Democratic Underground

Part One
September 14, 2001
by Democratic Underground readers

Printer-friendly version of this article Tell a friend about this article Discuss this article

I write this still in a state of disbelief.

In my lifetime there have been a few events in which I distinctly remember where I was and what I was doing when they occurred. Of political nature, there is the recent election night of 2000. There is the also the 1986 People Power Revolt that toppled Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos (I am a Filipino who moved to New York two years ago). The fall of the Berlin Wall also stands out in my memory, with my thoughts about the event immortalized in a journal entry I wrote after I heard the news. Such events remain indelibly etched in my mind, perhaps forever. But none of it compares to what I have just witnessed and gone through today.

Quite aptly, a newscaster from CBS has dubbed today Black Tuesday, and almost all pundits have began comparing the magnitude and historical impact of this tragedy to the Pearl Harbor bombing, or the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Indeed, Sept. 11, 2001 is a day that will live in equal, if not greater, infamy... a day which all of us who witnessed it will be able to relive in our minds and in words for years to come, perhaps until we die. And like all momentous days, everyone of us woke up to this one not knowing what was about to unfold.

Today was going to be my first day back to work after a week's vacation. I had woken up late at around 9am, which meant I had 30 minutes to get ready and another 20-minute subway commute to make it to work before 10am. My roommate, who left for work earlier, had left a note informing me that there was a fire at the World Trade Center. Not having the slightest idea of the gravity of the situation, and not having the time to turn on the TV, I took this as a warning to rush and try to make it to the 2 0r 3 train before they re-routed it, which meant I will miss my stop.

By then, there were already police cars and flares set up all around Grand Army Plaza, where I take the 2 or 3 train to work, with the entire area already cordoned off. I still managed to make it to a train, and by the time we hit Atlantic Avenue, everything was halted to a complete stop. There were those who chose to stay on the train, hoping it would eventually crawl forward into Manhattan. And there were those of us who immediately chose to get out of the train and out onto the street to try and find ways to get into the 'city', which is how those of us who live in the other four boroughs fondly call Manhattan.

Right out of the station, I saw what I immediately decided was a completely surreal sight. It was as if the entire commuting population of Brooklyn was thrown onto the street, with women and children trying to get on the bus whatever direction it was headed, a gentleman in a suit offering $10 to a Coca-Cola truck driver who seemed to be heading to the direction of Manhattan, everyone just trying to get to their destination as quickly as possible, a classic New Yorker trait - one which I exhibited myself, still oblivious to the enormity of what was happening.

By this time, it was already 10:30am, and I was already terribly late, and my initial concern was to call the office to inform them I was coming in late because of the train delay. My cellphone was not receiving any signal, so I had to line up for a payphone. Based on the calls I overheard, several other people worried about the same thing as I did: getting to work. When I did make it to the phone, I found to my utter frustration that all lines at work were busy, which I knew immediately was an unusual situation, because we simply never get a busy signal calling our office. Not sure what to do, I asked an officer what the best way was to get to Manhattan.

He never got to answer, as the gentleman beside him incredulously screamed at me: "Are you kidding? What the fuck do you want to go to Manhattan for!? It's a war zone out there!" The man pointed to the horizon, where I saw a huge ball of smoke where the Twin Towers were supposed to be. In my haste to get to work as quickly as possible, it never occured to me that those two towers, visible from this part of Flatbush Avenue, were no longer there. And it is at this time that it began to sink in.

I walked aimlessly along Flatbush Avenue, not aware of what was really happening until I reached Grand Army Plaza again. I managed to get back to my apartment nearby, and as soon as I got in, I called my family and friends in the Philippines to let them know I'm OK. Then I called my friends at work. The south windows of our office face the World Trade Center towers, and I was sure whoever was at the office at the time would have definitely seen the fire and the explosions, and the last glimpses of the buildings before their collapse. Sure enough they did, and needless to say, they were in a similar state of disbelief as I was.

Afterwards, I called my friends who I knew worked at the WTC, terribly worried about their safety, while at the same time hopeful and optimistic. Thankfully all of them returned my call within minutes. I then turned on the TV and saw replayed images of the plane hitting one tower of the World Trade Center, and then the buildings collapsing. I was numbed. These images on TV could not be real! It was too unbelievable, unthinkable... something I wouldn't even suspend my disbelief for if I saw it in a movie.

