Ten Years After
11 September 2011
On September 7, 2001, Alt-Country musician Ryan Adams filmed a video for his new song “New York, New York,” The video was released on September 11, 2001. It was to be the last time we would see the World Trade Center intact. Every image there after showed the famed buildings with a hole in it, or on fire, or a plane being flown in to it and eventually coming down one floor at a time.
At 9:00 am on September 11, 2001, I heard a news report, a plane crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I thought nothing of it at the time. Probably a Cessna flew too low in the fog. It was barely worth talking about it. Less than an hour later, I was watching the TV and hearing Dan Rather say, “That’s it; the World Trade Center is no more.” What an absurd statement.
We were all sent home from work at about 11:00 am. I guess my company thought the terrorists next target was going to be a 12-story office building in NW Atlanta. Anyway, I got the day off and the next day and the day after that and the day after that too. A paid six-day vacation but not really.
Like you, I was welded to my couch watching TV and listening to radio. I tried to consume everything I could. I must have watched the horrific video over 200 times. I could not help it. It was so compelling. Never before had we witnessed such an attack. Never before have we seen television cover it so vividly. Never before had anyone see 10,000 people die! It was everywhere too. Sure all the news and broadcast networks were doing their coverage but the story was so big that the basic cable stations owned by the networks were taking the feed too. USA had NBC’s feed, TNN took CBS’s feed and SOAP picked up ABC’s network coverage. Even the MTV networks were airing CBS.
Over on CBS, I saw a familiar face, Carol Marin, the venerated Chicago reporter who was working for the network in New York at the time, appeared on their broadcast. She was covered in soot from the recently collapsed buildings. I had interned with her in 1987 and found her to the consummate professional. Now, talking to Rather, she related how she was covering another story then the planes hit. She and her cameraman then were re-assigned to THEE story. As the buildings fell, she had to flee for her life, like everyone else, from that huge cloud of debris. She told how a firefighter grabbed her and shielded her in a doorway from the cloud as it passed by. If not for that firefighter, she would have been a casualty.
I kept flipping channels while also listening to the radio. 99X, Atlanta’s Alternative station, was running CNN but also the immensely informative midday host, Steve Craig was chiming in when necessary. At the time, 99X catered to angry kids who wanted to hear Korn and Limp Bizkit. Craig is a pilot and his insights into the actual crash were better than anything else being broadcast. I can only imagine some of the calls they could not air, “Dude man, play some Nickelback already, I wanna smash shit.”
As the night wore on the story turned into getting President Bush back to the White House. He had an early morning photo-op scheduled for a school in Florida, you remember, the state that gave him the election 10 months earlier. He was reading to school kids when he was informed what happened. After being told, “A second plane hit the second Tower. America is under attack.” Bush sat there, in the classroom for another seven minutes “reading” from a book, “My Pet Goat.” The book was upside down. What was he doing those seven minutes? Why didn’t one of his handlers get him out of there? The filmmaker Michael Moore stated in his documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11”
Was he wondering if maybe he should have shown up to work more often? Should he have held at least one meeting since taking office to discuss the threat of terrorism with his head of counterterrorism? Maybe Bush wondered why he had cut terrorism funding from the FBI. Or perhaps he just should have read the security briefing that was given to him on August 6th, 2001 which said Osama bin Laden was planning to attack America by hijacking airplanes. Maybe he wasn’t worried, because the title of the report was too vague. I believe the title was “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.” As the minutes went by, George Bush continued to sit in the classroom. Was he thinking, “I’ve been hanging out with the wrong crowd. Which one of them screwed me? Was it the guy my daddy’s friends delivered a lot of weapons to? Was it that group of religious fundamentalists who visited my state when I was governor? Or was it the Saudis? Damn. It was them. I think I better blame it on this guy.”
From the school in Florida, he was whisked away in Air Force One to a military base in Louisiana. After all the planes around the world were grounded, Bush made his way to another base in Nebraska. Finally, he came back to the White House in time for bed. It was important for him to be there. I even wanted the president in the White House that night. Kind of like the line in the national anthem, “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
The next morning I awoke hoping that the day before did not happen. Maybe we weren’t attacked. Nope. They still weren’t there. After another two hours of being stuck to my couch, I got up and washed my car. It was eerie. No planes were flying. Occasionally, I would see a few jet fighters from Dobbins Naval Air Base. I talked to another apartment dweller for a bit. He was a former ABC cameraman, as a journalist he too was engrossed by the events. That whole day I wondered, when we would return to normal. I also wondered what would normal be?
I have no dog in the fight. I have never been to New York City. I have never seen the World Trade Center. Truth be told, I though the buildings were bland and ugly. It was rectangle, I drew one when I was four-years-old; no one used that design for a building. Was I pissed that this happened? Hell ya! I too wanted revenge but against who or whom? My fear at the time is that our president would do something rash. He would make uninformed decisions and we would be at war.
That point was made clear on the Friday of that week when Bush stood on the pile with a megaphone promising, “The people who did this will hear from us, soon.” People? Sounds like he knew who did it, intimately. That couldn’t be right? I am not going to go off on the whole conspiracy thing. I refuse to believe that a sitting US President would a) orchestrate an attack on this country or b) know about it and do nothing to stop it. With that being said, I think we all know that after the attacks Bush, Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their ilk were ready to take advantage of the situation. Security was stepped up everywhere and our freedoms were slowly taken away. Freedom of Speech was no longer a right; it was to be used cautiously.
