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Troy Jollimore on Martin Amis’ ‘The Second Plane’

Posted on Apr 24, 2008
book cover

By Troy Jollimore

The second plane, as no one needs to be told, was the one that hit the World Trade Center’s second tower. And it was the one which, as Martin Amis found himself writing within a few days of the event, utterly annihilated the hope that what was happening that September morning might have been nothing more than a terrible, tragic accident: “That was the defining moment. Until then, America thought she was witnessing nothing more serious than the worst aviation disaster in history; now she had a sense of the fantastic vehemence ranged against her. ... That second plane looked eagerly alive, and galvanized with malice, and wholly alien. For those thousands in the South Tower, the second plane meant the end of everything. For us, its glint was the worldflash of a coming future.”


book cover


The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom


By Martin Amis


Knopf, 224 pages


Buy the book


Amis, of course, is best known as the author of such novels as “The Information,” “Money” and “London Fields.” His most frequent fictional mode is a species of carefully observed, somewhat brutal and frequently hilarious social satire. But his new book, “The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom,” is a pure product of the “coming future” he speaks of here, a book fully shaped by the single event that many take to have defined our era. “The Second Plane” collects 14 of Amis’ recent short works: essays, reviews, a pair of short stories. Granted its unifying theme, the book is still something of a hodgepodge; it was clearly not conceived as a cohesive work. But the pieces’ very lack of unity feels somehow appropriate to the subject. Here are 14 attempts, each one almost self-confessedly a failure, to respond in an adequate way to what cannot adequately be responded to.

“The Second Plane” affords an interesting opportunity: to watch an intelligent person trying, over time, to think through the unthinkable turn his reality has taken. “I have cut nothing,” Amis remarks in his author’s note, “briefly tempting though it was, at times, to cover my tracks.” These tracks, and the evolution of the author’s desires to cover them, are perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book. Amis’ views on some matters remain fairly constant: He is reliably critical both of the Bush presidency and of the Iraq war, for example. But his thoughts on the book’s deepest question—what are the obligations that violence, and in particular mass slaughter, thrusts upon us as inhabitants of the world in which it occurs?—undergo a quite noticeable transformation over the six years the book’s writings represent.

The opening piece, “The Second Plane,” was published a mere week after September 11. Here we find Amis shocked and bewildered, but interestingly open-minded and up to the challenge of thinking about the terrorist act in all its aspects and implications, up to and including a consideration of why the terrorists did it: “It will also be horribly difficult and painful for Americans to absorb the fact that they are hated, and hated intelligibly. How many of them know, for example, that their government has destroyed at least 5 percent of the Iraqi population? How many of them then transfer that figure to America (and come up with fourteen million)? Various national characteristics—self-reliance, a fiercer patriotism than any in Western Europe, an assiduous geographical incuriosity—have created a deficit of empathy for the sufferings of people far away. ... Unless Pakistan can actually deliver bin Laden, the American retaliation is almost sure to become elephantine. Then terror from above will replenish the source of all terror from below: unhealed wounds.”

Of all the possible cuts that must have tempted Amis, the one that was most difficult to resist was surely that word intelligibly. For the idea that America was intelligibly hated—the idea that any aspect of the terrorists’ sentiments and actions could be considered even minimally intelligible or rational or comprehensible—is precisely what he would come to want to deny. This is nowhere more evident than in the author’s note: “The first piece—published on September 18, 2001—has a slightly hallucinatory quality (it is fevered by shock and by rumor), and also indulges in what Paul Berman, the author of Terror and Liberalism, has called ‘rationalist naïveté’—a reflexive search for the morally intelligible, which always leads to the chimera of ‘moral equivalence.’ ”

By Sept. 18 many people, particularly in the United States, had decided that understanding the terrorists’ motives, not to mention the American foreign policy decisions that had helped form the background for the attacks, was precisely the last thing they wanted to do. (Amis, apparently, took somewhat longer to come around to this point of view, but eventually he did.) This refusal to reflect, to investigate, to learn, still seems regrettable, but the reaction is perhaps not impossible to understand. In the shadow of an atrocity of this magnitude, any attempt at explanation might be seen as amounting to the suggestion that the victims “had it coming.” One wants to retort that this worry is ungrounded: It is acknowledged by all reasonable parties that no one could possibly have had this coming, whatever damage American foreign policy might have done. Still, the worry persists, particularly in light of the knowledge that not all of the concerned parties are reasonable, that there are those who will take any proffered explanation of the terrorists’ actions as amounting to a justification.

