To The New York Times,
I am writing this letter in response to "The 9/11 of 1859" article that appeared in the newspaper today, December 2nd. It was of particular interest to me and my Advanced Placement U.S. History class, as we have recently studied John Brown's raid and the causes of the Civil War.
I found the article “The 9/11 of 1859” by Tony Horwitz very intriguing, yet I also must disagree with some of the author’s statements. I fully agree with Horwitz’s argument that John Brown’s intention for the extinction of slavery is morally justifiable and that Brown should be viewed as a “martyr-hero.” Horwitz’s comparisons of the logistics of both attacks, such as the involvement of young, “indiscrete” men and their acceptance of the attack as a "suicide mission," provide a believable parallel. The notion of the attacks as "holy war[s]" designed to instill a symbolic significance also serve as a comparison between the raid and the 9/11 attacks. However, I believe that the parallel between Brown’s raid and the 9/11 terrorist attacks holds a key flaw: the motives and goals of the attacks are very different.
“Fundamentalist” John Brown had a solid and stable motive for his attacks and a morally just vision of the result: the end of slavery. As Horwitz says, “Few if any Americans today would question the justness of John Brown’s cause.” Brown was a citizen of the United States, dedicated to improving society for the benefit of every citizen. Also, though Brown’s immediate following was only 21 men serving as guerilla troops, the cause he was fighting for attracted a more significant number of supporters; Northerners, even if they did not support abolition, on a whole opposed the spread of slavery and deemed Brown a hero. The Al Qaeda terrorist group represents a much smaller proportion of the people, establishing it as a more radical and illegitimate organization.
Al Qaeda and Mohammed’s intentions behind the 9/11 attacks prove to be morally unacceptable and polar opposite from the intentions of Brown. Al Qaeda, a foreigner, desired the destruction of the United States as a part of his vague and erratic ideology, an intention that most Americans would quickly oppose. Horwitz acknowledges this idea, saying, “…the judge probably won’t grant him [Mohammed] an ideological platform.” This difference between the two “terrorist” attacks provides a key disjunction in the argued parallel. Though Horwitz may be correct that “terrorists sometimes win,” the long-term results of the terrorist “victories” proved beneficial in Brown’s raid, abolishing slavery, and fatal in 9/11, in which the U.S. become involved in a detrimental war (with no major successes for the U.S.).
Horowitz does maintain that “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is no John Brown” by discussing the much more cruel and damaging acts of 9/11 in comparison to John Brown’s raid; however, he disregards the dissimilar intentions and purposes of the two attacks, preventing the parallel from being very successful.