anomalous era, despite the incoming tide of contradictory facts.

    The failure of virtually anyone to grasp the significance of Flight 93 is just one example of this intellectual, and ultimately moral, failure.

  3. >The era of massive-scale industrialized war is over.

    It depends greatly on what you are talking about when you say mass.

    We are fast approaching an era of do it yourself GPS and television seeker cruise missiles that can be built by $10,000 a year American hobbiests.

    The reaction of the BATF to high powered model rocket hobbiests using sun seeking CCD camera’s to assist in recovery of their rockets was something I got to see at the Space Acess Society conferences at the time (Late 1990’s).

    The Science Fiction author John Ringo takes it even farther when he did a pod cast at the future & you blog back in April 2009.


    Topics: Smart missiles smaller than insects; military tanks becoming robots; personal headup displays for soldiers; experiments with brain implants for soldiers; war going open-source; Chinese experiments with warfare in low earth orbit; the never-ending utility of bayonets; the bizarre fact that there is no such thing as a Chinese journalist; and the possibility that we will develop faster than light travel. He also describes his worry that a future teenager huddled in his mother’s basement may write a biological virus which will wipe out all of humanity.

  4. Trent:

    By mass I mean multi-million person armies engaged in Somme- and Kursk-scale conventional battles.

    All the stuff you are describing will require a multi-faceted response.

    But it cannot be top-down, hierarchical and by-the-book.

    If it is, we will die.

    We need a networked, decentralized response, with a lot of responsibility on “first responders” both formal and informal.

    That model of threat and response, oddly enough, looks more like the 18th Century USA than the 20th Century USA.

    So we already better equipped both culturally and to some degree legally / institutionally to face the current threats.

    But too much of what we are doing or trying to do takes us in the wrong direction.

  5. Lex,

    The key component of any American victory in war is the will of the American people.

    The American people are seperate and apart from both our elite leaders and elite political factions.

    Big government Republicans like Bush only see the American people as a factor in general elections to be placated like any other interest group.

    Lefties like the ones controlling the Democratic Party don’t see the American people at all. They are under the thrall of transnational progressivism.

    See this on Republican big government conservatives:

    The Bush Administration and American Nationalism
    by Tom Holsinger
    November 20, 2002

    and see this on the Transie influence on American Leftists:


    Even Paranoids Have Enemies [Mark Krikorian]

    Much of the respectable Right thinks the grassroots concern over a possible North American Union is fever-swamp nonsense, and in some specific cases, that may be true. But there’s no denying the post-Americanism of much of our country’s elite. Latest case in point – Jim Hoagland’s column on Sunday had this advice for Obama:

    Here’s one example of new thinking he should pursue: The United States should apply to relations with hemispheric neighbors many of the lessons of the European Union and its half-century of economic and political integration. A functioning American Union that pools sovereignty is a goal worth introducing now.

    Hoagland is not some academic kook; as a Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter and the Post’s former foreign editor, he’s about as Establishment as you can get. The point is not conspiracy, but worldview – sovereignty really is passe for the upper reaches of our society. This is going to be the central political problem for the rest of our lifetimes. As John Fonte put it in a recent paper, “The struggle for power between transnational progressives and liberal democratic nationalists could go either way, but it will be the main ideological event of the twenty-first century.”


    “Global Governance vs. the Liberal Democratic Nation-State: What Is the Best Regime?”

    by John Fonte


  6. The lessons of 9/11 have been left unlearned for eight years in America.

    These lessons contradict most of what people claim to know about America, modernity, and how the world works.


    Part of the problem is visionary and part is the natural tendency of pols and bureaucrats to resist sharing power. Look at how officialdom in various countries treats people who want to photograph the Brooklyn Bridge or ride their horses near the power plant or whatever. The intelligent response would be to encourage photography and recreation, because the more alert people are around the harder it is for terrorists and saboteurs to do anything. However, the typical response is to try to suppress all independent activity or subject it to centralized control. This alienates the very people who could most readily help the bureaucrats, but it satisfies bureaucratic incentives that favor restriction and centralization.

  7. A fundamental characteristic of “progressives,” and even many old-line liberals, is the inability to understand any kind of spontaneous organization, or to grasp that the largest and most powerful entity is not always the most successful one.

    I have to also note that this deficiency is shared by a fair number of corporate executives, who often count on the “synergy” that will result from an acquisition/merger, not grasping the negative synergies that will almost surely come with it. For instance, if you’re not a very astute designer of organizations (and in some cases even if you are) the addition of mass will also extend the length of the OODA loops and make you more vulnerable to nimbler competitors.

  8. David Foster/

    What you said. The Chrysler-Mercedes
    merger being a classic prime example. The differing corporate “cultures” negating any supposed logistical and/or design “syngeries” that were not only hoped for but built into the very financial projections which served as the entire basis upon which to justify the merger.

  9. In regards the concept of “reserve militia” as exemplified by Flt 93 I have been amused at how those people on the plane who took matters into their own hands are so lionized by the same Press and “establishment” types (in government and out) who sneer at those
    “Minutemen” who have volunteered to serve much the same function at our nations borders, painting them by contrast as radical trigger-happy racists bordering on illegal insurrectionists who threaten both civil peace and authority.

  10. This is an exceptional post. I had not considered this in such a light until reading it.

    All I can add is that I desire to widen the scope beyond mere terror or domestic disturbance. I would consider that as neighbors and fellow citizens, we can train darn near everyone (children, elderly, etc) on basic emergency response thinking and decision-making. When I lived in Everett, WA, I was heartily surprised to see such an endeavor in that community centered around getting everyone willing up to date on basic first aid, what to do in case of a fire, earthquake or volcanic eruption spewing ash in the area. We likely will have more Katrinas, Andrews, terrible wildfires, earthquakes, and terrible disasters from God’s will and that of our enemies.

    The resilience gained in many more citizens having a basic skill set to handle some or most of such matters on an instinct other than “RUN” would be well worth the effort.

    As part my of my schoolwork, I have been reading a good deal about the response of citizens (in this country and beyond) to disasters. While most people do not flip out and instead maintain a good head on their shoulders and do what they can, a great difference can be seen in communities and neighborhoods where such skills were disseminated through the Scouts, Civil Defense Auxiliaries, and similar groups.

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