The first two photographs were pulled from the web (no indication of ownership). The last two are mine.
Another anniversary is here, and the horrors of the day are now far enough in the past that we should be able to put the event in perspective.
the WTC as it was before
But we haven’t.
We still don’t understand that the military means that have been used to create a virtual empire have consequences from the raised status of military spending over all other expenses, to the national security “deep state” to the support of anti-democratic regimes abroad. The consequences include September 11 and anti-western terrorism in general. Even the militarization of police at home is part of what happens when security trumps democracy.
It may be that there is no other way for us to behave. That the structures put in place after WW2 are irreversible. But even if empire is inevitable, we should at least recognize that our behavior (as an empire) created enmities. And since we have the most powerful military on earth, then those who oppose us would be wise to rely on other means. Thus it is that terrorism is the rational response of the weak against the strong.
And please don’t take this as support for terrorism. But we should recognize that actions have consequences.
The events of September 11 should have caused us to examine US behavior. Some of us did. The late Chalmers Johnson did his best (please look him up). But sadly, the accepted story line in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, was that “they” hate us for our freedom. No they don’t. They may not appreciate the value of an open society, but the attacks on September 11 were not attacks on the US as a beacon of freedom, but for our efforts to influence and control the middle east and much else.
For myself, the events of that day made a lasting impression on me.
September 11, 2001 started out a clear blue September day. It was a primary election day in NYC and I remember passing a polling place about a block from my office on the 20th floor of a landmark building in midtown. Jut before the first plane hit, we felt our building shake. At the time, we assumed it was a military flier hot-dogging (though such events were extremely rare). We soon learned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
I decided to go outside to see what happened. I made my way to Madison Square Park where we could catch a glimpse of the Towers. The flames could be seen clearly, as could much more smoke that I had expected. By the time I got there the second plane had struck so both towers were in flames. I do remember wondering why the sprinkler systems were not enough to control the fire (which I really thought was from a small plane). Of course the idea that 2 small place would crash nearly together was absurd.
Confused, I went back to work. By the time I reached my floor, news was being passed around that 2 large jets had crashed into the WTC. I called home and my wife filled in the details. Though we had access to the internet, searches were not as easy as they are today and newspapers and broadcast news sources didn’t have the web friendly portals that are ubiquitous now.
By the way, for commuters, the Twin Towers sat atop a transit hub. The night before, my wife had passed through on her way home from work - she ran small bookstores, including one at the tip of Manhattan at Castle Clinton (a national historic site) where folks would buy tickets to the Statue of Liberty.
Then the first tower fell; after that it was hard to focus on work. Most of us knew folks who worked at or near the WTC. I knew met the manager of a claims unit that worked in building 7. In one of our conference rooms the TV was tuned to the news. I was there when the second tower fell.
After that nothing was normal and very soon after a corporate announcement explained that if you had to go home, you could leave. You should know that Manhattan is an island and that most transportation was affected by the events of the day. For example, my train to NJ went from Penn Station through a tunnel to NJ - that tunnel was closed and trains from midtown to NJ were cancelled. Many subways passed through lower manhattan (where the WTC was located) and these were also shut down. Surface transit - buses and cars was severely restricted. I elected to stay, reasoning that it could only get better as the day wore on.
Many started to leave (if you lived in Brooklyn, the best way out was to walk to the Brooklyn Bridge and then to find a bus home).
At lunch time, I walked as far south as I could. The police stopped me as 14th street. By then you could smell smoke in the air. It had an odd smell. Most shops were closed - shop owners had to close up as they had too few employees left to run their businesses. No one wanted to become stranded. I stayed till late afternoon and then made my was west where ferries were set up to carry us to New Jersey - where we could find local transport home. By the way, once in NJ, the authorities had set up decontamination stations for folks who worked near the WTC site. Clearly some knew that the dust was toxic.
For my wife - her shop at Castle Clinton closed and the area in front of her store was turned into a rescue zone, where folks could get first aid, and also board ferries to Staten Island and NJ.
From the ferries we could see the still burning site where the WTC once stood. Everyone seemed to be in shock. The site smoked for months thereafter and each day from my train I would see the smoldering ruin and wonder.
lower manhattan burning
Now there is a new tower near where the WTC stood, and reflecting pools to memorialize those who died when the towers collapsed - and this is as it should be. But it would be a pity to let the day pass without reckoning on what really caused the events of that day. In the time since, we have foolishly engage in warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq in the curious belief that war can solve problems, but war cannot. It didn’t then, and it won’t now.
One curious note is that it was only in Iran (among the Muslim nations of the middle east) where the ordinary folks assemble with candles or moments of silence, yet we take Iran as an implacable enemy and the Saudis (who birthed islamic terrorism) as our friends.