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Ten years later

Ten years later

The Financial District is on lockdown this morning, as one would expect on the anniversary of any act of war that attracts thousands to pay their respects where their loved ones died. A lot of my friends in the city have been posting their reflections of the day online, and some of my older friends know people who were killed. I don’t have a tremendous amount to contribute in terms of anecdotes and I would have to be a drama queen to somehow make it sound as if my experience constituted the same pains as any relative of someone who died in that building. I’m not reminded of 9/11 when I look at old family pictures, and that’s something for which I am tremendously thankful. However, I do have a story to tell that is similar to many of kids in my generation and I think is worth posting:

I was eleven years old on September 11, 2001. It was the first Tuesday of the school year and I remember thinking that it was a particularly gorgeous day. I remember hearing about the attacks from friends in my middle school and flatly denying their claims. It wasn’t until about 12 PM that a teacher acknowledged what had happened and I started to panic. My grandfather and several of my uncles work downtown in the Financial District. If a building fell, had it hit their workplaces? It was certainly likely; they did work only a quarter-mile away on Pearl St. Where was my father, a contractor in NY, working that day? What happened to Steven’s mother? I knew she worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. The afternoon that ensued was hellish as I spent it wondering if anyone I knew had died.

It was less pressing for me to figure out why the attacks had happened, which I suppose is the only difference between my experience on 9/11 and that of anyone who doesn’t have a familial connection to lower Manhattan. Though, ten years after the fact, I remember 9/11 less as a day of fear and more as a bookmark in my personal history.

I don’t remember being conscious of much that was going on politically in the first half of my life. I have my personal memories, like my trips to Ireland, the beach, soccer practice, my fifth grade production of ‘Oliver!’, etc. but I really only remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal as a national political event that made me wonder what was going on outside of elementary school. After 9/11, I started to read the newspaper (The New York Post, though I later turned to The Wall Street Journal) and I remember caring a lot about killing bin Laden as that would somehow quench my thirst for justice, or reverse 9/11’s events.

I paint the 90s as a time of safety and security, a glossy Eden filled with soccer games and free trade agreements. The 2000s, though, have been pretty crappy: war, the awkwardness of puberty, financial crises and recoveries, the 2008 election, applying to college, etc. I think a lot of my friends in my generation remember 9/11 as the marker between two worlds in the same way, and we hate it for it. A lot of these things would have happened regardless of if the Twin Towers had fallen (I was bound to pay taxes at some point…), but causation and correlation are a messy business.

And so, I think my generation has a particular distain for 9/11 as robbing them of an innocence and prosperity that would have certainly been challenged anyway. I know I have.

I apologize for the self-centered post, but I can’t write about much else. After all, I can’t  fathom the terror the victims of 9/11 endured as they knew they were going to die, and I can’t really write about the national discussion that ensued since I didn’t really understand it. I can, however, write how I seemed to an eleven year old who lived twenty minutes away.


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KM from Detroit | September 11, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I was in my senior year of high school at the time, specifically, of all things, in my Social Justice class. I remember one of the brothers running in to the room (I went to a parochial school run by the Jesuits) and saying something to the teacher, who then turned on the TV.

We got to see the second plane hit.

By the time the class ended and we moved to homeroom, the towers were starting to fall.

I remember thinking at the time that this was all surreal—that it was something from a movie studio, or at the very least that it was some tragedy that couldn’t possibly be happening here in the U.S.

Obviously it was something of a wake-up call. And I know a number of guys from my graduating class, finishing out that year, who either tossed college plans to the wind to enlist, or at the very least changed their plans to places like West Point or Annapolis.

That morning was a watershed moment for all of us; some of my friends at the time have since leaned politically left, but not a single one of us harbored any doubts about the evil perpetrated that day, who was responsible, or what had to be done.

Like you said, up through this point “politics” was on the periphery of my attention…an activity and profession that I knew was necessary for the running of the country, but was best left to the numbnuts who actually enjoyed it. After that day is when I discovered blogs…and I’ve only ever read political ones.

Living in, and around, Detroit means we had some detachment from what actually happened, and I can’t possibly imagine what it must have been like in New York City in the days, weeks, months, and years that followed. But my dad, at the time, worked in one of the tallest buildings in the downtown Detroit area, and he was sent home that morning and told not to come back for the next few days…just in case. Their building in particular had already received a bomb threat.

My mom used to say she and her siblings could remember with exacting detail where they were, what they were doing, when John Kennedy was shot. This day, without a question, is the same for our generation.

“And so, I think my generation has a particular distain (stet) for 9/11 as robbing them of an innocence and prosperity that would have certainly been challenged anyway. I know I certainly have.”

I wonder if the young men and women who lived through Pearl Harbor look back at that day of infamy in the same way you describe.

Kathleen McCaffrey | September 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm

KM, thank you for your insight.