The temptation, in the light of this, is to insist on regarding the attacks as an incomprehensible event, something so alien to our sense of morality that any attempt to penetrate its baffling surface is doomed to failure, and indeed risks pulling us into the moral void that lies at its core. The perpetrators are not to be regarded as rational agents, and certainly not as political actors, but as the exact opposite, members of a “death cult” that rejects reason altogether: “Thanatism derives its real energy, its fever and its magic, from something far more radical. And here we approach a pathology that may in the end be unassimilable to the non-believing mind. I mean the rejection of reason—the rejection of the sequitur, of cause and effect, of two plus two. ... To transcend reason is of course to transcend the confines of moral law; it is to enter the illimitable world of insanity and death.”

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By Michael Gass, April 27, 2008 at 12:18 am Link to this comment

I have done 4 Presidential Secret Service VIP support missions since 1986.  Reagan.  Bush Sr.  Clinton.

I think I know just a bit about USSS protection protocol.

On the day of 9/11, what occurred?

- President Bush was at an elementary school with a USSS TRAVEL TEAM. 

What was the threat?

- Airplanes being used as flying missiles.

When President Bush was told by Andrew Card that the SECOND was hit… that America was under ATTACK… what happened?

- Nothing.

President Bush was allowed to remain in harms way. 

There was ZERO way to know where, or how many, airplanes had been hi-jacked.  Remember?  NORAD couldn’t track them.  FAA couldn’t track them.  Military response fighter aircraft couldn’t be led to them.

Was President Bush hustled from a KNOWN TARGET by the USSS?  Was he taken, with utmost haste, to a secure place?


Why?  Because, according to every response, he was “never in any danger”.

How did they KNOW THAT?  They couldn’t have known… UNLESS… they ALREADY knew the targets… ALREADY knew that not ONE plane was supposed to go south into Florida.

Answer me this ONE question from someone who works with, for, now or in the past… the USSS… why President Bush was left in harms way by the team devoted to his protection.

Nobody can, has, ever answered this question.

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By God?Freedumb?, April 26, 2008 at 9:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Even Before the Twin Towers were built, Architects have already thought of putting in Thermite.

thermite was already there.
the suicide bombers was, yes, OBLs people.
How much was Osama Bin Laden Paid to provide Suicide Bombers?
That is the REAL Question.

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By Marshall, April 26, 2008 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment

Yes, this is where conspiracy theories grow, on the damp, moldy underside of rational thought, empiricle evidence, and scientific method usually inhabited by critical thinkers.

Proving that the word “conspiracy” has legitimate uses does not in any way legitimize YOUR use of the word as applied to 9/11 “conspiracy” theories.  Even the word “theory” is a misnomer here, as it implies some legitimacy and empirical scientific credibility.  But there is none.  Only “unanswered questions”, speculation and “what if’s”.  Fine for those who are are not burdened by the weight of actual evidence, established facts (not to mention common sense), and who believe that the mere fact that they are not in the mainstream actually makes them right.

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By niloroth, April 26, 2008 at 6:06 pm Link to this comment

” The fear inherent in your post is understandable: who really WANTS to believe that their government is capable of murdering 3,000 of its own citizens”

The fear is that someone is going to post a sad and long post about the 9/11 denial movement, with the same facts that have been debunked time and time again.  Any time anything having to do with 9/11 shows up on truthdig someone with the same grasp of reality and logic as the flat earthers and the creationists pops up to prove that 9/11 was caused by jews/bush/bilderburger/ted turner/or some other group. I was not wrong to fear it.

snipped lots of things about the 9/11 commission
Look, if you think that the 9/11 commission was going to go around laying blame, and calling people out, i think you need to take some time to really look at the workings in washington.  Everyone is covering their own asses, thats just how it goes.  Tell me, can you tell me one place where the criticisms of the members of the commission go against the events of the day of 9/11?  Or where there is any support for 9/11 being an inside job?

” Setting aside your insupportable claim that David Ray Griffin has been “proven wrong numerous times” (he has been challenged, but never “proven wrong”)”

Um, here is just one example, where he has been proven wrong.  It took me about 1 minute to find this information.  Man, you must have studied this topic really well for what, 15 seconds?

D.R.G. is doing nothing but pushing BS to people and selling books while doing it.  You have fallen for it, i won’t.

” I fully understand that many people simply cannot wrap their minds around the idea that 9/11 was a “false flag operation” - an event in which their own government was complicit in both the planning and execution.  Yet given the above, it seems more and more likely that that is in fact the case.”

Please provide some FACTS for you statement that it was a false flag attack, other than some mealy mouthed whining about conflicts of interest and washington insiders covering their asses.  Bring me something tangible and you can change my mind, keep going on about how so and so wrote a paper with so and so is BS.  Great claims require great evidence.  Put up or shut up.  And please stop making those on the left who are sane look like idiots with this drivel.

