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Mark Twain's Wisdom Meets 9/11

09/13/2007 12:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I'm always amazed at the subjects the writer Sam Clemens (aka Mark Twain) tackled in his 19th Century life.

He died in 1910 at age 74, yet he had what today would be considered progressive thoughts on everything from religious hypocrites (he wasn't a fan) to medical testing on innocent animals (ditto.)

I was thinking about Twain's universalism while listening to the congressional testimony of General Petraeus this week, doing his honorable best to justify Bush's Folly. Here we are, bogged down in the middle of a U.S.-triggered civil war in Iraq in which we've handed the government of Iraq to one side (Shiite) while arming the other side (Sunni), where we've been for almost six years now (longer than either World War), with almost 4,000 dead and another 27,000 maimed for life, at a cost of $10 billion a month, and this is all because of nothing more than.......unfortified cockpit doors.

Twain, from 1894:

"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more."

Think of it: if only the cockpit doors on our airliners had been fortified (as Israeli airliners have been for decades), the twin towers would be standing today. Almost 3,000 American civilians would still be alive, the 19 hijackers behind bars. We'd have rightly gone after their leader bin Laden, and with a serious effort (which we never had) we'd have gotten him, too.

The averted tragedy -- involving four simultaneously hijacked passenger jets on a clear blue autumn morning -- would have been quite the "wake-up call" for our country and, indeed, for the entire civilized world. A reasoned and multilateral approach to worldwide terrorism would have followed, and we would not have decided to overthrow and then occupy a major Middle Eastern country.

Instead, the planes were easily commandeered and the rest is history.

We were all shell-shocked, of course, but 9/11 didn't "change everything," and it wasn't inevitable, either. Those who say so merely seek to justify the continuing fiasco.

Sure, something may well happen again, but not that particular nightmare, and certainly not done that particular way. It was a once-in-200-years act of terrorism on our soil that wouldn't have happened if the cockpits were secured.

From that kernal of truth and wisdom, George Bush ignored Twain's admonition and orchestrated a campaign to convince us that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were somehow the key to it all. Meanwhile, the congress and the daily mainstream media acted largely as enablers.

Bush famously told the writer Bob Woodward that he didn't consult his own father about Iraq. A pity, because it can be helpful to revisit the thoughts of our elders. Mark Twain continues to speak from the beyond. Here he is near the end of his life:

"And now the whole nation -- pulpit and all -- will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."