I jumped out the window to get to the parking lot
I’m writing this little song on my way down
Never in my life have I felt a heat so hot
I had to get out
Such a lovely day to go flying
The sky’s so clear, the sun is shining
Fate has given me wings
Such a terrible funny thing
I was gathering up my nerve to ask out Carmen
She glanced out the window
Oh my God
The room It went away, now we’re holding hands
Just not the way I planned
- Living Colour, “Flying”
It really was a beautiful day. So many people say that. And it was true. Here in Massachusetts, about 200 miles away, it was one of the most gorgeous days I can remember. That perfect late summer/early fall day. Comfortable with jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. Absolutely beautiful clear skies. My hair was a lot darker and my waistline a lot smaller. My first child, unbeknownst to me, had just been conceived. I was working at a computer storage start-up. I was in the lab trying to get a hardware simulation working properly when i noticed I couldn’t get through to Yahoo! or any news sites. There was a voicemail from my wife that she’d heard a plane hit the World Trade Center. After some confusion a bunch of us went down to our office park’s gym which had tv sets. I arrived to a silent crowd watching two burning towers. We then saw the rest of the day proceed live. The Pentagon, the towers both collapsing, the loss of Flight 93.
It hurt. I lost no one, so my pain was that of a native born New Yorker. Born in Manhattan, family in Brooklyn. I mainly grew up in Connecticut but with my grandparents and other family members in Brooklyn I used to spend most summers in the city. I remember how my grandfather used to take me around the city. He was as true a New Yorker as you could find. Born in New York City, it had always been his home. The longest he was away was during World War II when he served our nation in Italy. When he showed me the city it was like he was showing it off to me. Like he was sharing something very special. To be honest, he wasn’t too crazy about the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. He preferred the classic skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building. He passed away a few years prior to the 9/11 attacks. My brother has told me that was the only time in his life he was glad our grandfather was gone – it would have killed him to have seen his city attacked like that.
Much like the 19th century didn’t end until World War I’s start in 1914, I think the 20th century ended on September 11, 2001.
I have mixed feelings on how my nation has reacted to 9/11. It was such a scary feeling. I think we collectively lost our mind in many ways. I agree with the need to bring the perpetrators to justice some of the roads we traveled were dark roads. And I don’t think we have a clear idea as to why we were attacked.
“They hate us for our freedom.” It sounds nice. And I don’t doubt there is some truth to that. But I don’t think you convince people to sacrifice their lives in acts of murder out of a hatred of McDonalds, scantily clad women, and freedom of religion. One of the best works I’ve read on the road that led to 9/11 was Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. It tracks the origin of 9/11 to the birth of Islamic extremism decades ago. It talks about the hatred many in the Islamic world have of their own often corrupt governments, hatred that is easily transferred to the United States which supports many of those regimes (such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt).
It goes without saying that possibly legitimate grievances does not transfer into making it remotely justifiable turning commercial airlines into weapons of mass murder.
One of the goals of 9/11 was to draw the United States into conflict with the Islamic world and to drain the United States of its treasure. While I don’t think we’ve handled the conflict in Afghanistan particularly well, I don’t think we could have avoided that. But the diversion into Iraq was absolutely avoidable. Yes, Saddam Hussein was an evil man and the world is a better place without him. But there are many regimes for which that is true and we did not go to war for that purpose but rather in pursuit of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction using intelligence that matched the desired conclusions. And we spent a fortune in treasure – both in American lives and in money. We never paid for either of those two wars – no tax increases, no decrease in other spending. Indeed, we were told the war in Iraq would pay for itself. I don’t think we would be in the dire financial straits we are in if we chose to responsibly deal with the financial costs of the two wars. In that sense, Al-Qaeda achieved one of its major goals.
Note that I don’t exclude myself. I totally bought into the idea that we had to go to war against Iraq. I didn’t think there was a connection between Iraq and 9/11 but I supported the idea of a preemptive war to get weapons of mass destruction that we were told they most certainly had. The experience has made me a lot less believing of assurances from my government.
The most painful reaction I think though has been the casual disregard for civil liberties and human rights. From debating whether waterboarding is torture (and in many cases being ok with it anyways) to rendition to debating whether an Islamic Cultural Center can be built near the World Trade Center we’ve traveled some dark roads. Yet there have been Americans who have stood against these tactics.
Our enemies didn’t adhere to the Geneva Convention. Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But every one of us — every single one of us — knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them.
- John McCain, Republican US Senator
The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values.
If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America — even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception the whole Constitution crumbles.
- Alberto J. Mora, former Navy General Counsel
While I’ve covered many facets of 9/11, there are some things that we shouldn’t lose sight of, whatever our differences might be in how we reacted to it as a nation. The United States of America in no way deserved to be attacked that day. None of those people flying or going to work “had it coming” in any way. Also, there were some amazing acts of heroism that day. People in the Twin Towers who shepherded their neighbors to the ground. Firefighters who charged into those buildings to save lives. The passengers and crew of United Flight 93 who chose to sacrifice their lives rather than let the terrorists score yet one more victory. These were ordinary Americans who woke up that morning totally unaware that they would be answering the call to heroism and that many would pay with their lives. They followed a tradition of the best of America that goes all the way back to George Washington.