"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
United Kingdom, Former MP Michael Meacher in the Guardian
Far too little attention has focused on why the U.S. went to war … We now know that a blueprint for the creation of a global Pax Americana was drawn up … in September 2000 by the neoconservative think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC).
The plan shows Bush’s cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power … It describes peacekeeping missions as “demanding American political leadership rather than that of the U.N.” … Finally — written a year before 9/11 — it pinpoints North Korea, Syria and Iran as dangerous regimes, and says their existence justifies the creation of a “worldwide command and control system”.
It is clear the U.S. authorities did little or nothing to pre-empt the events of 9/11. It is known that at least 11 countries provided advance warning to the U.S. of the 9/11 attacks … In 1999 a U.S. national intelligence council report noted that “al-Qaida suicide bombers could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA, or the White House”.
All of this makes it all the more astonishing — on the war on terrorism perspective — that there was such slow reaction on September 11 itself. The first hijacking was suspected at not later than 8.20am, and the last hijacked aircraft crashed in Pennsylvania at 10.06am. Not a single fighter plane was scrambled to investigate from the U.S. Andrews airforce base, just 10 miles from Washington DC, until after the third plane had hit the Pentagon at 9.38 am. Why not? There were standard FAA intercept procedures for hijacked aircraft before 9/11…
Given this background, it is not surprising that some have seen the U.S. failure to avert the 9/11 attacks as creating an invaluable pretext for attacking Afghanistan in a war that had clearly already been well planned in advance. There is a possible precedent for this. The U.S. national archives reveal that President Roosevelt used exactly this approach in relation to Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 … Similarly the PNAC blueprint of September 2000 states that the process of transforming the U.S. into “tomorrow’s dominant force” is likely to be a long one in the absence of “some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor”. The 9/11 attacks allowed the U.S. to press the “go” button for a strategy in accordance with the PNAC agenda which it would otherwise have been politically impossible to implement.
Israel, Robert S. Wistrich in Haaretz
The Islamic terrorists who shattered the Twin Towers in Manhattan on 9/11 two years ago laid out a potentially terrifying road-map for the 21st century…
The fashionable explanations in the predominantly secular West for such suicide terrorism, which we have been hearing ever since 9/11, relate to poverty, oppression, despair and/or religious delirium. These all clearly miss the point. The young Saudis who provided most of the suicide bombers were certainly not impoverished and they had never lived under foreign occupation. They were well-educated, familiar with the West and in their own way, sophisticated. By ignoring their ideology, one is simply guaranteeing that the war against terror will fail to achieve what must surely be one of its most important objectives, to win the hearts and minds of more moderate Muslims.
The 11th of September was, of course, a blow against America and its symbolic citadels of power: Wall Street and the Pentagon. But the violent anti-Americanism which the mass murder expressed was also strongly colored by antisemitism, largely suppressed at the time by the Western media and downplayed ever since. Even in Israel there is insufficient awareness — despite the suicide bombings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — of how closely linked terror, “holy war” and genocidal antisemitism have really become.
For Mohammed Atta, the Egyptian mastermind of 9/11, it was self-evident that the Jews control the global media, international finance and the politics of the infidel West … The dream of Atta and many other Islamists was to create a Muslim theocracy from the Nile to the Euphrates, “liberated” from any Jewish presence. To achieve this goal, the al-Qaida fanatics based in Hamburg struck at New York City, the “center of world Jewry” and the “Jewish-controlled” international financial system. In this ideological sense, they showed themselves to be direct heirs of Hitler and his genocidal mind-set. The failure of so many people, including Americans, Jews and Israelis, to grasp this crucial fact about the motivations for 9/11 is a stunning example of how little has been learned from history.
Russia, Matt Bivens in the Moscow Times
In all the justifiable rage that swept America in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, we made some bad decisions. Two years later, they remain with us, like hangovers so miserable they demand we just keep drinking.
Consider the Sept. 28, 2001, op-ed column “Talk Later,” in which The New York Times foreign affairs expert Thomas Friedman enthused about having President Vladimir Putin on America’s side in the “war on terror” — because now we could enlist the Russian mafia.
“If Osama bin Laden were hiding in the jungles of Colombia instead of Afghanistan, whose help would we enlist to find him? U.S. Army Special Forces? The Colombian Army? I don’t think so,” Friedman wrote.
“Actually, we would enlist the drug cartels. They have the three attributes we need: They know how to operate as a covert network and how to root out a competing network, such as Mr. bin Laden’s. They can be bought and know how to buy others. And they understand that when we say we want someone ‘dead or alive,’ we mean ‘dead or dead.’
“The Cali cartel doesn’t operate in Afghanistan. But the Russian mafia sure does … Something tells me Mr. Putin, the Russian president and former KGB spymaster, has the phone number of the guy in the Russian mafia who knows the guy in the Afghan cartels who knows the guy who knows the guy who knows where Mr. bin Laden is hiding.”
How clever. Never mind that Putin and his Rolodex have for years been unable to find the guy who can find the guy who can find anything in Chechnya — a patch of mud and mountains 1/33rd the size of Afghanistan.
Instead, all Putin & Co. could ever think to do was bomb, kill, bomb, kill, indiscriminately, boastfully, combatants and civilians, women and children, without one hesitant tremor of conscience.
So yes, Putin does understand that “dead or dead” can be an emotionally satisfying cry, even if “dead or alive” is smarter. What he doesn’t get is this: When you, a foreign invader, kill a man’s wife or rape his children, that man is ready to return the favor.
