Some thoughts around September 11th LO27250

From: Roy Greenhalgh (
Date: 09/22/01

Dear LOers.

This has been lying in my draft tray for 3 or 4 days as I have thought
about what is happening. Rick's posting today and John Dicus's posting
seems to be a reasonable trigger to put my thoughts here.

Roy Greenhalgh


At last year's Systems Thinking conference in San Diego, Prof. John
Sterman invited us to try and adopt a simple mental model ...when you
listen to the news, try and construct a simple causal loop from the events
you hear.

Since I saw a 767 deliberately being flown into the south tower of the WT
complex last week I have been struggling with this advice. How would I
start to construct such a loop, and what are the events that would go into

I'm a Brit, and was born in the second year of World War 2. I have lived
through an unending stream of activities of peoples and nations to
liberate themselves from British, and other colonial rule. I have watched
the rise of "black" nationalism in Africa and the Caribbean, not to
mention the USA! Similarly, the rise of Islam in the west. Many of us are
currently observing how Islam is a cause for change in the poorer areas of
the towns and cities of the UK. Yes, there is violence: it is the visible
effect of continued oppression and injustice to 3rd world immigrants now
living in the UK. And the other side of that violence is from the
frightened and confused white Brits who have seen their neighbourhoods
change beyond recognition as immigrants have moved in. And it catches us
out every time.

At de Lange talks of "terroristic" events in Africa from the 1950's ..
starting with Mau Mau .. and currently still happening in, for example,
what was called the Belgian Congo. Each and every event had a complex of
causes, and many were related to what was considered injustice, greed,
racial inequality and the lust for power and dominance.

The British government met most insurrections in its colonies with the
standard approach .. kill the revolters, imprison or execute the leaders,
cause immense pain and suffering to supporters. They imprisoned Gandhi,
Nehru, Makarios (leader of EOKA terrorists in Cyprus), Kwame Nkruma .. the
leader of the first "de-colonialised" nation of Ghana, and just about all
the other African state leaders. In the 1980s, Prime Minister Margaret
Thatcher declared Nelson Mandela a "terrorist" as we debated the
imposition of sanctions against an apartheid South Africa.

Despite these actions, there aren't any old-style British colonies in
Africa today. In each and every case, after being bombed or terrorised to
the negotiating table, we started a process of handing over the country to
the "ethnic" leaders. In later years, we started talking before the
killings and the terror reached the proportions seen in earlier years. In
some we tried to foster and develop multi-party democracy, hailing free
and democratic elections as the best gift we had given these colonies.
Most of the imprisoned leaders were finally released to become leaders of
those new nations. The expat Brits came home confused and sometimes

And, now, I think, many of us recognise the wrongness of many of our
actions, the fundamental injustices we perpetrated, the pain and untold
suffering we caused in the name of "right". (Our politicians need just to
summon up the courage to make a plain straight apology.)

I live 300 miles from a scene of almost permanent terrorism. Three weeks
ago small children, walking to school with their parents, had a bomb
thrown into their midst by someone "from the other side". Fortunately, no
one was killed. But killing, and the most invidious form of
inter-religious/social terrorism have been going on there for at least 35
years. I refer, of course, to Northern Ireland.

In the 1970's, I was very frightened that my car could have had a bomb
attached to it as I left it, each day to go to work in a city centre that
had been heavily bombed and terrorised. I saw the heart of the UK's
financial/capitalist centre in east London blown up by massive bombs in
the 1990's. And my home city, the 3rd largest in the UK, had its very
heart blown up by another massive bomb .. just to highlight a few
incidents. 3 years ago a bomb exploded one Saturday afternoon in a small
market town in N. Ireland killing almost a hundred people. And there is
the infamous event, again in N Ireland, of a bomb exploding amongst people
attending a religious service on Remembrance Sunday (the day in the year
we in the UK remember the dead of two world wars) .. all innocent

I guess we have recognised and admitted the cause .. Roman Catholics being
treated as second-class citizens, deprived of housing and jobs, good
education, basic fairness and justice .. by a Protestant majority. The
causal loop can now be constructed. Politicians still have to publicly
admit the main events. But we can put the sequences and the links in the
loops now. We even know what type of loop it is, and where to put our O's
and S's!

However, the drawing of the causal loop hasn't fixed the problem. The
systems thinking still has to fully enter the political process .. if
indeed it can. Children are still terrorised as they walk to school.

And I now have some ideas of what to put into my causal loops as I try to
understand the events in almost every country that used to be coloured red
(i.e. a British colony) in the school atlas in the 1960s.

We have had a mixed debate so far in the UK about September 11th. In the
traditional grief cycle, we are at the "why" stage. What is it about the
USA and the west that angers one third of the world? And in crude response
mode, we want to attribute blame. We are also asking what the
similarities and differences are in September 2001 and 50, 40 and even 30
years ago. Someone has suggested scale and the deployment of modern
technologies. Others have suggested that it is no longer about nation
states, but whole races wanting change .. hence the internationalism of
recent events.

What are the fundamental differences between a terrorist using captured
British guns on the tiny Mediterranean island of Cyprus in the 1950's, and
a terrorist using a captured American 767 in New York in 2001? Are the
causes so different?

I would invite LOers to try and construct their own causal loops, painful
as it may be. What can we learn from this?

Roy Greenhalgh


Roy Greenhalgh <>

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