The mathematics of vengeance

Nov. 22, 2001
Editorial CommentNovember 22, 2001Tower 1 of the World Trade Center was 1,368 feet high.
Editorial CommentNovember 22, 2001

Tower 1 of the World Trade Center was 1,368 feet high. After terrorists crashed an airliner into it, the heat and smoke were so unbearable that many people leapt from near the top. Their alternative was to be cooked alive. They had to make an unthinkably horrific choice.

That leads us to mathematics, which can make us even more angry over the attack. Going back to calculus for the equations for free-falling bodies, I came up with s = 1/2gt2, where s = the distance a body has fallen after time, t. Because many jumpers were near the top, I let s = 1,368 feet, factored in an assumed terminal velocity of 120 mph with v = gt, and used the two equations to solve for t, coming up with a value of 10.5 seconds. Lawrence Kren of our staff did a more precise analysis and came up with 11.5 seconds.

Look at your watch and count off 11 seconds. That is how long jumpers had to think about their fate before hitting the pavement at 120 mph. Newspaper accounts said that a pink mist puffed up when jumpers hit. It was ghastly.

We'll get back to that later. But first I must mention that many of the articles I saw in print after the attack surprised me. One was the public statement by a Saudi prince declaring that our attack on Afghanistan is justified because the United States has to retaliate. We have to take revenge, he said. I liked him using those two words. Retaliate. Revenge.

Another surprise was to see, in our politically correct culture, numerous newspaper articles about how the motivation of terrorists has nothing to do with religion. The main thing bothering the terrorists, according to these articles, is their intense inferiority complex. They have a terminal case of envy.

The reason they hate the United States is our obvious and blatant superiority in engineering, science, medicine, and economic productivity. Their culture provides people, for the most part, with poverty, ignorance, and deprivation. Ours provides enlightenment and prosperity. This point is so obvious that the Prime Minister of Italy had the courage to say publicly that Western civilization is superior to Islamic culture.

An interesting fact is that leaders of the terrorist movement mostly had privileged lives and came from substantial families. Maybe it would be different if Muslim radicals had all been raised in the gutter and accepted being outside the borders of normal civilization. But the guys who hate us the most come from the upper and middle classes. Like many of us who do not like the New York Yankees for dominating baseball, Muslim terrorists hate the United States because we are winners. They don't like being losers but also don't want to do anything constructive to elevate themselves.

This is the reason there is no way to reach an accommodation with them. They will hate us until we have the same Stone Age economies and cultures they have. It is also the reason most policy makers realize that our war on terrorists will have to be ruthless in the extreme. Obviously, these people can't be rehabilitated. They will be a danger wherever they walk the earth.

There is also that matter of people having to jump from the towers. We owe it to them to forget about justice and think about vengeance. The Taliban have already said they have no regard for Afghan civilians. "Allah will have to look after them," said one Muslim cleric. That being the case, we may have to do with Taliban-occupied areas what Rome did to Carthage. It is a debt we especially owe to those who had 11 seconds to think about their fate before hitting the pavement.

- Ronald Khol, Editor

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