September 11 is looming and I don’t want the solemn anniversary to pass without mentioning a particular loss for IWF that day: Barbara Olson, one of our founders, was on American Airlines Flight 77 as it flew into the Pentagon. One hardly dares to think what this talented woman, lawyer, author, and a commentator with a zest for the battle, would have accomplished in the last ten years.
In the aftermath of September 11, the late Ricky Silberman, another IWF founder and former board chairman, captured Olson in a remembrance:
Barbara Bracher Olson was a warrior. She refused to be a noncombatant or AWOL in the culture wars — the crucial domestic conflict of the ’90s — which she helped found this organization to fight. We fight a new kind of war, and it’s a cruel and tragic twist of fate that Barbara Olson was one of its first casualties, lost when terrorists flew the plane on which she was traveling into the Pentagon.
When I first met Barbara, she was a recent graduate of the Benjamin Cardozo Law School working at the Reagan Justice Department. Smart, ambitious, beautiful, conservative, she wanted no part of either the agenda or the message of the organizations that purported in those days to speak for American women.
Indeed, Barbara was the embodiment of why we started IWF: to give voice to independent, articulate, knowledgeable women who were secure in their femininity and who had the courage to challenge conventional wisdom and bring common sense to bear on issues of importance to women and to men. We sought to change the terms of the debate, and nobody was better at it than Barbara.
One of the things that bugged me was that those who perished in the attacks were referred to as “victims.” They were casualties of war, not victims. It seemed preposterous to call Barbara Olson, who–famously–was on the phone with her husband, Ted Olson, then U.S. Solicitor General, only moments before the plane ploughed into the Pentagon. “What do I tell the pilots to do?” said Olson, activist to the last moment.
Barbara was the only IWF founder to die September 11, but we had tense moments at the old IWF headquarters in Arlington, Va., until we could be assured that another of our founders inside the Pentagon that day, former IWF president Anita Blair, then serving as assistant secretary of the Navy, was safe.
The media will focus on personal memories of the day. Many of these memories will reflect an indomitable spirit and give us all hope and courage. Still, though I knew Barbara Olson only very slightly, I can’t help thinking she’d rather we commemorate the anniversary by focusing on ideas. To get that ball rolling, here is a piece by Christopher Hitchens:
So, for me at any rate, the experience of engaging in the 9/11 politico-cultural wars was a vertiginous one in at least two ways. To begin with, I found myself for the first time in my life sharing the outlook of soldiers and cops, or at least of those soldiers and cops who had not (like George Tenet and most of the CIA) left us defenseless under open skies while well-known “no fly” names were allowed to pay cash for one-way tickets after having done perfunctory training at flight schools. My sympathies were wholeheartedly and unironically (and, I claim, rationally) with the forces of law and order.
Second, I became heavily involved in defending my adopted country from an amazing campaign of defamation, in which large numbers of the intellectual class seemed determined at least to minimize the gravity of what had occurred, or to translate it into innocuous terms (poverty is the cause of political violence) that would leave their worldview undisturbed.