The following is an article I wrote for a 'zine I published years ago and decided to put on the web. From time to time, I will put these up. Sorry I haven't written in a while. My life got super-crazy in late May, and work was frustrating and atressful. Things have settled down a bit.
Some thoughts on September 11, 2001
Oh my God, what have they done to the town I loved so well?
from the Irish folk song, "The Town I loved so well"
It was just another day for me. I got up in the afternoon (give me a break, I work nights) and went to the bank. While waiting for my business to be transacted, I saw someone walk by with a stack of newspapers. I saw the headline was huge, but couldn't actually read it. After I was finished at the bank, I walked over to the newspaper display. The morning paper had some mundane headline. "What's going on?" I thought. The elderly greeter pointed out a stack of afternoon papers on the table.
And that's when it stopped being just another day.
The headline said it all: Terrorists Attack U.S. It didn't seem true, but this wasn't April Fool's Day. It was September 11, my parent's 47th wedding anniversary. The day my certificate of deposit matured. And it was the day unthinkable acts happened.
Copyright ® 2001
The World Trade Center, gone. I'd been in tower two, some 14 years ago. I had the pictures to prove it, too. I scrambled to find them. I had to prove to myself that the World Trade Center HAD existed. The pictures showed a variety of scenes: looking out from tower two to tower one; looking down at lower Manhattan; looking up at the twin towers from the plaza that separated them; a shot of a homeless person snoozing in the tower two lobby. And it was all gone.
The crash at the Pentagon rattled me too, for a different reason. That's where the military is. Didn't they know it was coming? But of course not. Why would they? The hijackers plan, as described by a bank patron, was "brilliant." Use American commercial airliners to take out symbols of American wealth and power. And as we found out later, use American know-how (in the form of aviation schools) and a lax security system to do it.
I didn't have to go to work that night. I'd called in, and as a result of the airports being closed, it meant not much work to do. I stayed glued to the television that night,; my only break being a walk that I took with my dog.
And the images played over and over. It was an action-adventure movie come to life, only without Steven Segal, or Arnold Schwarzenegger to the rescue. It was Dan Rather apologizing profusely for the language used in an amateur videotaping of the second crash. It was the "did that really happen" feeling when footage of the first crash, taken from filmmakers doing a documentary on firefighters, was shown. It was more amateur video from a closer location showing the second plane going into the south tower.
People falling from the buildings. That got me the most, I think. Imagine going into work, you're sipping your coffee, when all of a sudden, there's a plane coming right at you. You figure you're going to die either way. Burn to death, or jump?
The sadness of it didn't really hit me until the Thursday after. Coming out of work, the music of "Rhapsody in Blue" filled my mind. That piece of music, more than any other, personifies New York to me. And I was thinking of the city I loved so well, subjected to this. I started to cry.
Anger and paranoia set in
I got mad and scared. We couldn't have seen this coming. These men had lived in the U.S., had kids and wives and still felt duty-bound to obey some madman thousands of miles away. After leaving the disgusting despair of a third-world country, how on earth could they live in the U.S., in comfort and safety, and do this? Get rid of them, I thought. Deport every middle easterner who doesn't have citizenship. Get the Taliban out of Afghanistan. And get bin Laden and whoever else is involved in this and don't even give them a trial. Just execute the sons of bitches.
But that isn't what America stands for. After I cooled off, I started to feel a bit sorry for the peaceful Islamic followers who were horrified by this attack, as were millions worldwide. There are fanatics in every religion, I guess, but most Americans tend to associate the word "fundamentalists" with the word Islamic before it. A handful of Christians may blow up abortion clinics from time to time, but would they pull something like this? I hope not.
A pen pal in Brazil and I have been writing for over 10 years now. We communicate by email, it's so much quicker and cheaper. He'd hoped that the U.S. wouldn't retaliate with force, but I said it was impossible to think that they wouldn't. The attack was probably the biggest "fuck you" it had ever received. Taking OUR planes and attacking OUR buildings on OUR own soil. It was a matter of time that we'd strike back. And we'll get struck back. Maybe not next month, but maybe next year.
It's an impossible situation to deal with. Talk show hosts have discussed closing the borders. But that won't guarantee safety either. Two of the terrorists had lived in the states for years. How were we to know what they were going to do? How do we know what anyone is going to do in the future? If we did, we wouldn't have any crime.
As I write this, the Taliban will probably surrender. As cities are freed in Afghanistan, men are shaving their beards, women are taking off their burqas. To all you peaceniks out there, just stop and imagine this: Imagine living in a country so oppressive you couldn't wear what you wanted or do anything that was the least bit out of the ordinary. If you walked too fast, you would be beaten. THIS is what it was like under the Taliban. They are a bunch of assholes. Now, imagine if they took over the U.S. Would life be worth living? I think not. I logged on to the Revolutionary Afghan Women's Association website (www.rawa.org) before going to bed one night and I had a nightmare. The Taliban had taken over the city or the state or maybe the country and I had to sneak out of my own house to escape. That's pretty disturbing, as I felt in my dream I couldn't trust anyone or anything. My niece has dreams of killing Osama bin Laden. Jesus, it's really fucking sick and frightening to think little American kids are having bad dreams about someone thousands of miles away.