How could have this brazen, wildly audacious act of terrorism been so successfully executed? Things simply did not compute. That a familiar landmark that we see day in and day out whenever we pass by the Manhattan Bridge on the subway could be flattened in a matter of minutes was just beyond my comprehension. I was in a daze. And alone in my apartment with no one to turn to, I realized my roommate hadn't made it back home. I tried to call anyone I knew, but by this time I just kept getting busy signals, indicating that the circuits were heavily clogged.

It took a while before my roommate made it home. She managed to make it to work at the Conde Nast Building on Times Sq, but their building was being evacuated by then. At the time the subways had closed already, so she had to walk all the way home, and she made it back by 2PM. We shared our stories, and she talked of the horrific scenes she had personally witnessed.

It was then that I decided I wanted to go back to the city and just try and do something. Miraculously some subway lines had started running, and I managed to catch a Q train to Canal St, the heart of Chinatown. Even as I already knew how much lower Manhattan now looked like a war zone, it nevertheless felt strange and eerie to see this eternally pedestrian-filled section of Manhattan virtually empty of both cars and people. The police have sealed off all streets leading to the WTC area, now referred to as "ground zero."

Relying on wile and sheer determination, I tried to make it as near as possible to ground zero, but seeing even ID'ed press people and photographers denied access, I gave up after several tries. I then decided to donate blood, but unfortunately I was found ineligible. After walking around for a while and seeing that there really is nothing much an individual like me can do, I decided to head back home.

The subways were closed again for some reason, and so I had to walk along Manhattan Bridge to make it back to Brooklyn. The bridge directly faced to the west the lower Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge, and on this bright sunny afternoon, all of us walking along the bridge had a clear look at a skyline that looked painfully unfamiliar. It is now a skyline that is never the same, already lessened by the absence of a once-imposing landmark towering above everything else.

And as I stood there in the middle of Manhattan Bridge, looking at the smoke billowing out of the rubbles, I finally knew that this was not a bad dream. My adopted city has been violated, one of its symbols destroyed and razed to the ground, and innocent lives were lost. All for something that I will never be able to understand even in my most valiant attempt at comprehension. But it hardly mattered then whether I understood this tragedy or not. It has happened, and right before my eyes was the aftermath. Looking at it, I grieved.

The diminished Manhattan skyline is a powerful symbolic representation of what the city has lost. The people I've met, those offering water to strangers, those lining up at hospitals to donate blood, police officers trying to keep order, all of us felt a collective sense of loss and sorrow. The loss of lives, already causing unfathomable grief to those who are left behind, would be staggering once the numbers are known. There is also an utterly humbling and somber realization of vulnerability, with everyone knowing full well now that living in the greatest superpower in the world is no guarantee that one would be safe from dastardly acts of destruction.

And most significantly, the entire city, nay the entire nation, has suffered once again a great loss of innocence. The whole nation will grieve for those who perished, and afterwards will have to deal with an overwhelming desire for justice, one that inevitably will shed more blood. And no one is ever going to be the same.

— Oliver Dictado

In the midst of this horror, we are privileged to witness greatness.

We have seen greatness in the guise of our usually contentious Congress as they massed on the Capitol steps to sing 'God Bless America.' It was an act of compassion, of strength, of patriotism, and of defiance.

We have seen greatness crawling over the ruins of the Trade Towers. Police, fire fighters and emergency medical workers scramble even now to find signs of life, and to bring out the dead for honored burial.

The rubble of the buildings quivers and quakes, threatening further collapse. Yet these people continue to dig, to shout, to hope, and to work. They lost many from their ranks when the Towers crumbled. Firemen and police stormed into the buildings after the planes struck, desperate to save those who were trapped.

They became entombed with those they sought to save. No greater example of heroism will ever need be displayed in our nation. We have the definition now, forever.

There is greatness wearing white coveralls in hospital hallways and emergency rooms all throughout New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C. Thousands of injured Americans have been treated by the swift care of our medical professionals. Nurses, doctors, staff, trainees, all have taken hold in this most desperate hour.

