9/11, Eight Years Later


Where were you eight years ago (and one day) when the Towers fell?  For my generation, it has replaced, “Where were you when the Challenger exploded?” as the defining question of our lives (at least until we elected Barack Hussein Obama as president).

Where was I?  I was in California, the Bay Area to be precise.  I had a phone appointment with my therapist at 9 a.m., Pacific mumble mumble Time.  My roomies were gathered around the television, watching in rapt fascination.  I glanced at the TV, but it didn’t register what I was seeing.  When I finally reached my therapist, I found out what had happened.

The timing is fuzzy, but I was at the television and watching the second tower fall (live, I believe, but I might be remembering incorrectly).  I watched as the TV machine showed the plane plowing into the tower over and over and over again.  I lost count of how many times I watched the tower fall.  After the tenth or so time, it became surreal–I truly felt I was watching a Bruce Willis action movie.  That kind of thing didn’t happen in real life, right?

But it did.  I called all my friends and family, feeling frantic when I couldn’t get through.  I didn’t know anyone in NYC, not really, but I still had that panicky feeling.  See, my partner at the time, John, had flown home to PA and was scheduled to fly back to Oregon, through San Francisco the next day.  I was in a panic as I thought about how it could have been him on Flight 93.  I called him, and I was relieved to find out he was fine.  I mean, there was no reason he shouldn’t be, but yet, I couldn’t erase the feeling that he had been thisclose to dying.  We talked a bit on the phone, and it just wasn’t enough.  I needed to be with him, and I couldn’t.  I wasn’t where I wanted to be (physically or emotionally), and it was devastating.

That was where I was that day.  What happened next, to me, personally, is a little harder to relate.  In fact, I hesitate because it’s going to make me sound… callous?  Cruel?  Heartless?  I don’t know.  Probably.  It’s also true.  With that said, here goes.

After 9/11, we had the goodwill of the entire world.  Here is a beautiful website that documents the memorials created around the world, united in grieving for us.  In the days that followed the attack, the best of America rose to the top.  We all saw the images of people working tirelessly at Ground Zero to sift through the rubble in hopes to find a survivor, and, quite honestly, to bring the victims home.  We saw strangers giving aid to strangers.  We saw people doing whatever they could in order to ease our collective pain.

At the same time, I saw a disquieting trend in the media coverage of the event.  When people were interviewed about what had happened, I heard over and over how shocked they were that this had happened in the United States.  We are the bestest, most exceptional country in the world.  How could this happen?  If it could happen in the US, so the meme went, it could happen anywhere.  Except, and no one ever said this, it did happen everywhere else in the world.  It even happened in the US before (Oklahoma City, anyone?).

Looking back, I realize that this was when my sense of isolation crystallized and became my shield.  You see, while I felt the grief of 9/11, I never felt the shock.  I never felt my sense of security being ripped away because I never had that sense in the first place.  I could understand (not excuse, never excuse) why people in other countries would want to attack us.  People in other countries live with a sense of uncertainty on a daily basis.  We, as a country, had been extremely lucky up to that point of never experiencing the same kind of devastating attack from outside our borders.

This is the hardest part for me to write.  I didn’t feel personally affected by the falling of the Towers.  It didn’t make me view my country–or the world, really–any differently.  It didn’t make me love my country any more.  In fact, I went in the opposite direction as I saw the mounting anger and lust for revenge grow in the aftermath of 9/11.

We had a choice as a nation.  We could have taken the hit, grieved, taken practical measures to strengthen our safety, and worked with our allies to change the global situation in order to decrease the likelihood of an attack like this happening again.  We could have risen to our best selves, in other words.

Instead, we caved.  The thing that astounds me is how quickly we ceded our purported exceptionalism and dove straight into fear.  Even in liberal blogs, there are people excusing the immediate behavior following 9/11 by saying, “Do you remember how crazed with fear, anger, and revenge you were that you would have done anything to feel better?”  Well, no, I don’t.  Why?  Because I never felt any of that.  Like I said, the attack didn’t change my beliefs or my mindset because I was already there.

Instead, for me, the fear grew when I saw how my government reacted to the crisis and how we, the people, quickly fell in line with the mantra of revenge.  Do you know what I remember following the attack?  I remember not being able to question the president, no matter what he did.  I remember that if you did question the president, you were labeled a traitor and asked why you hated America.  Soon, the measure of your love for your country was how big your flag was and how loudly you could sing the Star-Spangled Banner at ballgames.

Anyone who deviated from this was considered suspect, and during that time, I really learned to keep my mouth shut.   I knew that I was working within an entirely different frame than most people (as is my wont), and in this particular case, I didn’t feel safe enough to voice my opinions out loud.