Proud to be an American?
I have mixed feelings about the acres of flags flapping around town. I cringed when I heard Arabs referred to as "sand niggers," "ragheads," and other unflattering names. I saw people out to make a buck, selling bin Laden on a t-shirt, with crosshairs superimposed over him. I watched part of the concert for New York, taking in James Taylor's set. I watched Michael J. Fox introduce some members of the police and fire department, the latter being booed for reasons I'm still unsure of. I watched Mike Moran tell bin Laden, "You can kiss my royal Irish ass. Remember my face, bitch." Poor Michael J. looked a little embarrassed. And I'd had enough. I resumed channel-surfing.
I believe I live in the greatest country in the world. But our foreign policy sucks. We've provided support in some way, shape or form to several terrible people in the Mid-East. And bin Laden was one of them. Remember the Soviet-Afghan war? Guess who we supported? Guess who won? And now, bin Laden is on our most-wanted list. Despite giving aid to him to help defeat the Soviets, he still hates America and everything it stands for. Freedom. Mobility. The opportunity to become a millionaire. Or president. Opportunities for women to dress, think, educate and act as they please. And, until Sept. 11, a relatively safe country to pursue those ambitions. Lower Manhattan resembled a war zone that looked like it had been beamed in from Bosnia. But here it was, about 750 miles away.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani refused some moolah from a Saudi rich boy, after he'd suggested that perhaps the attack on the World Trade Center was a result of our Mid-East policies. That's only part of the reason. We back some real assholes there and around the world, and people in those resent it because it makes their lives miserable. And wouldn't you be a bit pissed if you were living in a country where the dictator was educated and funded by the U.S.? Especially if that dictator executed people just for disagreeing with the government, or had several rich friends that didn't want to have any poor people living near them. If that dictator took your land away, which represented a livelihood for you and your family and gave it to an American corporation, say McDonald's, you'd be upset. Particularly if the cattle which are now grazing on your land weren't going to end up as hamburgers on your plate.
On the other hand, the U.S. has done a lot of things that other countries wouldn't, or couldn't. Like bailing out Europe and Japan after World War II. Sending aid to foreign countries. Or trying to push back an invader in a foreign country. Does Vietnam ring a bell? For you younger types, remember the Gulf War?
Copyright ® 2001
The U.S. government seems to have a split personality. We see ourselves as the good guys, regardless of what we do. But take away our oil, and we are screwed. As much as we may resent the Middle Eastern countries, their culture and their religion, we need them. I think the U.S. will continue to be hated in the Mid-East, even if we pull out of Israel and say, "you're on your own." I don't think anything will stop terrorism, as long as there are fanatics in the world, but cutting our dependence on foreign oil will be a step in the right direction. As much as some people claim to hate the "ragheads," without them and their oil, those patriotic Americans wouldn't be driving their gas-hogging SUV's and pick-up trucks. And they drive them. And these people aren't willing to put their resentment where their feet are. Now is the time when we really should be developing and researching alternative fuel sources. The less we are dependent on Middle Eastern oil, the less power they have over us.
Then, we had Anthrax to worry about. As if the terrorists hadn't given us enough to deal with, springing an attack on a country on the edge of a recession, we find out our mail isn't safe either. Thousands of jobs disappeared when the airlines were grounded. I imagine tourist areas are hurting too. As an extra kick in the ass, Anthrax was mailed to some prominent people. The U..S Postal Service lost two employees. Sick humorists and those who dislike the post office might be gloating over the fact that the latest postal deaths weren't caused by gunfire. Talk about your dead letters. These were deadly.
And adding insult to injury, just two months and one day after the World Trade Center attacks, an American Airlines jet crashes into a middle-class Queens neighborhood. Several firefighters and police officers live there, and going to funerals and memorial services seemed like a never-ending chore. Now, a plane crashes where several firefighters and police officers had lived before they died in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. More bodies to account for, more wreckage, more images of flames and smoke. Can we take much more of this? The local airport and the President, as well as others have been trying to coax reluctant tourists back into the air. While I don't believe the plane crash was a terrorist attack, it is just another thing to freak the American people out. The terrorist attacks pushed us over the edge into a recession. The airlines are dying. And this latest crash isn't going to help.
Am I scared for the future? In a general sense, yes. There are many people in the world who are more powerful than I am. Governments are currently at work, torturing, killing, oppressing and experimenting on their own people. They're working on annihilation of cultures and countries they feel are inferior to their own. There's very little I can do about the situation. I didn't ask to be alive in this day and age. The only thing I can do is enjoy my life. Do the things I am capable of. Do nice things for others. Because people essentially haven't changed. They are still cruel and do horrible things. The only differences between cruelty now and cruelty in the past is that today we are more sophisticated in our destruction. Plus, we have CNN to report and spread the news about the latest atrocities around the clock.
I don't have any solutions. But life can change so much in minutes, even seconds. I don't condone going on a robbing or killing spree, but reevaluate things in your life. What's more important: that extra overtime you are offered, or spending a quiet evening with your loved ones? Okay, so you hate your family. Hopefully you have friends or a hobby that you enjoy. So enjoy them. Because tomorrow may never come. Or if it does, it might be your last.