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By JimBob, April 26, 2008 at 4:14 pm Link to this comment

I can’t buy into the theory that 9/11 was engineered in its particulars by the neocons.  However, their willful neglect toward the warning signs amounts to pretty much the same thing.  Just as Roosevelt and Stimson knew their antagonizing the Japanese economically, combined with the predominance of militaristic thinking in the island nation, was going to result in an attack that would provide a way into the European war, the architects of the Iraq invasion knew the odds were in favor of a terrorist attack that would put wind under the wings of their agenda. 
One has to imagine that 9/11 outdid their wildest, wettest dreams.  Never mind that it wasn’t really that big a deal – imagine Europe and Japan after WWII, entire cities flattened to the ground – certainly not big enough to “change the world.” But it was dramatic enough – and made more dramatic by the treatment it received in the media – to ensure that America’s wishful, mythical-cowboy self-image, combined with the reality of America’s sniveling fear born of living too comfortably for too long, would make it easy to sell violence against anyone with an Arabic name, anywhere.  So in that sense, yes, there was a conspiracy, i.e. to use 9/11 to its fullest potential for justifying military action abroad and curtailment of basic freedoms at home.  But it never would’ve worked if pampered Americans hadn’t reacted with fear and loathing, hadn’t completely rejected the notion – or even the value of considering the notion – that we might have brought the attack on ourselves through our own actions in other people’s countries. 
So, who’s to blame?  The American people, more than any people in history, have the means to control what their leaders do, if they choose to exercise those means.  But we cowered under our kitchen tables and told BushCo to go ahead, do whatever it takes so no one hurts us in any way however small.  BushCo is what BushCo is; we’re to blame for the mess because we didn’t stop them.

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By Maani, April 26, 2008 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment


“...only a matter of time before someone decided to bring up the 9/11 denial movement…D.R.G. have been proven wrong numerous times, the “facts” of the 9/11 denial movement are lies…your opinion is about as substantial as the flat earth movement.”

The fear inherent in your post is understandable: who really WANTS to believe that their government is capable of murdering 3,000 of its own citizens in order to advance a political agenda - even one that most of us KNOW is there, re oil, money and power?

The phrase “conspiracy theory” is comprised of two words: “conspiracy” (the planning and/or execution of an act, usually illegal, by two or more persons) and “theory” (a belief supported by evidence).

The “official story” of 9/11 is no less a “conspiracy theory” than the alternative theories: the government claims there was a conspiracy by OBL and Al Qaeda to hijack commercial airliners and fly them into buildings (WTC, Pentagon, and most probably the Capitol).  The evidence provided to support this “theory” is The 9/11 Commission Report.

Setting aside your insupportable claim that David Ray Griffin has been “proven wrong numerous times” (he has been challenged, but never “proven wrong”), The 9/11 Commission Report is rife with errors, omissions and distortions.  As well, the number of conflicts of interest among the Commissioners is dizzying, not least that six of them had fiduciary and/or directorship responsibilities to the two airlines involved (American, United), as well as to the maker of the planes (Boeing).  And the executive director of the Commission, Philip Zelikow, is a Bush crony who was a member of the neocon Aspen Strategy Group (along with Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perle et al) and the Bush-Cheney transition team, as well as being a close friend of Rice (they even wrote a book together).

Yet even setting all that aside, we are all watching as the Report unravels at lightning speed; indeed, even Kean and Hamilton, who led the Commission, have called the Report “fatally flawed,” and complained publicly about being “stonewalled” by the White House.  A new book (“The Commission”) puts much of these criticisms together.

Given that the Report represents the ENTIRE supporting evidence for the government’s “official story” of 9/11, and given that (i) it is rife with errors and omissions, (ii) the Commission was rife with conflicts of interest, and (iii) even the two chairs of the Commission admit to its weaknesses, the “official story” is becoming increasingly less likely, while evidence for alternative theories grows.

I fully understand that many people simply cannot wrap their minds around the idea that 9/11 was a “false flag operation” - an event in which their own government was complicit in both the planning and execution.  Yet given the above, it seems more and more likely that that is in fact the case.


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By weather, April 26, 2008 at 7:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

hubris consumes you.

Do you honestly think in your dark and troubled little mind that looking for trouble w/a flashlight motivates certain of these posts?

As soon as your able to explain and document why, not one shard of fuselage, not one remarkably damaged but easily identified jet engine was revealed at the Pentagon - let alone a flight number and passenger list?

Or maybe you can tell us how it was that Guiliani w/in 24hrs. of 9/11 flew to Israel to consult w/their people, when he had so much on his plate here?

I lost 2 friends and lived/worked through the clean-up and while I hardly matter, countless living and dead would pronounce you a liar until proven otherwise.

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By niloroth, April 26, 2008 at 7:12 am Link to this comment

before someone decided to bring up the 9/11 denial movement.  Your post was full of things that while you believe them, do not in fact have any relation to reality.  D.R.G. have been proven wrong numerous times, the “facts” of the 9/11 denial movement are lies, and the reason that neither author you mentioned have said anything about 9/11 being an inside job is most likely because they have actually looked into the real events of 9/11 and realized that your opinion is about as substantial as the flat earth movement. 

