Like a lot of other people. I was at work that morning. Part of my job for the Navy's Office of the Chief of Information was to keep an eye on 4 or 5 different television news broadcasts during the day in case they ran any stories about the Navy. On this particular morning, there was some crazy story being covered by everybody about an accident involving a plane that had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.
I wasn't taking it (what I was seeing on the little 4x4 monitors) nearly as seriously as I should have been. Even if it was some poor pilot who lost control of their small plane or there was a navigation malfunction of some sort and they hit one of the towers, it was a big enough tragedy. But at the time, I had other things to do at work and "planes crash all the time, even if not in such a high-profile manner," so I just kept the channels on with no volume and continued my work.
I remember seeing the hole from the plane that hit the towers. I remember thinking that it was almost a perfect outline of a plane. I also remember thinking that I had no idea of the perspective of the image I was looking at - how big was the plane that hit the building? I remember thinking "How wide was that building? Either the building was more narrow than I'd thought (I'd never visited the World Trade Centers) or, if the tower was as big as I had *thought* it was, it was hit by a passenger plane." I remembering thinking "How could any plane accidentally hit the World Trade Center" and that some major navigational malfunction must have happened.
At some point I'd gotten out of my chair and found myself watching 5 different versions of what was going on, with the volume turned up. And then it happened.
I don't remember which channel it was, but I remember my boss came out and was standing next to me watching and, as we watched, we both watched a second plane fly into the frame and hit the second tower. I'd never seen such a thing.
My boss disappeared. Just launched into action, likely to make a secure phone call to somewhere - I don't know, hell, it's all sort of a blur after that.
I called up a coworker who worked in our main office in the Pentagon to ask her if she knew what was going on ... we'd only just been talking a few seconds when she said "I gotta go, we just had an explosion and ... -klik- ..."
Soon we received word that yet another plane had hit the Pentagon. A bunch of us went up on the roof where we worked but could see nothing but a plume of smoke. We were soon on 'lockdown' and, from what I remember, I spent at least one night on the floor in my office. None of us knew if our coworkers in the Pentagon were alive, or to what the extent the building had been damaged.
Calls home - calls *anywhere* were nearly impossible. Phone lines were jammed. Nobody could call anybody. And, of course, the lives of all of us, especially in the U.S. military, had been changed forever.
It bothers me a little bit more as each year has passed since, that the 9-11 attacks have seemed to become a distant memory to many to people. But it's unavoidable. As time passes, lives go on.
Have a think about this:
A coworker pointed out to me last week that the group of folks who will be joining the U.S. military next year, maybe even *this* year for some, will be the 1st group of folks who were not born yet on 9-11. They don't have the memory of the chaos of September 11th, 2001 and the events which unfolded afterward seared into their minds. And yet the majority of those people will be spending much of their waking lives for the next 4, 5, 6 or more years fighting the ideology that had these guys plan, plot, train and carry out those attacks on that day.
But! Here's the thing: all this has happened before.
I've come to look at 9-11 over the past 16 (can you believe it? 16?) years in this way: it was just like the attack on Pearl Harbor. It wasn't 'something new.' It happened before. It was just different.
- In the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, over 2,400 people were killed - most of them U.S. servicemen and women.
- In the attacks on NY, Wash., D.C., and the crash in PA, over 2,900 people were killed. Only this time, they attacked *everybody.*
So what do the 2 attacks have in common? They were attacks. They were attacks on America and on Americans. Attacks on Americans on American soil. And we're not supposed to allow that to happen. It makes us look weak and stupid.
We screwed up, made some mistakes, and 'they surprised us' in 1941.
The same thing happened in 2001. We screwed up and made some mistakes and 'they surprised us' again.
No matter who the "they" is, I think there will always be a "they." Always.
Now, mind you, I wasn't around for the events of Pearl Harbor, the chaos of the World War that ensued, but I sure hope that we don't forget our country's history again and become complacent to the point of being blind to what's going around us (earbud people) to the extent that, in another 50 or 60 years, we let this happen again.
My mother doesn't remember the Pearl Harbor attacks either, but what she *does* remember is 'drills' for air raids. Having to turn out the lights, pull down window shades and hide under furniture. That's an example of the 'after effects' of that particular historical attack.
Something quite similar has resulted from the 9-11 attacks. We have our own updated set of 'after effects.'
Now, if you're one of those folks who walks around in public and uses some form or another of mass transportation while listening to your music or your favorite podcast pumped into your head from your gadget of choice, this is going to be impossible for you to do (or perhaps comprehend), but to those who *do* pay attention to their surroundings:
You know those posters that tell you to pay attention to what's going on around you? You've seen them, those signs you see posted around your train stations, in the Metro, etc. The ones that say things like "If you see something, SAY SOMETHING!" Those are in our lives because of attacks on America; 9-11, the Boston Marathon, the Oklahoma City Bombing, etc. Somebody finally got the idea to educate the public to PAY ATTENTION!
Here's a clip of an interview with actor James Woods who, in August of 2001, about 1 month prior to the 9-11 attacks, *saw* something he didn't think was right. And they didn't have those posters back then.
But he said something anyway.
One final thought:
Our involvement in WWII after the attack at Pearl Harbor ended in less than 4 years.
It's been over 16 years since the attacks of September 11th, 2001 ... 16 years.
The ideologies which motivated the terrorists to do what they did are *still* being followed and still motivating other terrorists (mostly lonely losers, it seems, after analyses/profiling is conducted) ... AFTER 16 YEARS!!!! This isn't a conventional war.
Somebody needs to figure out a way to non-conventionally defeat this.
