17 Years Later: The September 11, 2001 Attacks
This has become an annual tradition for me, writing about the September 11th Attacks. I tend to write the same thing over and over again. It is no wonder, to be honest. The day is firmly etched into my memory. Much like how my dad remembers his mom calling to his dad about the Pearl Harbor attacks or my parents remembering the assassination of President Kennedy, September 11, 2001 is my historical day. The where were you when when you heard moment.
It too was a clear day
I began my Tuesday morning like I had most other weekdays. I got up, showered, got dressed, fixed breakfast and dialed into America Online. I started talking with a friend from Michigan on Instant Messenger. I saw a news alert about New York City. My initial reaction was that’s not a small plane. Then the news about second plane flying into the other tower broke. My comment to my friend, and she agreed, was that “we were at war.”
At the time I was going to a different college working on my Associates Degree. I headed off to class. There was no learning that day. Instead, we huddled around our computer screens refreshing new websites for the latest news. The Pentagon was on fire, the State Department was under threat, the White House was next—all of these things showed up on one site or another. The sites were slow—even for 2001 standards. They were crashing from the amount of traffic. But then the name dropped—the person behind the attacks. This was about 10 a.m. A little more than a hour after the first plane, people know. We started to figure it out.
Class was done at noon. I headed home. As I waited for the bus, one of things I noticed was that it was a clear day. It was a typical mid-September day in Northern Indiana. The ride home was surreal. The attacks in New York City and Washington and the crash site in Pennsylvania were the topics of discussion.
At home, my mom was watching the news. It was the first non-internet images of the carnage I had seen. There’s no way anyone was alive in that heap of twisted, burning steel.
My first experience seeing hatred
I wouldn’t say I’ve lived a sheltered a life. But I would say I never experienced what I saw on this day before in my life. I knew racism existed. I knew people didn’t like people because of their skin color, religion or nationality. But I had never seen it played out in the open before, in front of me. I was shocked. Outraged. Upset. To hear someone utter the words “I don’t want his kind to help me” is unsettling. It was the only that day and those that would follow.
Glued to the news
I had to work that afternoon. Tuesday was new release day at the video store. I knew it would be a slow day because there were no major movies coming out. In fact, it was even slower than usual because people’s thoughts were elsewhere. What we did rent out was mostly kids movies—parents wanting a distraction for the young ones who didn’t want them to see what was happening on TV. At home, all I could watch was the news. All night. I remember sitting in my room and seeing video of the second plane flying into second tower from Battery Park. That video is still etched into my memory. In the days that followed, news coverage was scaled back. We knew what happened, we know who was responsible, and now the process of moving forward was starting to begin.
In the years that followed
I routinely watch the specials that air on TV around this time of year. One of my favorites is 102 Minutes That Changed America. It’s a virtual real time telling of the events of the day that was captured primarily by ordinary people who lived near the World Trade Center. It not only captures the images of the burning buildings but also the reactions of those that are behind the cameras.
Another favorite is a Frontline episode called The Man Who Knew. Former FBI Agent John O’Neill was obsessed with finding Bin Laden. So much so, it made him a controversial figured within the halls of the FBI Building. He sparred with his superiors and with those in the CIA. It offers insight into the failings and successes of America’s fight against terrorism.
The last documentary is 9/11. The filmmakers started off telling a story of a rookie firefighter in the FDNY but ended up on the front line of covering the tragedy of the day. It was shown on TV in March 2002, six months after the attacks. It was uncensored and offered an unfiltered look at the reactions of firefighters who faced death and those ordinary people.
Other specials include 9/11: As We Watched follows ABC News anchors and reporters as they struggled to cover the events of the day. It also includes a tearful Peter Jennings recapping the day. The other must-watch documentary is 9/11: The Heartland Tapes. It focuses on how local media covered the events of the day. Their covered was no less important or compelling. If you’re from my area, a local TV station is among those featured. At the end of this post, I embedded the 11 p.m. newscast from ABC 7 New York.
There are two books I would recommend. One is the abridged version of The 9/11 Commission Report and the other The Looming Tower. The latter of which was made into a 10-part Hulu series. Tower is about the rise of terrorism and the path it led to 9/11.
There’s been a handful of feature films about the attacks. World Trade Center and United 93 are two of most recognized titles. There some fictionalized stories using the attacks as a background, one of most recognized is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
There is one controversial movie. In 2006, ABC aired a mini-series titled The Path to 9/11. According to the network, the mini-series was based on The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources. But from the start, many of the principles portrayed in the project complained the producers were misrepresenting the facts. Even those behind the report questioned the accuracy of the project. It was edited up until it aired. The mini-series aired once. It is not available on home video.
The Looming Tower mini-series on Hulu is by far the best of the handful of films and mini-series that have dramatized the events of the September 11th Attacks. The series starts in the late 1990s and ends after the attacks. The film has some of the key principles of the events surrounding 1993 to 2001, including John P. O’Neill, Richard Clarke, George Tenant, and Ali Soufan. Some of the key CIA people were not included in the series by real name but composite characters were created. It’s hard to walk away from that the series and not feel antagonism toward certain individuals. Whether or not it was intent of the creators, it certainly comes across that way.
Below is New York ABC 7’s 11 p.m. newscast from that day