Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thoughts On the 10th Anniversary of 9/11

Rather than go into a long exposition about my opinions and feelings about 9/11 and its aftermath, I decided today to simply post the journal entry I wrote the day the attacks took place.  I think these words say far more than I could say today, looking back in retrospect.  This is the first time I've ever made anything in my journal public.  I've copied it word for word.

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September 11, 2001

That date seems so insignificant looking at it here on the page, but I know in the future, it will be a day that will be well remembered by all Americans.  Today, the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed, and the Pentagon was attacked, all with hijacked airliners on a kamikazee-style mission.  It was utterly horrifying.  Never in my life have I felt panic over a world event.  Vietnam was over before I was born, I was too young to care about Reagan’s near assassination, The Gulf War wasn’t really much of a war, and Waco, the ’93 World Trade Center bombings, and the ’98 US Embassy bombings didn’t phase me much.  But today, for the first time in my life, I felt true panic as I watched smoke and flame pouring out of the Pentagon, America’s symbol of military strength and power. 

I was sitting at my desk this morning at 9:00, like I do every morning.  It was a pretty day – pleasant temperatures and clear skies.  It didn’t seem like a special day.  I got up at about 7:20 and took a long shower as usual.  I got out of the shower, got dressed, took the dog out, read a note from my wife saying that her sister Sarah would be bringing my lunch with her to work (and noted that I wouldn’t need it as I already had lunch plans), and then gathered my planner and tennis shoes for working out, and walked out the door.  The drive to work was pleasant.  I said my morning prayer and then listened to a Guns n’ Roses CD.  Walking into work, I met up with the head of the sales department and we had a friendly conversation about Melanie and her pregnancy and how things are going.  Neither of us had the slightest concern for the security of the United States.  At the same moment we were walking into Tempur-Pedic together, there were people walking into the World Trade Center buildings, blissfully unaware that within an hour they would die in the worst terrorist attack in world history.    

At 9 a.m., my co-worker, Bill, was on the phone with our Connecticut warehouse.  The owner of the warehouse has a home office, and he evidently had the radio or television on.  He told Bill that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York.  Bill relayed the information to me and I sort of filed it away, assuming it was a small, private plane.  No big deal.  No panic.  Ten minutes later, our local warehouse manager came over and told us two planes had hit the twin towers.  I was incredulous.  “You mean to tell me that two separate planes randomly hit the World Trade Center towers five minutes apart?  That’s impossible.”  He assured me it was indeed possible and that the word was it was terrorists.  Strange.  But not strange enough for panic.  Not long after that, one of our executives tuned into CBS News on the internet and we watched as Dan Rather talked about the tragedy.  They showed footage of the second plane as it hit the tower, exploding in a belch of flame and smoke.  We were amazed and awed.  But still no panic.  We discussed the possibilities.  The ramifications.  Very strange indeed.  I returned to work.

By now I was emailing like crazy.  My friends and family were talking about it and sending me emails.  I was having a hard time concentrating on work.  Then, from inside his office, our exec said, “I knew it.  They got the Pentagon.”  And now the panic set in.  We rushed into his office and saw the image of the Pentagon in flames.  We were confused and scared.  Was it a bomb?  Was it another plane?  What was happening?  What would happen next?  The White House?  Where was the President?  I tore myself from the screen and went back to my desk.  My hands felt cold and my stomach was in knots.  I felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack.  I called a friend at home and he was watching the telecast (he’d read one of my emails about the tragedy and thought I’d been joking).  He told me that Tom Brokaw was reporting that one of the towers had collapsed.  “Collapsed?” I asked.  “What do you mean it ‘collapsed?’”  He told me it had evidently collapsed.  Again I asked, “What do you mean by collapsed?  You’re telling me that one of the World Trade Center towers has fallen?  It’s completely gone?”  Evidently, he told me.  I felt slightly light-headed and still didn’t quite believe him.

A few minutes later we were back in the exec’s office, watching the telecast via the internet.  CBS was interviewing an eyewitness to the Pentagon explosion, but the camera view was still showing the single twin tower.  The upper floors were in flames and black smoke poured into the sky.  As the interview went on, the burning portion of the tower suddenly disintigrated.  On television, it looked like it had been turned to dust.  Then the building imploded on itself, falling straight down.  It was as if it had been vaporized.  The interview went on for a few seconds longer until Dan Rather cut in and told America that the second tower had fallen.  The camera angle panned out.  Where the two twin towers used to stand, regal and mighty, symbols of America’s economic strength, there was only dust and smoke and debris.  Unbelievable.  Amazing.  Like a movie.  How could they be gone?  How could such a well known pair of buildings – buildings I’d seen a million times on television and in pictures – be reduced to rubble in less than an hour?  The twin towers of Manhattan, GONE!  Wiped out.  No longer in existence.  Once the tallest structures in the world, now just a pile of debris.  Sitting here at half past midnight, fifteen hours after it happened, it still feels surreal.  Is it really true?  It can’t be.  But it is. 
 
