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U.S. News
Earl Tilford: Military History expert

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The atrocities of Sept. 11 exceeded terrorism.

Earl Tilford says they were acts of war.

Tilford, professor, military strategist and retired Air Force major, contends that much of America has yet to understand the intent and consequences of Sept. 11.

When he worked at the Army War College in Carlisle, Earl Tilford helped prepare possible terrorism scenarios that included attacks on the highly visible World Trade Center towers. Now that he has seen those projections come true, he believes America must see the hijackers' actions for what they were -- acts of war.

A prevailing theory of why the Pentagon and World Trade Center were hit is that were iconic symbols of the United States.

"I think we missed the real reason. In effect, it was an act of war aimed at destabilizing our financial system and our government. It worked partially," said Tilford, a military historian and professor at Grove City College.

The trade center housed much of America's financial apparatus. Tilford contends that strikes on the twin towers have created economic upheaval, just as the terrorists intended.

"I think it was a brilliant plan, much more strategically motivated than we had realized. Though it sounds harsh to say so, the people who were killed were really collateral damage," he said.

"Financial houses had offices in the World Trade Center. A secondary effect was the attacks virtually ruined the airline system. Now people are flying less and driving more. We're more dependent on oil than ever, especially because people have been buying bigger cars and SUVs for the last 10 years."

Tilford, 57, spent 21 years in the Air Force, serving as an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War.

He believes the attackers were considerably less effective in their strike on the government than they were on business.

The hijacked plane that plowed into the Pentagon did little long-term damage to military or government operations, he said. "Had they hit the Senate and House office buildings, it would have been a lot more disruptive."

Tilford worked previously as research director of the U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College in Carlisle in Cumberland County. The staff there considered the trade center a probable target for terror attacks.

But the prevailing theory was that the building was vulnerable to a small nuclear weapon carried by a truck. Hijackers turning fuel-heavy commercial jets into bombs was a brazen and brilliant tactic that nobody anticipated.

To Tilford, the fallout of Sept. 11 has just begun.

He knows it is politically incorrect, but he says America is at war with Islamic fundamentalism -- "a particularly virulent, deadly fundamentalism."

In his lectures and in everyday life, Tilford questions whether Americans have the will to fight back. "I'm not sure we have a culture that can take a long war like this and survive," he said.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, America knew its enemies as it joined World War II. This time, the enemy is murky, and Tilford says that makes it harder to galvanize the country.

But, he said, solidarity and zeal are not lacking among Islamic terrorists, who are unconcerned about retribution, including bombings in their home countries.

"They don't care about escalation. They want chaos," Tilford said. "They're betting we will cower and break in the face of these kinds of attacks."

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