September 15, 2001
by Democratic Underground readers
September 11, 2001. Tuesday... For this ordinary man, it
was the morning in which America's adolescence ended. It was
stripped away in a moment of unconsolable pain.
In time, the youthful spirit of hope and freedom in which
it was established and nurtured will return, but how America
thinks of itself is altered forever.
America has been forced into adulthood by loss... by tragedy.
Our 55 year long, post WWII hubris was dealt a terrible, but
not fatal, wound by the cowardly actions of those who believe
they go straight to heavenly reward after they first commit
unspeakably cold murder, and hate inspired destruction.
Can we ever fight a war against this mindset?
Friends, I share with you my firm belief: we have already
won. Our democratic form of government is the greatest in
history. Our financial institutions are the world's standard.
The American heart is stoutest above all others.
As long as we do not resort to open fear and hatred of those
living here who are culturally different, the great American
experiment cannot, and will not, ever be extinguished. As
long as we are not intimidated into retreating into a shell,
we will not only survive, but will thrive.
That been said; we will not let these murderers, and the
nations that support them, off the hook. Never fear that this
country has long arms that will reach out and grasp the people
and mechanisms that wrought the needless deaths of our innocent
brothers and sisters. The sleeping giant that is the USA is
When those responsible have been found, justice will be swift...
and terrible to behold.
For now, let us attend to our own, dress our wounds, care
for the nation, and commit to a purer sense of patriotism.
One that loves our nation and people too much to contribute
to the creation of an atmosphere of bigotry and paranoia whipped
up by what we have seen, as well as our own fears. If we give
in to this, the terrorists have won. Permanently wiping out
all for which generations have fought, suffered, and died.
The evils of today are far more than enough.
We are going to rebuild. We are going to survive. And America
will be stronger than before.
Your American Brother,
Wednesday morning I went to the local grocery store to drop
off a check for the Red Cross. On the way out, I looked up
and saw the American flag at half-mast. For the first time
since the attack, I broke down and cried. I've spent the last
48 hours trying to wrap my mind around yesterday's events.
Words and phrases can't describe... atrocity, barbarity, vicious
assault, savage terrorism, cowardly attack... all seem inadequate
in some way. The Pearl Harbor of this generation? It sure
seems that way. The death toll will likely be higher than
Pearl Harbor, and at least Pearl was a military target. This
is, well, there aren't any words.
I read a lot of history. Last month I picked up a copy of
At Dawn We Slept by Gordon W. Prange, which is an excellent
account of the diplomatic and military machinations that lead
up to Pearl Harbor, about the miscalculations and mistakes.
The biggest mistake of all was the failure of the Japanese
leadership to appreciate that the attack would UNIFY the American
people, rather than demoralize them. Admiral Yamamato himself
felt that attacking the U.S. was a mistake. Would that whoever
attacked us yesterday had heeded his advice.
Another favorite book of mine about World War Two is Commander
in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and
Their War by Eric Larrabee. I strongly recommend both
books for those interested in the war, the way it was conducted,
and the nature of FDR's leadership. I've been very interested
in World War Two for the last month or so. I even bought a
picture of FDR off of Ebay last month and put it in my office;
I don't know why I did that. Perhaps I was picking up some
sort of psychic twinge in the ether.
The world changed on Tuesday, in more ways than we can probably
understand or grasp at this point. But amidst the pain and
the anguish and the desire for revenge, there are things that
we have to keep in mind.
In a battle between good and evil, good must pick its methods
very carefully, lest it end up being indistinguishable from
that which it is fighting. Blind reprisal is a blind alley;
we must make certain of our targets. Make no mistake, this
is war. But the difference between ourselves and those we
are at war with, is the fact that we DO make distinctions
between the innocent and the guilty.
In all wars, innocents will suffer, "collateral damage" to
use the Pentagon's phrase. We can't always prevent it, but
we must try to do so. We must set aside the desire for blind
vengeance in favor of justice; rough justice, yes; war is
rough justice exemplified.
I know it is not that simple, but the wrath of angry citizens
who are lashing out at all Arabs and Muslims is NOT what this
should be about. Osama Bin Laden is no more a representative
of true Islam than David Koresh was a representative of Christianity.