You see, I have no love for the flag.  I don’t hate it.  I don’t love it.  I am, or rather, I was, neutral to it.  It’s the same for America.  Liberals want to say that hey, we love our country as much as do the Republicans, yadda yadda yadda, but I don’t.  I don’t love America.  I don’t hate her.  Again, I am, or was, neutral.  You see, I don’t love America because I never felt she loved me.  As a permanent outsider who was constantly told to go home when I was a kid, I never thought of America as my country.  I still don’t, not really.

The flag:  I now have a distaste for it because of all the atrocities that have been committed in its name.  All the people who wrap themselves up in it as a badge of their patriotism or bleat about Obama not wearing a flag pin have wiped it of any meaning for me.  To me, when I see the flag, I don’t feel proud of democracy, freedom, and a pursuit of happiness.  When I see it, I flinch a little inside because I think of the last eight years and how we, as a society, gave in to our baser natures in response to 9/11.

We listened to our president lie and lie and lie, and we elected him to continue telling us his awful lies.  We cheered as he invaded Iraq, despite the ample evidence that he was just making shit up in order to have an excuse for said invasion.  We watched (or didn’t, as the case may be) as we killed off thousands of brown people who had the misfortune of becoming pawns in a treacherous political game.

Today, the loathsome Glenn Beck is having his little 9/12 projects all around the nation.  I am not linking to him because I just can’t.  The gist is that Beck spews his hatred and vileness about what it means to be an American and how they, the silent majority (so silent they lost the election, it seems) need to take back the America they know, by force if necessary.  We have the current president dragging his heels on prosecuting W. and his posse for the thugs they were–and are.

I look at the display of hatred, fear, intolerance, and racism from the ‘silent majority’, and my heart is heavy.  I look at all the shit that W. and his posse did to our country in guise of ‘keeping ‘Murika safe’, bringing us to the brink of ruins, and I despair that we will ever be a country of laws ever again.  I look at global goodwill we have willfully squandered, and I am angry because we had the world on our side, and we tossed them away.  I look at Ground Zero, see that nothing has been rebuilt, and I hurt.

Today, I am contemplative of all that we, as a country, have lost in the last eight years, and I have to wonder if we can ever recover.

14 Responses to 9/11, Eight Years Later

  1. On that day, I was working in downtown Indianapolis, as an IT consultant for a company that owns a bunch of shopping malls. The first indication I had anything was wrong was when I launched a Web browser and the little news headline part said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. An hour later we were crowded into a conference room watching CNN; by lunchtime they’d evacuated downtown (which has tall buildings — including the one in which I worked — and is, after all, the state capital) and sent us home. I’m glad The Girls are really too young to fully remember the tragedy of that day.

    Last night my lovely wife and I watched the movie United 93, which we’d owned for some time but never gotten around to watching. As expected, it was difficult to watch, but a very good movie nonetheless.

    And I was reminded of the pride I feel in the fact that on that day, when Bush shirked his responsibility and Cheney issued orders he had no legal right to — notice a pattern, anyone? — ordinary Americans banded together to defend themselves and this nation. The only terror attack to be stopped didn’t result from a Presidential Daily Brief but by a bunch of ordinary people with, as Ripley said of Newt in Aliens, no weapons and no training.

    Beck and Limbaugh and that jackass Congressman from Obama’s speech and their nutty followers are loud, but they’re loud because they sense that they’re on the losing side of history. The Villagers’ attitude that we should let bygones be bygones is infuriating — how’d that work out for us after Iran-Contra? — and the results will do real damage to this nation, but while the indecent people who form modern movement conservatism have a big megaphone — namely the so-called “liberal media” — I think the lesson of Flight 93 is that ordinary and decent Americans, when furnished with the factual information they crave — can follow their natural instinct to do the right thing.

    Twenty years of Limbaugh and his big-money media backers may have twisted that impulse in 25% of Americans, but that’s all they’ve managed and will ever managed to get. However loud and violent that minority, the last election shows that the majority of Americans fundamentally reject the Party of Rush.

    Hell, even my adopted state of Indiana went blue. I don’t think that “we” is as pervasive as it seems.

    The eight years of the Bush Administration, however loathsome, was as good as it’s ever going to get for those loathsome scumbags, but their most lasting influence is not with the American people as with the bootlicking courtiers of the Villagers — and with every column, the likes of Broder and Joke Line become more and more irrelevent, as their drivel is buried under a torrent of scorn and criticism from committed progressives and even honest conservatives with finely tuned bullshit detectors and no impulse whatever to suffer fools gladly.