Please just go back to prisonplanet and leave the rest of us alone.  The left does not need your ignorance.

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By Carol Brouillet, April 25, 2008 at 10:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The book and review strike me as failures on the part of both authors to see through the largest psychological operation of our time, they have cpompletely fallen for the government/media myth/legend of 9/11, so thoroughly deconstructed by more thoughtful people who have done some research.  9/11 was designed to terrify, to shut down rational thought, to be used to justify unjustifiable responses- the military transformation of this country as laid out by the Project for a New American Century.

The official 9/11 Report has been identified as a giant lie, based upon the tortured confessions of alleged perpetrators whose reliability can only be considered worthless. While some people feel our government was too “incompetent” to carry out such a mammoth false flag attack upon its own people (despite substantial historical examples), clearly the operation was botched and only succeeded to a great degree, with the help of a compliant, war mongering media.  The government has yet to explain the collapse of Building #7 which was not hit by a plane and exhibited numerous features of controlled demolition late in the afternoon on September 11, 2001 and was not even mentioned in the official report.

The “Al Qaeda myth” was needed to replace the diminished “Communist Threat” to fulfill the need for an external enemy to justify the imperial grab for resources, particularly in oil-rich Muslim countries.  The CIA created Bin Laden, the top operatives were under the employ of the US military, the CIA, the FBI. 

Sticking one’s head in the sand, refusing to see or look at the inconvenient damning facts which chronicle the corruption of the US government and its descent down the slippery fascist slope, its embrace of torture and terrorism as tools in foreign and domestic policy.  This blindness, self inflicted, mars this book review and undoubtedly the book which I’m afraid offer little in the way of profound insights into understanding and responding to today’s realities in a meaningful way.

I suggest that both writers inform themselves, perhaps starting with an easy book- 9/11 Contradictions- An Open Letter to Congress and the Press by David Ray Griffin or a cursory look at the wealth of videos and educational materials developed by the 9/11 Truth Movement. is a good starting place.

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By Terradea, April 25, 2008 at 6:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, your elegant analysis accurately reflects the thoughts in the heads of the few freethinkers left in this country. As a country of freedom and liberty, we’ve been manipulated out of existence. We have become the demon that we, as a country, used to pretend to fight against. Safe? Believe what you want. Free? Tell yourself to believe it. But in reality, we are now a country of zealots -  religious & military - and it will take another 100 years (if ever) to break free of the chains that now bind us ... if we care to.

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By jackpine savage, April 25, 2008 at 5:07 am Link to this comment

Not ‘everything’ changed that day.  One thing changed: America, or perhaps her true colors finally shown through.

Our collective response of fear and violent anger…goaded on by politicians and the media…reduced whatever was left of a proud nation to subservient totalitarians.

Were the attacks “justified”?  Hardly, an act like that cannot be justified.  Did they have a long string of reasons behind them?  Certainly.  We the People found ourselves innocent without even questioning our guilt.

As Jaded Prole states, the attacks allowed the government to institute its fondest desires.  And to those who think that those desires are only of Bush, or only of Republicans: you are repeating the innocent without question mistake.

The attacks exposed our collective myth for what it is: a myth.  We are not strong, brave, and courageous.  We do not value liberty and freedom.  We cowered in our suburbs, afraid that dark skinned people might attack our cul-de-sac next.  We traded everything that made us great for an illusion of security…without a second thought.  We were exposed for the snivelling, fear driven, violence soaked bully that many in the world already saw.

And now, after the fact, our behavior stands naked and bare.  Our rationalizations still appease our shriveled consciences.  But the larger question is this:  the next time tragedy strikes America, will the world reach out to us in compassion?

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By Jaded Prole, April 25, 2008 at 4:30 am Link to this comment

The world did not change. A preconceived policy was carried out. Jollimore states, “It is acknowledged by all reasonable parties that no one could possibly have had this coming . . .” The reality is that there were rather detailed warnings by people who did see it coming. While for many, the experience of vulnerability was paradigm shift, for the many others in Panama, Iraq, Chile, Yugoslavia and elsewhere, it was more an acknowledgment that the US had now joined the rest of the world’s experience, an experience often foisted on them by us.

For a cabal intent on aggression, a cabal that had been informed on more than one occasion, it was just what they needed to turn an unpopular president into a “war hero and protector” and give them everything they needed to achieve their foreign and domestic goals through the manipulation of fear.

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By weather, April 25, 2008 at 3:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We were All looking up, a far away view all from the outside - when this crime was commited in brillant, broad daylight from the inside.

Don’t listen to the words just follow the music.

Arrest Silverstein/Bushcon and heal or stay stuck in the Lie.

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