We must not bow to terror, but we must not bow to bigotry
or prejudice, either. We must not destroy our own liberty
in trying to save it. We are not fighting Islam or Arabs;
we are fighting barbarity.
I am by nature a diplomat. People who know me say that I
turn the other cheek a bit too often. But I am not a pacifist
either. I believe that there are times, when confronted by
absolute evil, that you must fight. And I believe that this
is one of those times.
But let us fight with a clear vision of who the enemy is.
The enemy is not the Arab-American; he is not the Afghani
on the street or the Muslim in the mosque. We must fight,
but our terrible swift sword must only be drawn when the time
is right and our sight is clear. We must vent our vengeance
on those who deserve it, they and no one else. That and the
preservation of our liberty will be both the manner and method
of our victory.
America has faced the most vile, despicable act of evil perpetrated
upon our soil. Suicide bombers hijacked four commercial jetliners,
for the purpose of destroying symbols of our nation's values:
the twin towers of The World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan,
representing our economic power; The Pentagon, symbolizing
our military might; and the White House, the symbol of liberty
(regardless of who occupies it), the Presidency, but thanks
so heroic passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93, who
voted to fight back against the hijackers, prevented the plane
from reaching its intended target, the White House. These
maniacs committed the unspeakable, the unfathomable, the unimaginable:
they rammed the planes, full of innocent civilian passengers,
full speed ahead through both towers of the WTC, through the
Pentagon, knowing full well they'd murder thousands more innocent
civilians. The immensity of this horror has shaken our sense
of security. No longer can we take our freedom, our security,
or even civilization for granted.
But how we respond to terrorism will determine whether or
not we really value an open society, personal freedom, individual
rights, personal privacy, liberty, and democracy. It is up
to us, the people, to rise above the barbaric act of terror
committed against us and dedicate ourselves to remaining a
free country. We cannot afford to give into the temptation
to accept enactment of draconian, unconstitutional laws, becoming
a police state, in the name of protecting American lives.
We will win only if we refuse to stoop to the level of the
savages who committed such a barbaric act on our nation.
If we successfully balance the increased need for tightened
security in airports, in train or bus depots, or around government
buildings, when warranted, with the respect for the American
way of life: freedom of movement, free expression, privacy,
etc., then we win this war.
If we give into the temptation to enact draconian laws that
will turn our country into a police state, in the name of
protection of American lives, then they win, they will have
accomplished their objective: the destruction of American
If we turn our anger at this act of terror on those responsible,
and the countries who shelter such menaces, then we win.
If we turn our anger indiscriminately at Arab-Americans and
Muslim Americans, then they win. If we condone hate-motivated
attacks on innocent Arab- or Muslim-Americans or immigrants,
then they win, because we will become just like the terrorists,
and this is the reaction the terrorists want from us.
If we, after having mourned and buried our dead, live our
everyday lives as normally as possible, all the while rallying
around our fallen loved ones and heroes, then we win.
If we cower in fear, shutting down government, business,
sporting events, everyday living, then they win.
We Americans can ill afford to retaliate against Arab-Americans
and Muslim citizens, who themselves are horrified with the
despicable acts of terror inflicted on us. In fact, the Arab-American
community can serve our national interests very well. If the
government employs them as agents who'd infiltrate these Middle
Eastern-based terrorist organizations, we can gather firsthand
information about their schemes and plots, thus averting future
attacks, those which high-tech gadgetry failed to prevent.
These people involved in terrorist attacks come from a culture
that is dictated by fear, religious fundamentalism that makes
our religious fanatics look like lambs by comparison, and
a total lack of regard for human life, be it their own or
the lives of others. Because they operate by fear, they assume
we will cower in the face of their horrific acts of evil.
But we proved them otherwise: countless citizens rushed to
aid the victims of the brutality; Americans all over the country
donated blood; still more donated their cash, or their time,
to help the cause.
They will never take away our spirit unless we let them.
It's up to us to decide whether or not to trade our freedom
for a temporary sense of security at any cost. If we choose
to give up our liberty and democracy, for the sake of protection
of Americans, or we decide to remain a democratic republic,
with our freedom intact. It's that simple.
