I apologize for this detour from our exploration of entrepreneurial issues, but this anniversary of my complete confusion is one that I continue to observe, still attempting almost a decade later to make sense of it.
I am old enough to remember what I was doing when I learned that John Kennedy had been assassinated. I was in kindergarten playing at a friend’s house when his Mother sent me home. My Mother accused me of misbehaving until I convinced her to turn on the television with my wild story of an assassination.
I suppose I will always remember the morning of September 11, 2001 as well. Terrible events are emotionally salient. I recounted my memories last year in “Take a minute to recall 8 years ago,” I won’t do so again this year.
After my grandfather died my father remarked to me that his memories of him were formed from pictures of him. William Gibson wrote in “Dead Man Sings” that “Time moves in one direction, memory another: we create artifacts to counter the natural flow of forgetting.” I think my memories of key events are mediated by flickering video images:
- Six pixels are turning on and off inside a small oval shape on an ultrasound monitor marking a child’s heartbeat; two weeks the small oval shape’s color remains constant: miscarriage.
- Two unbelievably large buildings collapse that I was certain would outlast me. I keep thinking I will wake up and find I have fallen asleep reading the latest Tom Clancy novel. The Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” is coming into crystal sharp focus.
In “Lesser Sons of Greater Fathers” I wrote
There was a mindfulness in Silicon Valley after 9/11 and the dotcom crash that I miss. I don’t miss the terrible turmoil and the anxiety and the 25% contraction in employment, but I do miss the mindfulness. I remember attending a Churchill Club program “Beyond the Bubble: the Future of Technology and Investing” that was held on September 20, 2001; it was a little over a week since 9/11 and there was a minute of silence to memorialize the dead that lent a candor to the program that followed. Edward Howe has observed that “a good scare is worth more to a man than good advice” and that was true in late 2001 and 2002 in Silicon Valley.
I will end with three quotes in an effort to summarize what I think I have learned from today’s period of reflection.
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“There is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne in “The Scarlet Letter, Chapter V Hester at Her Needle“
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“Now I am resigned, in advance, to the loss of an American city by a nuclear weapon. The End of the World now looks like a comic-book premise, a Heston-movie conceit. We feared it would all be gone in a day, our world upended like an Etch-A-Sketch. What we never considered was a long, slow war, a conflict that burned and sputtered, skittered from one spot on the map to the other.”
James Lileks writing on September 11, 2003
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“The United States is a global power and, as such, it must have a global view. It has interests and challenges beyond this region and certainly beyond Afghanistan. The issue there is not whether the United States can or can’t win, however that is defined. The issue is whether it is worth the effort considering what is going on in the rest of the world. Gen. David Petraeus cast the war in terms of whether the United States can win it. That’s reasonable; he’s the commander. But American strategy has to ask another question: What does the United States lose elsewhere while it focuses on the future of Kandahar?
The 9/11 attack shocked the United States and made counterterrorism the centerpiece of American foreign policy. That is too narrow a basis on which to base U.S. foreign policy. It is certainly an important strand of that policy, and it must be addressed, but it should be addressed through the regional balance of power. It is the good fortune of the United States that the Islamic world is torn by internal rivalries.
This is not dismissing the threat of terror. It is recognizing that the United States has done well in suppressing it over the past nine years but at a cost in other regions, a cost that can’t be sustained indefinitely and a cost that could well result in challenges more threatening than a rising Islamist militancy. The United States must now settle into a long-term strategy of managing terrorism as best as it can while not neglecting the rest of its interests.
After nine years, the issue is not what to do in Afghanistan but how the global power can return to managing all of its global interests, along with the war on al Qaeda.”
George Friedman “9/11 and the 9-Year War” (republished with permission of STRATFOR)
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