How Did This Happen?

By James F Hodge & Gideon Rose

Printed: 2001

Publisher: Public Affairs. Oxford

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 14 × 21 × 2.5 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 14 x 21 x 2.5

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Softback. Black binding with white title and a picture of destroyed building on the front board.

F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feel and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, one question has been on the mind of every American: “How did this happen?” Foreign Affairs‘ editor and managing editor, James Hoge, Jr. and Gideon Rose, have brought together an impressive list of experts to answer this question in all its critical aspects: the motives and actions of the terrorists, the status of our military, the current and historical context of the Middle East, airport security, biological threats, and diplomatic pressures.

This book provides listeners with an authoritative but accessible account of the issues that led to the present crisis – not as a symposium of opinion, but as a series of narratives on different aspects of the situation, providing perspective, information, and sound interpretation.

How Did This Happen? brings together such noted experts as Benjamin Barber, Samuel R. Berger, Richard Butler, Wesley K. Clark, William J. Perry, Alan Wolfe, and Fareed Zakaria to help make the events of that terrible day more understandable, even as we steel ourselves for actions yet to come.

Note: Hoge and Rose are the editor and managing editor, respectively, of Foreign Affairs. The title asks the question, referring to 9/11, and the various essays in the book collectively answer it. There are 23 essays in the book that approach 9/11 from a wide variety of angles. The authors, each a recognized expert in his/her field, are a bunch of very smart, experienced people giving their take on what happened, why it happened, and what it means. No matter what your particular area of interest is – geopolitics, military, sociology, etc. – there’s something in this book for you.

Take, for example, the essay “Was It Inevitable ~ Islam Through History,” by Karen Armstrong. She admires the virtues of Islam and views the current (last few decades) spate of terrorism in an Islamic fundamentalist historical context. It is an attempt at reform (islah) and renewal (tajdid). “This type of reform, which tried to go back to the fundamentals, became known as the Salafiyya because it looked back to al-Salaf al-Salih, ‘the venerable forefathers'” (pg. 65). One of the most famous of these reform movements was Wahhabi, which is the brand of Islam practiced today in Saudi Arabia and in which Osama bin Laden was born.

Contrast this with Walter Laquer (in his essay “Left, Right, and Beyond ~ The Changing Face of Terror”). He puts it in the context of a more general history of terrorism and explains (pg. 76) the rise of Islamist radicalism (terrorism) as the result of a decline of political doctrines and the emergence of a spiritual and intellectual vacuum, albeit the connection is not always straightforward (pg. 77).

Other examples of the plentitude of ideas abound. Milton Beardon (“Graveyard of Empires ~ Afghanistan’s Treacherous Peaks”) provides a brief, but excellent background on the rise of the Taliban and its Arab influence (the so-called Afghan Arabs). Richard K. Betts (“Intelligence Test ~ The Limits of Prevention”) provides an outstanding thumbnail analysis of the problems facing the intelligence community in the post-Cold War world. “The All-to-Friendly Skies ~ Security as an Afterthought”, by Gregg Easterbrook is alarming, even in retrospect. It provides valuable insight into commercial operations, such as (pg. 179) the point at which commercial airplane pilots actually take command of a given flight and why some pilots want an earlier assumption of that command. “The Unguarded Homeland ~ A Study in Malign Neglect” by Stephen E. Flynn describes how the nature of our economic infrastructure, with its interconnectedness, lack of redundancy, and heavy reliance on private security, increases our vulnerability to attack (i.e., to critical interdiction). He also describes the strain on the US Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and other government agencies.

The list goes on. The essays provide not only a description of the social and political environment in which 9/11 occurred, but also offer policy options (such as in “The New Security Mantra – Prevention, Deterrence, and Defence” by William J. Perry). The book includes a sobering piece by Anatol Lieven (“The Cold War Is Over ~ The True Significance of the Attacks”).

A clear message emerges. What made us vulnerable was a combination of a certain amount of complacency born of arrogance due to no recent US airliner hijackings (no successful attempts for the past 14 years – pg. 166), a low appreciation of the threat based on patterns of terrorist activity as well as an improperly focused intelligence apparatus, and a demand for faster, cheaper air travel. Our focus has improved and our willingness to pay what it costs has already brought improvement with much more on the way if we can sustain our alarm (which is to say, our determination). The question is not “Are we safer since 9/11?” That answer is an unequivocal “Yes.” The appropriate question is “Are we safe enough?” Hindsight is once again shown to be 20/20. In retrospect there were some valid reasons for not piecing together the likelihood of 9/11 and there were some that were not so valid. There were plenty of panels and papers providing warnings, but the broader national attitude didn’t lend itself to paying heed. The sad truth is that terrorism approaches its targets like water seeking holes in a vessel. Time and our own attitudes are terrorists’ allies. Determination, perseverance, and, above all, imagination are the bulwarks of our defence.

Another message emerges as well: the Cold War really is over, and a new world order really is emerging. It may or may not be the one envisaged by President Bush the elder, but 9/11 is the opening campaign of the first war as captured by President Bush the younger. The nation must adapt to new and still-forming geopolitical and cultural realities if we are to prosper in the future. This is an excellent primer to prepare for that journey.


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