Oh, yes, the pendulum effect was moving too fast to be controlled. Everywhere you went there was heightened security. At Turner Field, no one was allowed to bring in anything. If you showed up with a bag or purse, you were turned around. Water was confiscated. They peeked under your hats; you had to turn your cell phone on and off.
We needed some stepped up security. The last time before the attacks I was at the airport, security consisted of guy in a suit at the Delta at baggage check-in asking me if I packed my own bags. Now with the new “security measures” at Hartsfield-Jackson we are subjected to all kinds of poking and prodding. The good news is that the colonoscopy came back negative.
Right after the attacks out country went through a fundamental change, we were nicer and more tolerant of each other. When driving people would let you merge. No one cut any one off on Cobb Parkway. When a fire truck rolled by cars moved out of the way. Cops and firefighters were seen as heroes, and rightly so. Yes, we were attacked but it brought us together as a nation. We were going to get through it. Maybe we would be a better place because of it. Civility would be restored and we could overcome our differences.
Then it happened, our national pride soon turned to national arrogance. That ridiculous USA USA USA!! chant was everywhere and for no reason. We had concerts and rallies to tell us mostly, but the world as well, that the US was the greatest country ever and your country sucked. Even as the stock market plunged in record amounts and fortunes made during the dot.com bubble were erased in a matter of minutes, they were still out there chanting USA USA USA!! Patriotism had gone amuck. It became Nationalism and then J (Hey RAD, how about that word huh?) Here we were, bruised and battered yet we were boasting like we just won a fight against the toughest kid in the schoolyard. Everywhere you looked, you saw an American flag. They were on cars, on pins, on drink cups from Mickey D’s and t-shirts. Everyone was trying to out love America each other.
After a week of solid news coverage, the networks decided to get back to normal. We all looked to late-night comedians to help us with this next phase. Could we ever get to the point where we would laugh?
The first one was David Letterman, on his first show opened with him sitting at the desk. There was no open or traditional monologue. What he said and how he said it set the tone for everything that came after wards. It ended with Rather breaking down on the set and asking Dave to throw to commercial.
Little known host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart came back on September 20, 2011. Stewart’s apartment in the West Village had a view of the World Trade Center. He bravely talked about the toll it took on him emotionally knowing that the buildings and the people were gone. As he sobbed between sentences, he mentioned the new view he had, The Statue of Liberty. He was hopeful that he, the city and the country could get though it all.
When ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” host Bill Maher came back, he was the first to stir a controversy. One of his guests for the show scheduled to tape on September 11, 2001 was conservative pundit Barbara Olson. Olson was a passenger on American Airlines flight 77 flight, the plane that flew into the Pentagon. Maher left her seat vacant for a week in her honor. As the topic turned to the attacks, one of the guests quoted the president saying the attacks were cowardly. Maher piped up saying, “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”
That statement set off a whole firestorm that got White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to denounce Maher and issue a warning that “people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.” Eventually. advertisers left and ABC had no choice but to pull the plug on Maher. For what it’s worth, I still agree with him.
The 20th century’s best observer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, wrote on September 12, 2001 on espn.com’s page 2:
The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive “figurehead” — or even dead, for all we know — but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.
Nothing — even George Bush’s $350 billion “Star Wars” missile defense system — could have prevented Tuesday’s attack, and it cost next to nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.
We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.
This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.
Good luck. He is in for a profoundly difficult job — armed as he is with no credible Military Intelligence, no witnesses and only the ghost of Bin Laden to blame for the tragedy.
I wanted to get a younger perspective on this so I asked my adorable 13-year-old niece Alissa why the attacks happened. Her response was “People don’t like each other.” I know it sounds naive but at the core, she is correct. Have we as a country done anything to bridge the hate gap? We went from being the most-beloved country on the planet to the most-hated in a matter of years, mostly as the result of starting two wars.
Listen to talk radio. Commentators on both sides make their living by calling the other horrific names. While it is for the sake of ratings, they do not understand or care about the collateral damage. Disagreeing with a political statement can now get you beaten, shunned or banished. This started with the aftermath of the attacks.
I fear for all my nieces and nephews and their entire generation. They will be living in a different world than the one where I was raised. We know our enemy, those godless commies. Their enemy is unseen, has no physical boarders to defend and their war has no definitive victory. It may be a war that they fight her entire life.
Its ten years after the attacks. The good feelings we had towards one another have been eroded by our God given right to be angry at each other. The wars that were started to root out evil still have no end in sight. They have cost over $3.7 trillion and close to 6,000 lives. President Bush who once held a 93% approval rating left in 2008 with a 22%. The Weapons of Mass Destruction that Bush assured us that Iraq was hiding turned out to not exist. Those brave first responders and those who volunteered to clean up the debris are being denied health benefits for cancer by our government. Apparently, there is not enough scientific evidence that exposure to toxic substances cause cancer. We have had new words and phrases enter our national vocabulary: Ground Zero, War on Terror, Gitmo, The Patriot Act, Anthrax, Abu Ghraib, Homeland security, Orange alert, Waterboarding and Freedom fries.
Eventually the events will be trivialized. There will be a new national tragedy to take its place. A Hollywood blockbuster movie will be made that focusing on the heroics of a NYC cop and an NYC firefighter who rush into the building to save the woman they both love. The Maine, The Alamo, and Pearl Harbor fell to those fates so why not 9/11? Some events, like Black Tom, have been forgotten altogether.
I hope we can all get back to the days after 9/11 as a country. One where we were civil to each other. Where we cared about our fellow-man. Where we stood by our country. If we did it once under trying times, why can’t we do it again?