As much as I am, or was, kinda 'humbug' about it: there's something about New York City. First off: more people live in NYC than in 40 of our 50 states.
But there's also something just ... different ... about NYC, especially at night. Sure there's probably all sorts of sordid stuff going on in the darkest corners that makes for good episodes of cop shows and movies, and there is the darker side of mankind that you read about in the morning papers, but if a bad guy tries to do his thing in front of a bunch of New Yorkers, like in this scene from the first Spiderman, somehow I don't think he'll get too far with it.
New Yorkers have 'a bond' and don't seem to put up with too much crap.
"You mess with one of us, you mess with *all* of us!"
My wife Manuela has always had an affinity for the place. She wasn't born there. She just likes it.
It could be the movies she grew up watching in Italy. It could have been some of the U.S. television shows through which she learned English which may have been shot there. It could be one of her favorite shows "Friends" or "Sex in The City." Hell, it could be Spiderman, (I doubt it, but who knows). She's just always loved it. So when some friends of ours, Angelo and Julia, came to visit us and visit the States for the first time, you can bet NYC was the place. And we'd spend a few days there ...
We were thinking of being married there on a specific date at a specific place some time ago before it became logistically more feasible to run the legal gauntlet in Naples, Italy some years ago but, nevertheless, she's always been in love with 'The Big Apple' since I've known her.
At about midnite on the first night, I got a text:
"Guess where I am!"
Then I was blipped (before my cellphone locked up) with the pic at the top of this post. Her sightseeing partner had fallen asleep (as had I) and she was there by herself.
"I'm on my way," I replied.
But it was the next morning, while I was standing in front of our hotel, across the street from Madison Square Garden, when I remarked to her:
"You know, look at all these people. They're from all over the place. They speak all different languages, they're from everywhere. And they all have their own little purpose and reason for being here, and they're all getting along. Nobody has a problem with anybody else. I mean ... talk about a 'melting pot!'" She patted me on the shoulder and said "It's good to see you're finally getting it."
She does that a lot. I think she thinks I'm mentally challenged. But the thing that really struck me ... and maybe it shouldn't have (?) was: nobody was fighting. Everybody was really getting along, doing their own thing(s) ... with each other. Well, except for the two taxi guys fighting over the right to park in front of the hotel -- but that's a different story.
These people were from all walks of life; tourists, people who lived there, people who worked here, people who were passing by obviously on their way to someplace else, the immigrant I talked to who'd been there for only 2 years and was thrilled to have made a living there ... who knows where they lived before or at that moment, but I'm almost certain that the majority of people I was observing 'came from somewhere else.'
But it seemed at that moment that every kind of person from every kind of place in the world and every station in life was doing their own thing and going in one direction or another, doing this and doing that as I stood there watching. Nobody was bothering me and nobody was bothering anybody else.
It may sound a bit naive, but I couldn't help thinking:
Why can't the planet be like New York City?
Muslims weren't bothering Jews and vice versa. Hardcore Nazi-lookin' folks were putting change into the cups of vagrants of one minority or another (with smiles on their faces as they did so) and the vagrants would answer 'God bless you brother.'
I'll be honest ... there was one colorful young lady who walked by -- tattooed from head to toe (literally) -- and had body piercings and holes in parts of her body where I didn't think you could do that ... and she walked by arm in arm with a seemingly well-dressed man in a nice suit, the 4 taxi drivers and doormen and I who were watching just kinda smirked and snorted our coffee outta our noses and laughed out loud ... one of them said "They have landed, and they are among us!"
But even taking into account the 'alien girl and her elderly escort,' it seemed that every 'political or lifestyle affiliation' you could think of that is currently portrayed in the media as warring with each other was just 'doing their thing' in conjunction with everyone else ... and nobody was having a problem with anybody else.
Why can't the world be like New York City?
One of Manuela's first observations was "Well, could it be that there's 2 or more cop cars everywhere you look?"
Could that have been it? Do we need the show of force? Was that it? If it was, I'm not so sure I have a problem with that, then. Is it the visible presence of 'law and order everywhere?' But doesn't that sound a little too much like 'a police state?' I'm sure that might bother some. People don't like to be 'watched' and made to be felt like they're being babysat. But maybe that was it. Maybe they felt safe?
Whatever it was. it seemed to work. Manuela and I walked up to a pair of cops leaning on their cruiser at about 2am and asked "S'cuse me guys, is there anywhere where can we buy some wine at this time of night?"
Their answer, "Nah. You might try <"blah blah blah over at blah blah, or maybe in Penn Station at blah blah's," but I don't think you'll have that much luck." With a little more chit chat we parted with a "Have a good night!" and a "Good luck!"
Less than 2 minutes later, we had found all we needed at a store about 20 yards away ... got our wine from a guy who'd been in the U.S. less then a few years He was from Bali. "Bali?!" I asked, "Why'd you leave *there?* Isn't it wonderful there?" He became suddenly serious and said "Oh no. It's worse there than you can imagine."
Hmmm ... so maybe the question shouldn't be "Why can't the rest of the world be like New York City?" Maybe it should be "Why can't the rest of the world LEARN TO BE LIKE New York City?"
Everybody pretty much helps you out if you ask for directions or for help. If they don't know, they give it their best shot and, if they don't know the answers to your questions, they send you somewhere to someone who might know.
Everybody was just ... nice.
Even the alien girl and the older gentleman.
Jules and Manuela
I guess "nice" just doesn't make the news and it's that 'news' that shapes what we think about the world? And maybe that's why people target it and try to take it down.