DINOright, perhaps they do, though I think to compare the reactions to an attack on civilians when there was no world war was going on seems like a bit of a stretch.

I know my parents remembered Pearl Harbor and shock of such an attack, they never forgot just as I will never forget 9-11. War in any context is evil and the killing of humans whether civilian or military is horrendous; however, the resulting heroics and patriotism borne by patriots – ordinary men and women – illustrate the absolute belief in a country with unending possibilities, one in which citizens pursue the belief that this is the greatest country in the world and shall ever be.

The battle continues not only in war but also in politics. Conservatives are searching for that extroidinary candidate to promote and preserve a way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. God Bless America and all who defend that belief.

Statement made yesterday at Michie Stadium — the first responders were honored here.

Protesters set fire to the U.S. flag outside the American embassy in London today during a minute’s silence to mark the moment the first hijacked airliner hit the World Trade Centre.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kathleen. It’s always interesting to get a different generation’s take on things.

I was just about to leave for a class when my mom called and asked me if I could believe what was happening. When I asked her what she was talking about, she just said, “Turn on the TV!”

As I related in another post, when I got to class, the professor entered and his first words were, “Well … Bush got his war.”

A few days later we learned that a Japanese businessman we’d met at our daughter’s piano recital was on the first plane flown into the World Trade Center. His daughter was the star pupil, but after 9/11 she quit taking piano lessons and she and her mother eventually returned to Japan. The piano teacher, a close friend of my wife, said the little girl, who before 9/11 had been a bubbly and happy girl, became very withdrawn. How many lives and dreams vanished that day?

As with Krugman’s column, when many on the left talk honestly about how they feel about that day you wonder what ever went wrong with their thinking processes.

When the subject came up at work one day and the anarchist hipster in our office started all the blame-America-and-Israel-and-root-causes B.S., I asked him if muslim terrorists were not to blame.

He said, “We always feel that we have to blame somebody.”

Gobbledygook-talkin’ a$$hole.

Kathleen, looking around at today’s techie world I’m sure it’s difficult to imagine the public culture and ambiance of the US at the time of Pearl Harbor. To those of us who were there, we vaguely knew there may have been a war of some kind going on far away in Europe, but that was a vast ocean away from our shores. As a nation the US was even more peaceful and idyllic then than on 9/ll, as I recall.

On December 7, 1941, we had just come home from church [granddad was the preacher] and the folks turned on the radio while preparing Sunday supper. It was a bright, sunny day in Southern California, and we kids were out playing on the lawn when we noticed a commotion with adults crowding around the only radio in the house. When we went in the station was playing sound recordings of the bombings, strafing, gunfire, yelling, screaming, sirens, thuds and booms that had occurred just a couple of hours earlier in Hawaii.

Few of us even knew what “Pearl Harbor” was, but the reports of seeing Rising Sun insignias on the raiding aircraft pointed straight to Japan as being the aggressor. When we finally heard the voice of FDR confirming what had transpired we all understood this was a watershed moment in our lives. Nothing afterward would be the same.

Three of our neighbors had relatives in the military in Hawaii, and there was no word for several weeks as to their status. Plus one of our neighbor friends was Nikkei and her Japanese parents were visiting at the time. What a pickle they found themselves in. We all understood the momentousness of the occasion, and that there could never be an unpealing of that bell. In my opinion, and from the perspective of an eleven year old at the time, the two events were extremely similar in nature, except that 9/11 had superior graphics. No offense intended.

    LukeHandCool in reply to 49erDweet. | September 11, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Fascinating recollections 49erDweet.

    I came across a book titled “The Day Our World Changed” by the Punahou Class of 1952. Classmates talk about their experiences of December 7, 1941, 11 years before graduating from high school. Really interesting personal recollections.

Kathleen McCaffrey | September 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm

49erDtweet, none taken, thanks for sharing. I didn’t mention Pearl Harbor precisely because I don’t know what it was like; there just seem to be a lot of differences from my vantage point.

>> I think my generation has a particular distain for 9/11 as robbing them of an innocence and prosperity that would have certainly been challenged anyway.

You are right. You have been robbed. I think all people today have to dedicate themselves to opening this society back up. We cannot have armed guards everywhere checking IDs on every street corner, bus stop, train station and airport, especially when the government refuses to control the borders or go after people who overstay on their visas.

The open borders mentality is what allowed 9/11 to happen, yet the government still does not take immigration and visa overstays seriously.

I’m a little older than Bill.

A few months before 9/11, I was unexpectedly fired from a dream job that I’d pursued for years. Devastating.

Sometime later, it abruptly struck me that the job very plausibly would have put me atop the World Trade Center during the atrocity. I was the obvious person to attend a conference at which our competitor’s rep perished.

Despite being an agnostic/atheist and notwithstanding the cold voice of reason, I can’t escape the feeling that Someone or Something (for Its inscrutable reasons: His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways), chose to keep my name in the Book of Life. But why?