There is greatness waiting in line outside blood donation centers. People had to be turned away because too many Americans showed up to give what they have to give. Those who stayed had to wait hours before they could be seen. They waited, and they gave, and lives will be saved because of it.

There is greatness in the skies above us. Every inch of American airspace is being covered and guarded by AWACS radar platforms and F-14 Tomcat fighters. The nature of yesterday's attack demands this. At work today I heard the roar of a Tomcat's engine as it flew racetrack patterns in the blue sky above. I went outside to watch it pass, and lofted a prayer of thanks to the pilot for the vigilance that makes me feel just a little safer.

There has been greatness beamed across the invisible waves of television and radio, and piped into homes through cable and internet wires. The media has not slumbered, has not stopped its coverage of these events. Newspapers have covered everything in detail. We know what has happened, and are beginning to know who is responsible, because of our information outlets. Our best weapon against fear is knowledge, and these reporters and writers have not stopped providing that medicine.

There was greatness in the streets of New York City yesterday, and again today. People greeted strangers with a warm hand on the shoulder, or a smile, or a hug. People gladly did the tiny kindness of allowing others to use their cell phones so they could let family and friends know they were safe. The city of New York is pulling together, because they are the toughest citizens anywhere in this nation.

A number of individuals have demonstrated true greatness. Rudy Giuliani has quite possibly been the most stable, visible, strong, dependable and well-spoken political officeholder in the nation. He has not slept yet, so far as I can tell. His city has been blasted, but Rudy will not let it suffer or die. Today he pledged to rebuild the Twin Towers. I would not be surprised if he did it with his own two hands.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sprinted to the Pentagon after it was struck, and threw himself into the rescue effort. Only when security officers who were concerned about national security came and hoisted him by the elbows did he leave the scene. Rumsfeld himself had no such thoughts. His friends and colleagues were burning and dying and hurt. He dove right in, not knowing or caring to know if a second plane was coming to do the job.

Albert Gore and William Clinton stood before a shocked and frightened nation and rallied all Americans to stand behind George W. Bush. These two men demonstrated the purest greatness to be found within the ranks of the Democratic Party. Bush is more vulnerable politically today than any leader ever has been in the history of American politics. His most ardent foes demanded of us our loyalty to him, with no qualifications nor caveats. That, in short, is leadership.

Religious leaders around the globe have rallied their flocks to denounce the viciousness of these attacks, and to pray for the injured, dying and grieving. Cardinal Law of Boston demanded that we not give in to hate, nor target others because of race or ethnicity, yet stated in plain language that we do not have to hate our attackers in order to get justice. The simple wisdom of these words will, hopefully, steady us all.

Perhaps the most sublime examples of greatness were accomplished by ordinary Americans like you and I, who rose and went to work, who did the things we always do. Children went to school, teachers taught, builders built, and America went on. In the process, we comforted each other. We began to heal, and we fortified or desire to see this through to the end.

Had this not happened, those who attacked us would have scored a mighty victory. Yet we were not stopped by fear or rage. We stood, and did our work, and reclaimed our citizenship from the clutches of fear and violence.

We must do this again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. We shall, because we are that greatness. We have heroes leading us, we have heroes healing us, and we have heroes searching for the hurt and the lost. We have heroes next to us on the bus and at work. We have heroes living in our homes. Heroes stare back at us from bathroom mirrors, and will do so for all our time on earth.

We have risen to this challenge by holding each other close in the face of horror and woe. Remember that tomorrow morning. Remember it always.

Stout hearts.

— William Pitt

I would call myself an extreme leftist, maybe even a radical. But like most Americans today, of any political belief, I have so many comments on the tragic events that rocked the nation yesterday, I don't have an idea where to begin. All I know is that I have so much on my mind and I need to get it out.

First of all, I admire for not engaging in partisan politics ( though it is necessary to have good political competition, now is the time for some unity) and also encouraging its readers to donate either blood or money to assist the tremendous suffering of those involved. As we saw Tuesday night, when Congressional Democratic and Republican leaders tried their hardest to maintain personal unity, it unfortunately has to take a great tragedy to bring all the people together.

