September 11th: 15 Years Later
The September 11 Attacks
For my generation, the September 11th Attacks is our John F. Kennedy Assassination. It is a time where you remember what you were doing and where you were when you heard about the attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and the crash of United 93 in Pennsylvania. The world for thousands of families changed on that day. The world entire changed. Our nation changed and New York changed.
September 11: The Day of the Attacks
On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was sitting in the home office talking with a friend when the news alert popped up about “an incident” in New York City. The image showed a fire at the World Trade Center and the report was a small plane had flown into one of the Towers. I remember telling my friend that no small plane did that. That’s a huge hole in the side of the building. That had to be a commercial jet of some sorts. At the same time my parents had just turned on the TV in the bedroom and they tuned it to The Today Show. That’s when the second plane hit. My words to my friend were: “We are at war.” It was also quickly picked up by the news media too—they went with jumped into their minds. It’s a dangerous thing to do as a journalist—jump to a conclusion about breaking news.
At this time, which was just around 8 o’clock in the morning (Indiana didn’t change time at that time), bin Laden was a foreign name to me. So was Al Qaeda. I never heard those names before. It wasn’t until a few hours later that first rumblings of the terror group began to make into the discussions about who was behind the terror plot.
I was going to a community college at the time so I headed off to school about 8:30. As luck would have it, I had a computer networking class and our classroom was a lab. Nothing was done that day in terms of classwork. Nobody could focus on the tasks for the day. Everyone was on the web looking at the various news websites. It was slow. Everyone else around the area doing the same thing. Websites would stop working or just become unresponsive. Everyone searching for the latest information.
By this time, the Pentagon had been hit, the Towers were on fire and the rumors started—the State Department was on fire, they’re evacuating the Capitol Building, the White House and so much more. It was hard to get a handle on what was happening that day. I remember CNN having a basic timeline of the events of the morning. And it’s safe to say what happened next caught everyone by surprise.
That’s when the horror began to set in—all those people in the WTC, how are they going to get out? Firefighters rushing in and people rushing out. At some point on one of the news websites, it was reported that people could be seen jumping—to their deaths, one of their own choosing in some ways. A choice not made lightly but one out of desperation. It was their salvation from whatever Hell they were in at the moment.
Then the Towers fell. Shock. Disbelief. A skyscraper crumbling onto itself unheard of and unimaginable. You thought people could survive that but it was clear that very few people would be pulled alive from the rubble. The endless replays. You could see the floors that buckled first were at the impact site. A building made of steel doesn’t fall. At least not like this.
Class ended around noon. I went home. On the bus, it was all anyone could talk about. The driver and the passengers deep in talk about who was responsible, what our response would be and just the horror of the day itself. For me, a child of the end of the Cold War who didn’t know a world where a nuclear war was a daily fear, suddenly began to feel that fear of a world of uncertainty. I wasn’t 18—I was 26 years old. It’s a scary thought.
At home, work on the kitchen repainting stopped. Obvious reasons. Mom was watching CNN or FOX News—one of the cable channels. I made lunch—macaroni and cheese. Watched TV headed to work at the video store.
It was a Tuesday. A new release day in the home video rental business. It wasn’t a big day so I knew we wouldn’t be busy. But who could rent on a day like this. We were slow. But that’s not what I remember most about that time at work. I remember a customer telling a co-worker “I don’t want his kind waiting on me.” It was the first time I witnessed racism. It made me mad, I wanted to punch the woman.
Other panics set in. By early evening, all evidenced pointed to a Middle East terror group. Fear of prices rising at gas stations sent everyone to fill up their tanks. Minor squabbles reported at local stations between drivers. In other parts of the country, rumors of vandalism at Muslim establishments started to surface.
On the way home, I went to Arby’s to get something to eat and headed home. While watching CNN and seeing the images from Ground Zero my thoughts went back to an earlier moment in the day: would this be the day we would use a nuclear weapon on those behind the attacks. What type of world was I going to wake up to the next morning?
Back to those images… throughout the day both at home and at work, the constant replay of the second plane striking the building sent chills down my spine. But the one image—the one video—that sticks out and is the most profound was video of the second plane hitting the South Tower. It was taken from Battery Park. The closeness… the sound… it brings you into what was happening at the site. There’s also the realization that hundreds of people just lost their lives in that instant. That will stay with me.
Another moment that reminds of the eerie nature of the day is the silence. We live on a flight path. The only thing we could see was the contrails of the fighter jets. No jetliners. No small planes. Stillness. There was a moment of joy when flights resumed a few days later when we heard the first jet flight fly over.
While bin Laden’s and Al Qaeda’s names were mentioned earlier, they became mentioned more and more by the “experts” on the news programs. Then the anger sets in—if we knew who may have been responsible then why didn’t we stop them?
September 11th: Seven Years Later
It wasn’t until I was at IU South Bend that I fully began to understand what happened on September 11, 2001. One history class I took centered on the aftermath of the attacks. But in order to get that point, we as students had to understand what happened in the decades leading up to those events.
The September 11th Attacks were not a singular event. Instead, it was a culmination of events that can be traced back to World War I and even before then when you factor in Western European colonialism. A series of decisions made nearly 100 years earlier by leaders long dead and buried helped lay the foundation for which provided the fuel for the attacks.
The takeaway from this class was that a lot things failed. From the FBI and CIA not sharing information, to ignoring the threat assessments and general lack of imagination. But had we known, we could have only prevented this attack. An attack was inevitable. It was coming. The only play is to stay one step ahead.