    The perception of the “liberal media” was a project of movement conservatism that lasted some thirty years. A couple of years of stinging blog critiques are never going to remove the blinders from the doddering fool who applauded Nixon’s pardon and impeaching Clinton for a blowjob, but they will, inevitably, counteract — at last! — the phony perception of the media as liberal and, perhaps, instill a long-overdue sense of critical thinking and grounding in objective reality among the punditocracy. If not, they’ll just hasten their decline into irrelevance.

    Taking the country back is indeed the mantra of the rest of this centruy — but it’s taking the country back from the dead-enders who tolerate torture, mendacity, incompetence and lawlessness in our elected leaders.

  2. I hear what you’re saying. One thing that bothered me a lot in the aftermath was the exploitative commercialism. Statue of Liberty shower curtains and American flag rugs, the constant assertion that we are powerful and wonderful and can do no wrong. I was disconcerted by the sentiments I heard, and disappointed by the sense of vengeance, used as a supposed vehicle for peace.

    Violence is a cycle, and we as a nation perpetuated it. Shame on us!

    As for being suspect if you questioned, take a listed to this. It’s well worth it, I promise you:


    (Click on Launch)

  3. I forgot to mention that I also commemorated 9/11 by listening to Springsteen’s great album, The Rising.

    We *are* powerful, and we *are* wonderful. It’s just sad that if you recognize that it isn’t true that we can do no wrong — after all, we do elect Republicans and enact Republican policies — they say you “hate America” or “blame America first” (which is shorthand for recognizing that our actions do, after all, have consequences — a basic fact that all parents should teach their children).

  4. I was in Port Protection, Alaska. I got to work and noticed all the men standing around the TV. My boss, Jack Daddy looked at me and said “Be glad you’re here honey.” He had the most graven and ashen looking face.
    Since six months prior we had experienced a 6.8 quake in Seattle, my mind assumed Seattle had some natural catastrophe. I got to the TV (FAUX) and saw one of the towers fall. I sat in stunned silence.
    I was SO far removed from home, safety, the people I loved, and the news we got in the village was always delivered by air, twice a week. Well, needless to say the mail stopped coming that morning and flights were grounded. Really the only news I had was FAUX which consisted of two breast implanted blond bimbo’s and an older guy with eyes for your tits only(oh and yours too!). That was my news.
    By the time I made it home, it seemed too late to react to it. It wasn’t till a year later when I saw the Naudet brother’s film 9/11 that I reacted and realized the full impact of what happened that day. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0312318/
    I remember being amazed that they didn’t lose a single member of the house that day.
    All day Friday I refused to write 9/11. I took the time to write 11, September 2009 because it just seemed to make it less painful.

  5. Gregory, first of all, that’s a poignant memory of where you were that day. Thank you for sharing it. Second, your comment reminds me of one reason I value your friendship so much. You bring the positivity, backed with facts. When I read what you wrote, I can actually see how yeah, we’ve changed in a positive way.

    Where I differ in opinion, though, is how effective we will be in resurrecting our country from the smoldering ashes. Even now, with the Democrats having a clear majority in Congress and with the people (yes, that includes the independents who recoil in horror at the freak show the GOP has become), we’re not even assured of passing a healthcare bill with a public option!

    WTF? Really? It’s never going to be easier (relatively speaking) than it is now to get that through Congress.

    The ugly minority is, indeed, a minority, but it has a disproportionate sway on the political discourse of our country, and it is so very ugly.

    P.S. I haven’t seen United 93 yet. I don’t know if I could bear to watch it.

    Kel, the first time I heard that song, I almost cried in relief. It so perfectly fit what I felt. And yes, you are right about the crass commercialism and the cycle of violence. The latter really got to me over the past eight years. I may be angry (and believe me, I am), but I am a pacifist. The blood-lust of the war hawks befuddles me as well as disgusts and frightens me.

    whabs, I got your back (with my mad editing skillz). It sounds like your experience was similar to mine, if not more isolated. Thank you for sharing it. I saw that movie, and it was incredibly moving and effective. The fact that they all came home, was, indeed, amazing.

  6. Thank you chica.
    It was twice as scary because I knew mom was having surgery that day and I couldn’t get hold of her by phone. My family was all at the hospital with cell phones off.

  7. I’m on the West coast and we had two phone lines at the time. One rang a few minutes before 6. We didn’t get up to answer it in time. Then the second phone line rang. I went downstairs because I figured it was the same person calling each line (someone who knew we had two numbers and had both of them). I didn’t get downstairs in time, but listened to the message and turned on the TV. It was impossible to process what we were seeing. Amy was crying and I was desperately searching for something positive to hang onto.

