All other things being equal – in this case being equally just anybody – some of us will be saints, some of us will be assholes, but most of us will be neither. For example, the likelihood of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan or Iraq by an IED, or an NYC firefighter crushed by a 110-story building, being either a saint or an asshole rather than neither, is pretty remote. Still, if some were saints, as I’m sure some were, surely others were assholes, as I’m also sure some were. And yet they’re all remembered, at least publicly, as saints, never as assholes. Now why do you suppose that is?

As it happens, of the nineteen young men who hijacked those four planes, one was a saint, three were assholes, and the other fifteen were just the boys from next door. How do I know? Because I knew them. How did I know them? Because we actually planned six hijackings, but two had to be aborted. 

Given all the things that could have gone wrong, we needed this redundancy. In fact we thought we’d be lucky if we succeeded in hijacking only two of the six. That we succeeded with four planes, three of which reached their target, was quite literally a godsend. 

But that’s not what I want to testify to here. What I want to testify to here is that people who do what they do can be saints or assholes, but usually they’re neither. People who do what they do do it because something, certainly, but that something is seldom a cause. More often than not they do what they do because they’re told to. That’s why those firefighters started climbing those stairs. And that’s why my comrades flew those planes into those buildings.

Anything else is just rhetoric.

The seven of us who failed, through no fault of our own, were told we should rejoice that we survived to fight another day. Two of us did fight another day. But I was among the five who did not. That was twenty years ago, and since then I’ve gone on to have the life I wouldn’t have had had I succeeded. People talk about survivor’s guilt, but that’s bullshit. I did what I was told. I sleep just fine at night.

Some of you lost friends that day. But remember this: so did I. Even the ones who were assholes. As, face it, were some of yours. What I’ve learned from all of this is that Allah doesn’t discriminate. Maybe we should all follow His lead.

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Fiction, Social and Political Philosophy

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