Secondly, I despise the fact that Bush spent more time talking about revenge (which he calls "retaliation" - I do believe the attacks were some country's "retaliation" against our selfish, bully-like, isolation,etc. foreign policies) than he did about the importance of search and rescue. I (and I hope most people) think that finding and helping the survivors and assisting the victims' families are more important than revenge. I agree we have to take some kind of action against the group who did this (perhaps bombing their equipment - we have powerful technology to detect where that is - instead of their members, so that they are incapable of carrying out any more attacks), but attacking the country will only result in hundreds, maybe thousands, more innocent lives lost. I am strongly against the killing of any living thing.

Third, while the World Trade Center attack has no justification whatsoever, the chief ranking members inside the Pentagon were probably responsible for some evil and murderous act sometime in military history, whether it was napalming children in Vietnam, harassing psychologically and physically the brave people who were opposed to what they were doing to the people of Vietnam, positioning fascist dictators responsible for the deaths of thousands into the seat of power in small countries for the sake of fighting Communism (I believe we helped the Taliban, who's holding Osama bin Laden, as well as taking away every single right that women have there, come to power because they were fighting the Russians. Such an ironic twist of fate), starving children in Iraq because of our sanctions, etc., etc., etc. And while I would never think any of those influential people in the Pentagon deserve to die, I would also never call them "innocent".

And finally, if we do go to war, I wonder if there will be another anti-war movement. The absolute insanity of war and violence just bewilders me. And unless someone decides to be morally superior, war will never end because for every retaliation, there is another retaliation, and so on and so on. As Ernest Hemingway once said " Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime."

— Raeefa Shams

I woke up late, as I've been doing lately. I turned on the radio to hear a radio show that I normally listen to. Instead, I got confused, angry yelling - and I heard that the World Trade Center was on fire, hit by a plane. C'mon, I said. It's a joke. Then I turned on the TV. What I saw - what I saw were the Twin Towers, enveloped in flames, and gaping, ugly tears were visible in the buildings.

The only words I could say were, "It's straight out of fucking Armageddon." I had never seen anything like this - ever. And on the radio, rumors, screams, angry words were babbling out. There were eight planes hijacked. Two planes had hit the WTC. There was rioting in the streets. Fighter aircraft were everywhere. I ran to get my dad, who was still up - he hadn't heard. We turned on CNN and saw the events unfolding. Then the Pentagon was hit. More rumors, reports about the Capital Building, the Mall, the White House, mass evacuations in DC. Nothing made sense. You are vision only. It was a surreal scene - the unbelievable made horrifyingly real. All I could think about were my brothers - one in New York, the other in Washington DC… and a high school classmate who worked in the North Tower. The last time I had seen him was in October 2000 at our ten-year reunion. I had spoken to him by e-mail not long after that. I had been thinking of getting in touch with him.

I called friends and family. No good. The phones were jammed, busy - nothing, nobody to contact. I finally got through to two friends - one in Flushing, one in Jersey City. The former was busy at his computer and turned on his TV, saying the only words that seemed to fit the event - "Oh shit!" The latter had a view of the burning towers. We both agreed - this was worse than The Towering Inferno. You see, that was a movie, fiction. This was all too real.

It got worse. Watching with my father and grandmother, we saw the first tower of the WTC collapse in a massive cloud of dust and debris. And yet my mind still could not comprehend it. Who expects a 110-story building to just simply fall, to collapse like a house of cards? The next few minutes were replays of the crash from every possible angle. Watching in my room, I still could not believe it. And throughout all of this, my radio was still on, with comments from talk radio hosts and guests.

While I watched, the second tower - the North Tower - just simply gave up the ghost and collapsed. And at the Pentagon, it was chaos, but despite this, the military personnel were still cool, calm, collected.

For the next few hours, it was madness. The entire nation, the entire world, had shut down. I finally heard from my brothers, and was overjoyed that they were all right. Other family members also called in, and they were okay. Friends called, wanting to hear what happened. But I still did not find out what happened to my old classmate. Stories of heroism - ranging from police officers to firefighters to just average citizens - began to filter in.

It's now the day after. The President has spoken, the politicians have spoken, the world - with a few exceptions - is angry, upset, and sending words of comfort to the US. The search for victims has been underway since the night before. The skies above are quiet. And people are demanding answers. People are asking how and why this happened. Of course, there are those who are quick to point fingers. One jerk on talk radio - okay, his name is Steve Malzberg, I don't give a shit if he finds out about this - started blaming Bill Clinton. As if Clinton made those planes crash. This jackass continued his harangue for several minutes until being told to stop it by his co-host, who thankfully pointed out that such language was not needed, not at this time.