    People were jumping. We saw it live, then (American TV) never showed it again. It was nearly impossible to comprehend. And then the first tower fell. And a few minutes later the second tower fell. I thought I was going to throw up.

    And the news was filled with rumors (16 more planes hijacked). And then footage from the Pentagon.

    And after five hours, we had to turn the TV off, so we went out to breakfast — even though we couldn’t decide if we wanted to eat or puke. And I remember wanting buying a newspaper, knowing it would be the last newspaper I would read for a very long time that wouldn’t be shaped by what happened that morning.

    We started tentatively piecing together what we knew — they said the planes were hijacked when they flew into the Towers… which meant the airline pilots weren’t flying them because there’s no commercial airline pilot in the world who would willingly fly a plane into the World Trade Center.

    That night, we had dinner with some friends. We sat around watching TV and trying to make sense of what happened.

    And that night (and for the next couple of days), something amazing happened — people were going on camera, holding up photos of friends and loved ones, and giving out their phone numbers. This never happens on TV. But it happened again and again on CNN and on all the broadcast networks.

    I remember the confusion of that day (and the bizarre reports about where the President was and the fact that the Vice President had issued orders to shoot down airliners if necessary). And I wondered why it took President Bush so long to go to New York (Clinton, for all his many faults, would have been there that night or the next morning at the latest).

    The sight of American flags everywhere in the next few weeks made me nervous — especially as I watched the amazing unity that popped up after this tragedy be harnessed for forces of evil, not good.

    Like most people I know, I spent several days considering what I should personally do and how I could help. I even considered joining the military (something that had never even entered my mind as a possibility before or since). I waited for the leadership that we wanted and desperately needed. And then the President told everyone to go shopping and go to Disney World. And right then and there, I knew that something was desperately, desperately wrong and that things were going to get much, much worse.

  8. I keep coming back and reading this thread and then wanting to cry.
    I don’t let that day break me down, maybe because I was so removed in remote Alaska, but when I hear other people tell their stories, the reality sets in.
    Ani Difranco did a great poem called Self Evident. You can find it on you tube or Minna can insert it. No matter what your politics, the poem is powerful.
    I remember two weeks later, I FINALLY got a Seattle Times delivered to me and the picture on the cover was of people jumping. I just couldn’t comprehend it so it just didn’t seem real.
    You’re right though, because everything was shaped by that day and the world I came back home to was totally different. We were shopping and hating.
    It seemed as though we became a nation of haters overnight and it scared the shit out of me.
    I hate the fucking phrase towel head.
    Shutting up now.

  9. whabs, I’m sorry to hear about your mom (on that day). I can’t imagine how difficult that would have been. I mean, I knew my parents were safe because they were in Taiwan. If they had been anywhere in the states, I would have felt panicky, no matter how irrational that is.

    I know how you feel. I see all the hatred, and I just ache for our country. I really don’t know how we are going to recover (sorry, Gregory). Don’t shut up. Don’t ever shut up. The world needs your voice, and so do I.

    Alex, thank you so much for sharing your experience on that day. It’s so evocative. I can so relate to what you’ve written as far as the despair and the sinking feeling that things were going to get worse before they get better.

    The thing is, no matter how much good we accomplished with electing Obama and getting majorities in both the House and the Senate (can we please act like we won?), I still have the sinking feeling that things will get much uglier before they get better. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the tea-baggers yet, and THAT frightens me.

    Thank you, everyone, for sharing your remembrances of that day and for your thoughtful words. I appreciate you all so very much.

  10. I was going for a haircut and popped into the pub for a beer on the way just in time to see the second plane hit.

    It was just like a ‘Die Hard’ film – but I do remember thinking “That’s it – the world has gone to shit now.”

    And it has…

  11. At least my biggest fear never came true.
    I was afraid from that day forward that Bush would take us to war and I would die before today came around.
    So yes, everything has gone to shit, but at least I made it to today and that’s one great and amazing thing in my book.

    I’ll tell you later what I was thinking you were going to say when you started this post.

  12. snee, thank you. I like hearing from people around the world as to what their reaction was.

    whabs, you are right. We are still here, goddamn it. The putrid pus that is the rightwing is dying off. We. Will. Outlive. You. Muthafuckahs.

    P.S. Do tell me what you thought I was gonna post.

  13. I haven’t been subjected to Glenn Beck since my father died 4.5 months ago, but I walked into the doctor’s office tonight and there it was, Fox News, with him spouting all over. It was like fingernails…not so much on a chalkboard, but shredding my eardrums.