‘I don’t have a tremendous amount to contribute in terms of anecdotes…’

Actually you do. Thanks for the wonderful essay, Kathleen.

Thanks for your very touching essay Kathleen…

Cool. Thanks for your pov.

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | September 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I worked at One Wall Street, about two blocks from the WTC, for about five years prior to 8/11. On 8/11, a month prior to the attack, I took a job in Jersey. So I wasn’t in the vicinity of the WTC when it was attacked.

In fact, I didn’t have a reason to go back into the city until mid-October, 2001 when I attended an extremely sparsely attended investment conference at the Waldorf in midtown. One of the most surreal moments in my life was when the waitress who took my order at the Waldorf, a world class hotel by any standard, was wearing a surgical mask and surgical gloves to protect herself from exposure to anthrax (a few other members of the hospitality staff took the same precautions, but not all).

Anyway, after the meeting, I decided to go downtown and get a look. While I couldn’t get very close, I got close enough. It’s impossible to describe what it does to one’s psyche to see nothing but holes, rubble, wreckage, and destruction when for the five years that I worked downtown I was accustomed to seeing these gigantic, powerful, majestic, structures there. Given the non-stop media coverage, I had several weeks to prepare myself mentally for it — and I’d seen endless pictures on TV and the papers — but man, it was a total shock to see the devastation first hand.

I’m a former infantryman (thankfully during Reagan’s era of peacetime). But I wept.

I was reading one of the computer game forums I frequented at the time, when I saw a post about it. It was one of the worst possible air accident scenarios: a widebody going down in a major metropolitan area. We tried to figure out how it could have happened, what chain of mistakes could route a failing plane into such a highly populated area, and then the second one hit.

Oddly enough, I didn’t see the footage until years later. I didn’t have a TV at the time, and the news never showed it again after 9/11.

My mom and dad were 10 and 13 y/os respectively at the time of Pearl Harbor; and to this day they can recall that bright Sunday in Los Angeles.

I was 9 when JFK was assassinated and I remember my teacher going into the cloakroom to weep. It was also my awakening to real evil as I just couldn’t understand someone deliberately choosing to murder another human being. To me, it had been simple, you don’t shoot someone else for no reason and certainly not the President of the USA. Not the man who was the picture on my 4th grade classroom wall, under the flag and next to pics of Washington & Lincoln.

By the time the Israeli 6 day war started on my 13th birthday and RFK was assassinated on my 14th, I was fully engaged in following world events and politics.

[…] her own reflections yesterday, Kathleen wrote that her generation was “[robbed] of an innocence and prosperity that would have certainly […]

I posted a comment regarding St. Paul’s Chapel on an earlier thread of yours.

Just following the events of 9/11, I received a telephone call from my older brother (6 years), who has lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee for many decades. Much as nearly everyone did at the time, we talked about the horrors of 9/11, and about the terrible impact it would have on families, and on the country.

After a bit, he asked me if I had happened to hear or read anything about the fate of St. Paul’s. In his own mind, he was certain, I am sure, that it had been destroyed or at least extensively damaged by the conflagration in the collapse of the WTC complex.

Way back then (early 1960s) he and I had shared a small apartment in Greenwich Village for a brief period, one that was located on West 10th Street, just off of Sheridan Square. I had just graduated from high school and, was utterly uncertain about what I wanted to do with my life. At his invitation, I had moved to New York from Wilmington, Delaware, where I grew up, in order to try and get a handle on the working world — to grow up a little bit. Within a year, I was in college, having quickly learned that I was not going to make any significant impact without further preparation.

My brother was a junior officer in the United States Navy, at the time and was stationed in New York. He worked in the Federal Office Building down at 90 Church Street, and as a result of his modest means, and a desire to save whatever he could (he was getting married at the end of September of that year) he packed and took his lunch to work in a brown paper bag.

He ate that lunch, every single day, on the grounds of St. Paul’s Chapel. It was a sanctuary for him.

There was no WTC at the time, and the skyline of Manhattan has since change on a few occasions.

After he called back in September 2001, it took me several hours of searching to confirm what seemed to be a miracle — that St. Paul’s had somehow survived intact, and even though we had not talked as often as we should have over the years, nothing during those frightening days following 9/11 served as a beacon of hope for the future quite like being able to call and tell him of that little splash of joy in the sea of sorrow.

Since then, he and his wife visited the New York we all got together and went around the city, which included taking a little trip down to see, among other things, the WTC clean-up site. And while we were there we walked past St. Pauls on Vesey Street. We passed the spot where the felled sycamore had stood, the one that protected the building and the churchyard from damage. And we briefly went in to see the display panels of memorabilia. I looked over at him at one point and could see the tears welling in his eyes, that is until those in mine partially blurred my vision.