Too Close for Comfort

The weird coincidences between last week's terrorist attacks and David Hagberg's novels have been keeping the author up at night

"Hagberg is famous for predicting in his novels tomorrow's headlines, but where did he learn so much about Osama bin Laden?"

-- Opening PR blurb toJoshua's Hammer, a mass-market paperback by David Hagberg released in June

"M/V Margo

Southwest of the Farallon Islands

On the bridge the radar proximity alarm sounded. Bahmad, who had been listening to the police, harbor control, and Coast Guard frequencies in the chart room, came out to see what was ahead of them. The sky to the east was getting light with the dawn."

"M/V Margo

Golden Gate Holding Basin

A thin sheen of perspiration covered Bahmad's forehead as he picked up the radiotelephone and depressed the switch. "San Francisco Harbor Control, this is the Motor Vessel Margo with Charlie at the holding basin, requesting a pilot."

Home of David Hagberg

Vero Beach, Fla.

At a suburban home south of Orlando the telephone rang. Former Air Force cryptographer David Hagberg had been awaiting this call. He picked up the receiver.

"I haven't been sleeping much," said Hagberg, author of Joshua's Hammer. In the novel, excerpted above, Osama bin Laden and his henchmen lead an international plot to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge. In Hagberg's previous best seller, High Flight, terrorists simultaneously hijacked airliners in different American cities, then used the planes to kill 2,600 innocent citizens -- a number Hagberg chose because it's the same as were killed at Pearl Harbor.

"When you combine the two, you have what happened Tuesday. I just dreamt this up. And then you saw these pictures of the airliner running into the World Trade Center," Hagberg said. "What's happening is one of my novels unfolding. I may quit and start writing romance novels."

Coincidences extend beyond Hagberg's bookshelf. Police last week told the novelist he shared a postal address with two of the alleged World Trade Center terrorists. Abdulrahaman Alomari, who was passenger 8G on American Airlines Flight 11, and Amer Kamfar, also suspected by the FBI of being among the World Trade Center hijackers, had both allegedly trained at the Vero Beach pilot school Flight Safety Academy two miles from Hagberg's home before vacating their Vero Beach apartment Sept. 3. They presumably died a week later.

Because Hagberg writes fictional accounts about dangerous international terrorists, he directs his mail to a Vero Beach mailbox service, rather than to his home. Alomari and Kamfar, apparently because they were dangerous international terrorists, also used the same mailbox service, rather than their home. It's likely Hagberg occasionally encountered these men while fetching mail, police told him.

Casting about in his mind to make sense of the tragedy, the coincidences, and his emotions, Hagberg found nothing.

"I've been dealing with this for several days," he said. "In one way, I'm proud of my intellect. I saw this coming some years ago. On the other end of the scale, I'm absolutely horrified. It's all mixed up. I don't know if I have my shit in one sock anymore. My feelings? It's sadness. It's guilt. But then I say, "Shit, I can't imagine Osama bin Laden reading my books.' So I don't know. I just don't know."

Hagberg's cognitive dissonance -- seeing the World Trade Center fall and the Pentagon become a four-sided structure without knowing what to think about it -- may have been a common yet rarely commented-on reaction to Tuesday's attacks. One psychologist I spoke with said his patients last week expressed as much bewilderment as fear or sorrow following the attacks. A radio commentator referred to this blithe public reaction -- as expressed in a Newsweekpoll showing a third of respondents saying they did not feel afraid as a result of the attacks -- as an American "lack of tragic imagination." Perhaps less poetic, yet more elucidating, Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, said that all experience, if it is to make sense, must fit into a category. And America is one of the few places in the world where there has existed no category for foreign-borne public insecurity. The idea that the United States could carve an inviolably secure space for itself in this world -- by force of will, by force of ideas, by force of money and of military might -- is a notion endemic to America; it's part of our ideological DNA. From Manifest Destiny, through the CIA military adventures during the 1950s, to the DEA's drug war adventures of today, it has always been an immutable article of American faith that, given the right hammer, we can pound all nails flush. We may be the only nation in history where the president can announce a $40 billion war against nobody in particular without provoking comment.

So in America there has existed no emotional context for massive, brutal attacks from abroad. And for many of us living in San Francisco, the most confounding aspect of last week was the elusiveness of an appropriate reaction. Tuesday morning's television spectacle so closely resembled a Hollywood thriller that, during the first few hours at least, it provoked the sort of breathless excitement most appropriate to a movie theater. Next there was the suspense of the unaccounted-for United Flight 93. It was like a horror show: tingly, yet not frightening in a truly meaningful way.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.