Words can’t describe the feeling after seeing the second tower fall on live television.  Work stopped.  I couldn’t concentrate on anything.  I got NOTHING accomplished all morning.  I was on edge.  When would the next bit of news come over the wire that another place had been hit?  What was the deal with all the stories of hijackings?  Were there passengers on the planes?  We didn’t know.  It was a mass of confusion.  Rumors flew.  Bombs seemed to be exploding everywhere, planes crashing everywhere.  It was impossible to separate fact from fiction.

And sitting here tonight, there are still many questions and few answers.  We still don’t know how many are dead.  Perhaps thousands.  We know that four airliners were hijacked.  All four were transcontinental flights, full of fuel.  All four had passengers aboard.  It’s believed that the hijackers themselves wrested control of the plane from the pilots and guided the planes into the targets.  Two hit the twin towers in New York.  A third hit the Pentagon.  And a fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania.  At this time, it is not known what happened to that flight.  Did the hijacker lose control and crash the plane?  Did the pilot crash the plane on purpose to avoid disaster?  Was there a struggle in the cockpit that caused the plane to lose control?  What was the intended target?  The White House?  The Capital?  Some other military or government installation?  We don’t know the answers to any of these questions right now. 

And so I’m left considering the ramifications.  What does all this mean for the future?  War?  Perhaps.  I think that war is the most extreme possibility.  Retaliation from the U.S. is almost certain.  Osama Bin Laden is suspected as the mastermind.  He also suspected to be in Afghanistan.  These two facts have led public opinion against Afghanistan.  Would air strikes in Afghanistan be worth it?  Right now, I say yes.  The sense of revenge is strong within me.  For all my liberality, I’d like nothing more than to see every major city in Afghanistan razed by air and missle strikes.  Show them we mean business and that we won’t take this lying down.  I don’t generally have a patriotic bone in my body, but when someone sneaks into your house and starts trashing it, it makes you want to retaliate.

What about the impact on America?  How will this change things as we know it?  Security concerns will certainly be prevalent in airports.  How could four separate domestic flights be hijacked successfully from three different major airports?  Is it really that easy to hijack a domestic US flight?  What about further terrorist acts?  What will happen tomorrow?  BostonMiami?  Houston, where my parents live?  L.A.?  San Fransisco?  How vast is this ring of terrorism?  Too many questions, too few answers.

But the possibility of war frightens me.  We haven’t had a major war in this country in nearly 30 years.  That’s a long time, especially by the standards of the last 150 years.  Could this be the beginning of another world war?  A year from now, might we be bogged down in a war with Afghanistan and its allies?  Again, my gut feelings says no.  But I suppose only time will tell. 

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As a sort of post-script, here is a portion of the entry I made the next night, on September 12th.

In light of the events of the last 36 hours, I felt I needed to write in my journal again, to put on paper the strange coincidence I’ve just discovered in my novel.  I’m working on a book right now tentatively called Everyday Experience.  In it, my main characters are on an international crime spree, and currently, they have just completed the succesful robbery of a death mask from a previously undiscovered tomb beneath the Great Sphinx.  I’m in the process of developing a mini-plot that involves the death mask and the curse of the pharaoh from whom it was taken.  In the story, I am leading my characters through an array of accidents and mishaps and catastrophes (or rather, they are leading me), all with the ultimate goal of showing the reader that the curse of the pharaoh is real.  The section that I am in the middle of right now has the main characters in their hotel room in Cairo.  They have just woken up to the sounds of fire alarms.  The building is on fire.  They run out to the veranda to look for a way out.  Smoke and flame are pouring from the windows.  One of the characters says the following: “We’ve got to get down!” Henry said.  “The fire’s below us . . . that means the floors above the flames will start caving in.  The entire building is in danger of collapsing!”  Strangely enough, this was where I left off when I finished last time.  The very last line I wrote.  That was on Monday night, around midnight.  Septebmer 10, 2001.  About 9 hours later, the World Trade Center was attacked and the twin towers collapsed in smoke and flame, due to the caving in of floors.  I find it very odd, and bit unnerving, that when I wrote that passage, I had no idea such real events would take place in America in just a few hours.

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