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Falling Man by Don Delillo

Webster defines terrorism as the systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve some goal. In Don Delillo’s book, “Falling Man” he illustrates a family who is indirectly affected by the attacks which occurred on September 11, 2001. The book explores the physiological and physical outcomes that such a catastrophic event could have on the everyday life of an individual. The book begins with Keith Neudecker’s escape from the World Trade Center after the first impact of Flight 11. It continues to talk about Neudecker’s recovery from his traumatic experience and the aftermath effects on his life. Throughout the novel, Keith’s wife comes into contact with an artist called ‘Falling Man’, who straps himself to a harness and suspends himself from different buildings around New York. ‘Falling Man’ evokes fear from onlookers and creates a disturbing mental image that causes them to relive the events of 9/11. Delillo’s novel focuses on the temperament of society caused by terrorism and its exploitation in the media.

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Terrorism and International Justice by James Sterba

History shows us that terrorism is thought to have a political purpose and bring about change in a government; however, this is not always true. In James Sterba’s, “Terrorism and International Justice”, terrorism is described as, “the calculated violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature…through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear” (Sterba 69). Before the attacks on September 11, Al-Qaeda proclaimed its motivations in the fatwa on August 6, 1996. They stated their disapproval of the United States’ support of Israel and their military presence in Saudi Arabia. It is often believed by society that terrorists are psychologically deranged. In James White’s, “Contemporary Moral Problems”, Louise Richardson discusses the fact that terrorists are not insane at all (White 439).

From a bystander’s point of view, the use of suicide bombings is seen as an act of insanity. However, the use of a bomber makes perfect sense from an organization’s standpoint. It is both economical and easy. Osama Bin Laden questioned in the fatwa, “Why is it then the regime closed all peaceful routes and pushed the people the people toward armed actions?!! which is the only choice left for them to implement righteousness and justice” (White 440). The use of terrorism is justifiable when it becomes a last resort. Terrorists are limited in resources and ability, resorting to terrorism as their only reasonable option. Nasar Hassan, a Pakistani writer, and relief worker wrote, “We do not have tanks or rockets, but we have something superior-our exploding human bodies” (White 440).

Terrorists act in small cells and cannot work together for a common goal. After declaring a war on terrorism, the United State involved different organizations that weren’t linked to the attacks, but they were pinpointed as an enemy by association. Terrorists usually come from an area of oppression and to be successful in the war on terrorism, their surroundings need to be altered. Those living under oppression resort to terrorism as the only way of successfully conveying their point across. Terrorists however don’t have to resort to violence, if they were to choose a longer period to make a change, they could do so through political strategy and media propaganda. Terrorists want to see immediate results and are willing to sacrifice innocent lives to do so.

The media is a terrorist best friend because they can use it to spread propaganda to the American people. During the war on terrorism, the enemy would report to American media about bombings and claim the casualty of innocent lives. They use tactics of manipulation to change the way we view war and turn the people against the soldiers. Finally, terrorists justify their means by claiming that the enemy did it first. Bin Laden states, “Throughout history America has not been known to differentiate between the military and the civilians. Those who hurled atomic bombs… were Americans. Can the bombs differentiate between military and women and infants and children?” (White 441).

Al-Qaeda is limited to reciprocating the actions in which their enemy has abided. Therefore, Al-Qaeda’s militaristic values depend on those of their enemy. Those who choose to fulfill these suicide missions are not immoral. Terrorists believe they are justified because their actions satisfy appropriate standards. French provides reasoning that one is justified in carrying out the military activity if one believes the appropriate moral standards are satisfied. However, because one believes that their actions are morally permissible, doesn’t imply that they are correct.

The Attack on September 11

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The attacks on September 11 caused the public to become aware of the threat of terror and called for the United States to step up the fight against terrorism President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism. The attacks were considered mass murders and required government action during the war. War action is severally different from law, in that it allows for lives to be taken and severally diminishes the rights of the enemy. The War on terrorism differed from those in the past due to its fight against a vast amount of cells, rather than a single territory. When POWs are captured, they aren’t accused of a crime because it is based not on what they did, but on what they might do. America chose to begin its mission by invading Iraq by accusing them of possible nuclear terror.

The Just War Theory allows for us to respond to the attacks to defend ourselves with measured violence. It is broken down into the jus ad bellumand the jus In Bello, dealing with what is permissibly right when deciding to go to war and what is permitted once in war. The attacks of 9/11 were morally considerable for the action of war because noncombatant lives had been taken (Sterba 143). Although the Just War Theory allows for the declaration of war, it doesn’t outline the justification for taking a life.