But never mind. In the “kill, kill” days of September 2001, Putin suddenly looked prescient.
Onward Christian soldiers! To Baghdad!
Hong Kong, Daniel Smith in Asia Times
In the months leading up to the war in Iraq and in its aftermath, Bush administration officials were forced to continually change their rationale for launching the attack to topple Saddam Hussein. Where they have not wavered, and where they have received consistent support from top Pentagon military commanders, is in their insistence that Iraq is not another Vietnam, not a quagmire. The further the U.S. and the world move from the fall of Baghdad on April 9, the more it seems that the administration is correct: Iraq is not a quagmire. It is really a black hole.
A quagmire is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as (1) “Land with a soft, muddy surface” or (2) “A precarious or difficult situation”. In either definition, circumstances are not irreversible. A “soft muddy surface” suggests something more solid somewhere beneath, while “difficult” is not the same as impossible.
But media reports the past week in August have made it very clear that the administration has plunged the U.S. over the lip — what is called the “event horizon” — of the human and financial black hole that is post-war Iraq…
One characteristic of black holes is that they grow in size as they absorb energy from the surrounding cosmos. Iraq has already snuffed out thousands of lives and absorbed tens of billions of dollars. Bush reiterated that a “substantial commitment of time and resources” still lies ahead.
Yes, Iraq is not a quagmire. But at a time when U.S. budget deficits of $401 billion this year and $480 billion for 2004 are forecast, Iraq looms as an ever-expanding funnel into which human lives, human talent and monetary resources are being poured, never to be recovered. That, by any measure, defines a veritable black hole.
Germany, Erich Follath, Hans Hoyng, Gerd Rosenkranz, Hilmar Schmundt, Gerhard Spörl in Der Spiegel
Even on satellite images, New York is still visible as a glowing star, and the northeast coast of the United States as an almost continuous sea of lights. This is a place where progress is concentrated. It contains the beating heart of capitalism, the world’s largest stock exchange on Wall Street in Manhattan. No other region in the world shines more brightly than America’s biggest city — normally. [In August] this global metropolis’ heartbeat faltered, as the collapse of the power grid in the largest blackout in New York’s history revealed a deep vulnerability, exposing the weaknesses of the world’s sole remaining superpower.
Once again, it had become evident that the masters of the world can be crippled in the most grotesquely simple of ways. Just as the terrorists of 9/11 required little more than simple box cutters to hijack airplanes, what is now presumed to have been a power plant failure that triggered a chain reaction was capable of bringing everything in the northeastern portion of this superpower that depends on electricity to a grinding halt. It was a throwback to the days of harmonious coexistence in candlelight…
Osama bin Laden prophesied that Americans would “never again dream or know or taste security or safety.” Without having anything to do with it, the great villain seemed to have come a little closer to his goal again…
Angst — it’s a German word the Americans have incorporated into their own language. These days, it appears more and more frequently in lead stories in the press. Angst, a word with such strong associations that it’s often printed in italics, describes an emotional state imbued with a lack of faith in the future. The term also describes a nervous, fidgety, insecure nation — “a jittery nation.”
Now this basic emotion has truly become part of the Americans’ self-image. Until recently, an optimistic and dynamic forward-looking attitude was an essential part of the pragmatic Protestantism that unifies the descendants of Quakers, Puritans and Methodists in “God’s Own Country.”
All of this because of a faulty fuse? Is it that easy to tie down the muscle-bound Gulliver, to cripple his massive force?
Canada, Paul Wells in Maclean’s
A display window at a McGill University bookstore last week showed several copies of a handy new book, “September 11: Consequences for Canada,” by a University of Toronto law prof named Kent Roach … The books’ red covers caught my eye, and I thought the things that wonks do when they think about 9/11. Ah, yes. Anti-terrorism laws. Sovereignty issues. Is Canada’s defense spending adequate? War in Iraq: tough decision.
Then I spotted the photo in the middle of the display, which showed one of those heartbreaking sidewalk shrines that popped up all over Lower Manhattan after the World Trade Center fell. A tattered poster of a missing woman, flowers and candles. And I remembered what actually happened that day: 19 angry young men, most of them Saudis, carried out a foul plan they had hatched three years earlier in Hamburg, and murdered as many thousands of Americans as they possibly could. Children and parents were incinerated in a hellfire of jet fuel. Dozens jumped from the towers rather than wait for the flames to burn or the smoke to poison them….
Most people have built a little wall in their minds between their knowledge of 9/11 and their memory of it…
It is useful sometimes to examine one’s memories anew under the cold light of honesty…
The day itself was full of surprise: it was quite literally incomprehensible to everyone who watched. There are Internet archives of television broadcasts from Sept. 11 … Watching now, it is obvious that nothing was obvious then. There’s poor Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America, watching on the monitor as the second plane smashes into the second tower, talking on the phone to a guy on the street who is looking up at the blast debris roaring out the other side of the building. For long minutes, neither reaches the obvious conclusion — that’s a second plane. This is an attack — because how could it be a second plane? How could it be an attack?
Yet the smoke had not stopped rising from the graveyard of thousands before the Armies of the Certain began patiently explaining to us what it all meant…
Certainty about the world does not make the world more certain. The easiest road to moral clarity is a refusal to learn from complex events. For a few horrible hours two Septembers ago, nobody could claim to know anything. That uncertainty, at least, haunts us still. Or should.
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)