So where were you the day of 9/11 attacks?
I was driving to work and decided to see my wife, who worked at a local hotel in Berkeley. Everyone was crowded around the TV, watching the towers burn. After 20 minutes, I drove on and heard the rest of the attacks unfold on the radio. It was a challenge to drive, but all the drivers were muted zombies driving, no one drove aggressively as we grieved together.
What is this painting title?
This is the time right when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York. I had been painting an abstract painting and then this image started to form and I realized when I finished that it was the attack on WTC with the characteristic metal support beams on the building and explosion of the plane as it disintegrates on impact into the building.
What were the first days like afterward?
One of the proudest moments was seeing that Art.com decided to print 100s of posters to create a massive flag on all the windows of their building. Imagine 70% of the face of this building was a massive US flag. Immediately afterwards there was a shortage of US flags as everyone wanted to commemorate the civilian deaths around the US.
How did artists respond to the tragedy?
Many people at first were drawn to the US flag and then people got enraged at the senseless attack on civilians not involved in US foreign policy. People were really shocked that Osama bin Laden actually took responsibility. People were upset at the Bush administration later for letting the family members related to Osama escape quickly out of the US. Of course, they likely would have been lynched in the aftermath. Above we see a massive mural by Shepherd Fairey and Saber on the 9/11 attacks. I personally painted a type of flag painting as well, but never showed it as it was very vengeful type of work.
“Would you like to play a game of thermonuclear war?”
What is the story in this painting?
Well, I had painted the US flag in off colors and green, which were the colors in the Saudi Arabia flag. As we know now, 11 of the bombers were Saudi in the group called “Al-queda”. The branch in Saudi Arabia is trying to overthrow the monarchy supposedly and establish an even tighter religious ruling in Saudi Arabia. The lettering of the Saudi flag is repeated in the painting.
What does this lettering say?
“There is no God, but God and Mohammed is the messenger of God.”
Basically, the flag is stating that only Islam is the correct version of religion and we will enforce it by military means of the sword. How many Saudi citizens think it is their duty to start a jihad just based on their flag design? You have similar issues in Pakistan, where the capital is called “Islamabad”, basically the town of Islam. How many Pakistanis think it is their duty to spread Islam as the only correct version of religion and piety?
Is there other lettering in your flag painting?
In the top left, where the 50 stars would go are the coordinates of the Mecca and Medina. Medina is the capital of Saudi Arabia and Mecca is the holy capital of Islam, where muslims go each year in their holy journey required once in their lifetime.
Why didn’t you decide to show this work?
I was unhappy with the work and spattered it in paint and later had no idea how to finish it. Seeing other works like from Saber, I came to realize we as artists were showing the blood shed of the event on the US flag. The attacks were an abomination to what the US citizen believes as moral justice in the world ie. you don’t attack citizens in war, especially when you just start a war. Below is a series of Saber’s flag works.
So what is the title of your work about?
Basically, the title is a reference to “War Games”, a classic movie of my childhood. The main character is a computer high school student nerd, who hacks into school system to change his grades. He then fumbles upon a secret Department of Defense computer that he can play multiple games. One of the games is “Thermonuclear War”. He starts to play and the computer decides the game is real and begins planning a nuclear attack on the USSR. The student mush convince the computer that the endgame is only destruction of the world with no true victory in any scenario.
In my painting, the coordinates of Mecca and Medina are a new updated version, where the US decides to nuke Saudi Arabia for the 9/11 attacks, since so many of their citizens were behind the attacks.
What do you think of the conspiracy theories that came out after the dust settled?
Well one theory was that the WTC 7 was not in the attack. When I first heard this, I thought these guys are just not processing the attacks as possible and thought there must be some type of government conspiracy to attack Iraq and Afganistan. But really, would the US government be able to pull off such a massive conspiracy theory?
One of the newest wrinkles in this particular story has been uncovered by Edward Snowden. He claimed that Saddam Hussein actually planned a simultaneous attack to blow up WTC7 on the same day as al-Queda attacked with 4 planes. Who knows if this was possible, but based on some photos like the one above you definitely start to wonder. The conspiracy here is the disbelief that the US would actually invade Iraq without reason seeing the US as impervious to invasion, so an actual attack would have been justified if Saddam had attacked.
The reality is that it is possible that the US government just decided to invade Iraq. We did it in Vietnam and then passed the War Powers Act of 1973 to prevent US presidents from unilateraly declaring war without Congress permission after the disaster of limited engagement in Vietnam.