The Day that Will Live on in Infamy II: Revisited
I’m just coming back from a vacation and had not begun to really think in terms of blogging again, when I received an email from Matt. No tech on Monday. Only 9/11-related posts. Well, that’s easy, I thought.
September 11th hit very close to home for me, both geographically and emotionally. I worked in a government facility outside of Baltimore, a mere 50 miles from the Pentagon. That morning, as I drove into work, I observed a crystal blue sky, a faint early-fall crispness in the air and a usually easy commute into work. I had gotten back from a weekend at the Ocean just days before and really wasn’t feeling very worker-like.
That morning, I settled into my make-shift mini-cubicle that had been erected for me. There was no other space so this was my home at work. I began to sift through my emails for the morning. Around 8:15, my coworker Mark made his regular early morning jaunt down to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee and a bagel.
About 8:50, he came back into the data center where I worked and shouted out to me, “Hey Aaron… Do you see anything on the internet about a plane hitting the World Trade Center?” I had not, since I had not even opened a browser that morning. Initially, I thought that some small aircraft had flown off course and hit the tower. Not by any stretch ‘normal’, but that kind of thing does happen occassionally.
I opened a browser and typed in cnn.com, hit enter. The site sat and spun while the page tried to load. Hmmm, I thought. Must be down. Typed in msnbc.com. Same thing. Strange. foxnews.com. Same thing. Wow, the network must be down, I thought. I suggested to Mark that we go over to the Command Center. There was a television in there and if a plane had indeed hit the towers, it would be on the television.
Not thinking too much about it, Mark and I jaunted over to the Command Center. As I reached to the door handle, my gaze fell on the clock above the door. 8:59am. Opening the door, the room was packed like I had never seen it packed before. I waded through the crowds of people close enough to see the television. Smoke poured from one of the tower and the low murmur in the room made my heart skip a beat.
“What happened,” I whispered to an African-American gentleman to my right?
“A commercial airliner hit the Twin Towers,” he said.
“What??!” I exclaimed. “I thought maybe a turboprop or something. Did he fly off course?”
“We don’t know,” he said.
At that moment, we watched as a second plane crashed into the second tower. At that moment, everyone in that room understood what was happening. New York was under attack. We were all under attack.
“This is terrorism,” some folks quietly said as tears began to fall. Still others became possessed with a righteous anger, “This means war!”
For long minutes, we stood as more people pressed into the room inquiring what had happened. Rumors began to trickle out from the room and the phone systems went dead under the deluge of phone calls out of the building.
Soon thereafter, a new report came across the wire. For many, it was the straw that broke the camels back. Brian Williams of NBC broke the coverage in New York with a new story – the Pentagon had been attacked in Washington, D.C. With the news of a new attack in another city and the fact that it was a government building, the resident government worker bees streamed for the exits. Not only was this attack closer to home (many of our workers lived in Virginia and commuted to Baltimore), but it suddenly had no sense of order or predictability. Our building might be next!
Not long after the Pentagon attack, we heard rumors of another plane in the air. Some said it was headed for Washington – maybe to the Capitol building, maybe to the White House. No one knew. Others thought it might go to Baltimore where the Social Security Administration was. Others thought it might be headed to Southern Maryland where the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power station was. As it was it crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers revolted against their captors. Their story would come out in the days afterwards.
Those days changed the lives of us. All Americans were affected. Le Monde in France declared the next day, “We are All Americans“. But in the Washington Metro area and in New York, deep scars will remain many years beyond today.
Today, political pettiness rules the world. The clear and present danger that filled all of our eyes in the days and weeks after September 11th without question, has been replaced by staunch resistance to terror-fighting policy. Americans sign away their civil rights in the hopes that they might be free of fear, and to many outside the U.S., the threat of Al Qaeda has been replaced with the threat of George Bush. That clouded vision is a shame as another attack will happen again on American soil. It is not a question of if, but when and on that day, it will not matter how much anti-Americanism exists or how badly the war in Iraq has gone, or if Iran has nukes. Allies of America have already experienced it in London, France, Spain and Iraq among other places. The ideals of terrorism know no international boundaries. Like Le Monde declared, “We are All Americans”, the truth is, “We all love Liberty”.