There were those who called for the total destruction of the Middle East - as if that would halt terrorism forever. Obviously they forgot the lesson of Oklahoma City, where such idiotic talk was soon silenced by the ugly fact that the perp responsible was an American. And, scarily enough, I heard one radio personality who I admire chillingly demand that all children in the Middle East must be slaughtered.

Who do we blame? Who do we bomb? Who do we wipe off the face of the Earth? The fact is, there is more than enough blame to go around. Our politicians cared more about money and taxes and an asinine "missile defense" - which would not have stopped these tragic events - than about counterterrorism measures. They were too busy propping up an administration intent on giving the world and several major treaties the finger. Our news media are more interested in babbling on endlessly about the sex lives of politicians and celebrities and other bs instead of telling us just how dangerous the world can be, and about how we are all vulnerable.

And contrary to rumors and innuendoes, we really do not know who planned and financed this horrific crime. I say "planned and financed" because, simply put, the ones who executed this are all dead. They were the hijackers, you see. So the talk of "getting the ones who committed this act" are rather fruitless. And Osama Bin Ladin? Of course, they are looking at him, but who can say? What if it is not him? Are we forgetting Oklahoma City already? Are we so intent to get someone, anyone, that we will make up false charges against this man to justify any response we carry out?

But now is not the time for this - this bickering, name-calling, finger-pointing and demands to reduce a part of the world to radioactive glass - now is the time to come together, to cry, to remember. Of all the terrible sights I saw yesterday, there was one shining moment: the Congress of the United States - Democrats, Republicans, Independents, standing on the steps of the Capital and singing "God Bless America." And there was Bill Clinton from Australia, telling all Americans to unite behind the current President - a man who had spared no expense to attack Clinton from every angle. It says a lot about Clinton that he can put aside any animosity - if he has any. It says a lot of the Mayor and Governor of New York that they handled the crisis with such coolness and precision that I honestly must say that I am incredibly proud of them.

It is truly sad that the only time we quit bickering with each other and come together are in times of crisis. It is truly sad that it takes a horror of this magnitude to remind us of the real world, not the made-up world of gossip and spin, insults and cynical crass attitudes that we have been seeing too much of recently. It is truly sad that it will take something like this to remind us that we cannot hide our heads in the sand and ignore the world at large. This was not just an attack on the US - the Twin Towers were a symbol of the world, of unity, of strength.

All I can say is this: wait. Wait for concrete facts, not fantasies or "unconfirmed reports". Wait for the investigations to get underway. Wait for the whole truth before demanding retribution. And wait before calling for such retribution, because this is a truly faceless enemy, one that has a face from every race and every stripe. Wait before you attack or insult someone who has dark skin and an accent - they are most certainly a true, patriotic American guilty of no crime. But in the minds of the bullies and jackals that will use this event for leverage for their own sick purposes, they are guilty of a crime - the crime of being different.

Wait before you let people wring hot emotions from you. Wait before assuming that all things will return to normal. They won't. Then again, despite what we are led to believe, things were never normal after the first WTC bombing and Oklahoma City. We thought things were normal. We were wrong. And wait before you demand that an incident such as this will never happen again. We said that after the first WTC bombing and again after Oklahoma City. We were wrong.

The New York skyline will never be the same again. As a constant visitor to the city, I could always count on seeing those two columns of steel and glass anywhere in the city, and even outside it. No more. There may be a new structure there in the future, but it won't be the same. Our lives, our universe, will never be the same again.

Years ago, I remember a television film called Under Siege. No, it isn't the Steven Seagal film, but it was a film about a massive terrorist attack on the US (although yesterday made those incidents in the film look like, well, small potatoes). There was one line from the film I remember to this day, and in spite of the sadness and calls for retribution, it should be kept in mind. To paraphrase: Our response to these incidents of terror cannot, and must not destroy what we are, what we stand for.

We are better than the madmen who committed the acts of terror on September 11, 2001. In the coming days, weeks, and months ahead, we can prove it.

Mark McKenzie

On to Part Two