We sometimes rationalize the death of a few to save those of many. Why do we permit some forms of killing in times of war without regarding them as acts of murder? Murder is defined as the intentional killing of an innocent person. French claims that “…Killing in war is more akin to killing in self-defense than to murder” (Sterba 36). This is permissible because soldiers forfeit their “innocence” in the war due to the threat of death on both sides. In contrast to the permissibility of deaths when it is warrior vs. warrior, the killing of noncombatants by warriors is discussed under the Doctrine of Double Effect. French believes there are justifications for unavoidably taking innocent lives. For example, when the action itself is morally good, when the bad effect is not how the good effect is achieved, when the motive is the achievement of the good effect only, and when the good effect is at least equivalent to the bad effect (Sterba 36). However, no leeway is given for the intentional killing of civilians, nor is there a moral justification for the taking of foreseen lives of the innocent as an effect.

The Attacks of 9/11

The aftermath of terrorist events such as 9/11 forever alters the lives of those who are directly and indirectly affected. The character in Delillo’s Falling Man who earns the title, ‘Falling Man’, suspends himself from buildings as an artistic recreation of 9/11. His performance causes panic, hate, fear, and amazement from onlookers. Keith understands the traumatic experience of reliving fear. The horrific events that occurred on that day forever changed the course of his life by doing more than just physical damage. “It was Keith as well who was always going slow…he used to want to fly out of self-awareness…but now he finds himself drifting into spells a body in raw motion. Now he finds himself drifting into spells of reflection, thinking not in clear units…” (Dellio 66).

The everyday person isn’t mentally prepared to experience the loss of innocent lives and they suffer more traumas than a soldier witnessing death on the battlefield. Casualties in war are understood and accepted, but the slaughtering of people who are innocent causes physiological damages. Some believe that terrorists lack moral values and their purpose is to take the lives of all who are Enemies of Islam or an “infidel”. However, terrorists are the exact opposite and fulfill their duties for moral purposes.

Terrorism’s effect on the lives of others is notably seen in Nina’s and Martin’s argument about the purpose of the terrorist attacks. Terror causes stress and anger to occur in the daily lives of individuals. An average conversation about a portrait can become a battle of right and wrong. Nina quickly changed the subject from their discussion about the painting, when she boldly tells Martin, “You tell us to forget God…you tell us this is history” (Delillo 112). Martin responds with the notion that Islam renounces the idea of justified killing and informs her about the historic grievances that support their purpose for the attacks. Nina rejects his theory and declares that their beliefs are “viral infections” caused by their system’s justification for the mass murder of civilians. No matter their unfair situation, there is no moral justification for the killing of civilians.

French argues the theory that constants in asymmetric conflicts are not bound by the same rules as combatants in symmetric conflicts. The underdog may be allowed to fight with fewer rules. If the underdog flouts their advantage, then the over-dog may be allowed to fight without the rules set before them. It is the moral duty of both forces in an asymmetric struggle to minimize the danger to non-combatants. “Where we can offer some leeway to level the playing field is in the employment of unsavory tactics against enemy combatants” (Sterba 43). The enemy, no matter how asymmetric the battle, may never be permitted to aim at non-combatants. Terrorists don’t have the resources available to them that we do, so they rely on cheaper methods of attack. Even though they are considered the underdog in an asymmetric fight, it doesn’t constitute the practice of immoral methods of warfare.

The biographical information about the “Falling Man” is revealed to Nina through an obituary. As she was skimming through the newspaper, she came across a brief article about a man named David Janiak. The name was meaningless to her, but the story however was not. It didn’t click when she saw that he was the artist titled ‘Falling Man.’ A man who risked his life for the sake of reenacting the tragic events that occurred on 9/11. Nina couldn’t stop thinking about what she had read, so she did a quick search on David Janiak. She quickly came to realize that he performed his stunts through pain and agony for the benefit of others. Those who only knew David Janiak as the ‘Falling Man.’ looked on in anger, questioning his motives for depicting such a horrific tragedy. Looking at his picture caused a rush of emotion to come over here and forever burned the image into her mind and heart. She now realized that Janiak was a, “Falling angel and his beauty was horrific” (Delillo 222). Now that she made a personal connection with the ‘Falling Man,’ she was forever affected by his work.


The war on terrorism will never be concluded. If Al-Qaeda is destroyed, another group will arise in its place. This means that the capturing and killing of terrorists will forever be continued. If this is true, then the suspension of human rights will transcend beyond the boundaries of the hybrid war-law model and forever become a permanent practice. “The War on Terrorism has become a model of politics, a world-view with its distinctive premises and consequences” (White 452). America has engaged in a war in which it creates its own rules for protecting its people. The war-law model produces limitations on Human Rights not only in wartime but also in times of peace. In hindsight, the War on Terrorism marks the end of human rights and creates a new model for warfare.

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