Now and then a few words -- spontaneous, unrehearsed -- slice through the thickest intellectual smog. For example:
There is someone... Huh? Down, down, down. Sit down ... Please, please, don't hurt me... Down. No more... [Female voice] I don't want to die. I don't want to die. [End female voice] No, no. Down, down, down...
Words like these, from the cockpit of United Flight 93, on September 11, 2001, as played last week for a jury in the Zacarias Moussaoui case -- shall we weigh them against squawks and interjections like "Guantanamo" and "Abu Ghraib" and "Bush lied" and "Where were the WMDs"? We don't have to, of course; but if we don't, what a chance we miss to learn something about the war on terror. And about ourselves.
The war wears on us. Iraq itself wears on us. The weekend found pundits and politicians contemplating whether the president ought to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. On page 12, the day after Easter, The New York Times noted "Iraqi Shiite Factions Struggle to Solve Political Impasse."
Down, down, down...I don't want to die. I don't want to die.
The language on the cockpit tape is, on the one hand, the language of malice, hatred and pitilessness; and, on the other hand, the language of defeat and despair.
I don't want to die.
Think the terrorists care? Think individuals of this ilk so much as acknowledge the humanity of their victims? The terrorists see naught but metal ducks passing from left to right in their shooting gallery. Ping! Ping! One more! Got another! Or, as one of the cockpit captors put it subtly, as he and his comrades drove Flight 93 to its destruction, "Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest..."
Moussaoui deepened the spectral darkness with his courtroom throwaway-line to the effect that none of the sufferings heard on the tape, certainly not the agony of the doomed, moved him in the least.
The stinking, lousy son of a... let that go, nevertheless. A more urgent point is on the table, whether Moussaoui goes to the death chamber or to a maximum-security prison cell for life.
The point is that half the time nowadays we seem to take our eye off the ball -- or the target -- in the war on terror, finding more time to discuss the who-leaked-what, cryptic document than the beastliness of a clique that has pledged to destroy the (corrupt, immoral, infidel, you name it) West, with maximum loss of life. Millions -- why shouldn't they kill millions of us?