The events of September 11, 2001 have shaken me to my very
core. I know that life as I've previously known it will be
forever altered. As it concerns our political leaders, in
particular George W. Bush, it is unquestionable that they
are faced with a challenge, the magnitude of which has never
before been experienced. Many have criticized Bush for what
they believe is the lack of leadership he has displayed in
the aftermath. I certainly have no love for Bush, but in the
wake of the disaster, my feelings toward him seem trivial
and petty. For you see, this disaster isn't just something
that I experienced from the comfort of my home in front of
a TV set. It was something that I lived through firsthand.
I am a born and bred New Yorker. That day started out like
any other for me. I took the subway into work. I got some
breakfast at McDonalds, then went up to my office. When I
got to my desk, I overheard some of my co-workers talk about
a plane that crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade
Center. Figuring it to be merely a tragic accident, I put
the news to the back of my mind. A few minutes later, I overheard
someone say that they'd heard on the radio that ANOTHER plane
had crashed into the WTC. Then I started to panic and I feared
that it was a terrorist act.
Some of us were concerned that we could be an indirect target
because our office is right across the street from the Empire
State Building, another well known American landmark. Soon,
I heard that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. By then,
I was convinced that this was Armegeddon and I started to
cry. Some people tried to calm me down, but it only worked
to a limited extent. I could not concentrate on work. By 10:15
AM, somebody came on a loudspeaker and announced that the
building had to be evacuated. I hauled out of there, walking
down 10 flights of stairs. I and everyone else emerged out
of a back exit. When I walked to 5th Ave and looked south,
I saw this grey and black smoke just swelling up into the
sky. A co-worker who'd been standing next to me cried, "Look
at all the smoke," and burst into tears. I hugged her and
shortly after, we went our separate ways.
The subways were shut down by that point and most bridges,
tunnels and highways were closed to vehicular traffic. I quickly
surmised that to get to my home in Brooklyn, which is separated
from Manhattan by the East River, I would have do it on foot.
I walked south, heading for the Brooklyn Bridge, which is
at least 3 miles from the Empire State Building. I had walked
but a few blocks when a passerby going in the other direction
shouted that the Brooklyn Bridge was closed. I walked up to
a police officer and asked if that were true. He confirmed
it and advised that if I wanted to get to Brooklyn, I would
have to walk north to the 59th Street Bridge and cross into
That bridge was a mile from where I was standing. Thinking
that I had no choice, I took his advice. I walked across that
bridge with several thousand other scared fellow human beings.
People, the span is several miles long. I felt as if this
were a movie, something out of "Die Hard" or "The Terminator",
not something that could possibly be happening to me. It was
totally surreal. When I got to Queens Plaza, I got on a bus
that took me into Brooklyn, but far from the neighborhood
I lived in. At that point, I didn't care. I was just relieved
to be out of Manhattan.
When I got off the bus, I could still see the smoke drifting
across the sky into Brooklyn. Brooklyn is five or so miles
away from the WTC. You could see the smoke from that far.
At a point where I could transfer to a bus that would take
me closer to my neighborhood, I found that the bus that I
needed was jammed and I could not get on. I waited 30 minutes.
Several other jammed buses passed me and a number of other
people by. I figured that I wouldn't be able to catch a bus
from where I was standing and walked to a stop where I thought
it would be easier to. Shortly after doing so, I got on a
private bus and got off at a stop about 15 blocks from where
I live. The odyssey took me 5 ½ hours.
I am grateful that I and my loved ones are alive. My heart
goes out to the innocent victims and their families. As far
as Bush and his leadership (or lack thereof) during this time
of crisis, I have to be honest and say that it is of little
concern to me right now. I feel that he should be more responsive
and more pro-active, but in the end, it isn't as though I
really need him to comfort me, you know? I have friends and
family that can give me immediate support.
When I saw the smoke with my own eyes and walked across that
bridge, I didn't give a damn who was sitting in the White
House. Bush did not even cross my mind. I just wanted to escape
alive. I respect those that feel that the criticism of Bush
should continue unabated. And after a while, I feel it will
be warranted. But for me at least, grumbling about his aloofness
or sneering at his misuse of common words seems quite trivial
while untold thousands are trapped in rubble and while untold
families are anguished.
to Part Four