Ten Years Later

This day, ten years ago, would you have imagined the horror the next day would bring? Like Gerard, I’ve been trying to recollect that Monday in 2001.

I’ve been trying to remember September 10 but it’s no go. I know what I must have been doing, but I don’t remember what I did. I kept no notes on that most ordinary of September days. I kept many notes on the day that followed and the days, weeks, months and years that followed that day. What I do know is that whatever might have followed September 10 was taken from us all that day never to be returned or recaptured only avenged. What I do know is that “justice being served” has no part in it, and never did.

I can, of course, assume what I did — what I must have done — on a routine Monday…

The WTC towers still stood that day.

Back in 2009, I wrote for a small and short-lived website, Atlanta Politics Online. The editor asked the contributors to outline their day, at the times, and our thoughts, for a 9/11 remembrance. I’m grateful it is still available, because it jogs memories of a world before it changed.

Photo by Richard Drew/AP

We were soon to know the nature of the new hell and we were all thrust into it without repeal. The days turned to months and the months turned to years and now we have turned around and a decade is gone. What might have been ours, for good or ill, in that decade was forever stolen from us. Stolen from us not — never doubt this — by one man alone, but by a host of savages and throwbacks spread around the world and here among us and dedicated to our destruction. A host that will use any means necessary to destroy this nation while this nation “serves justice” up in spoonfuls and creates “Rules of Engagement” with which to hamper those who would defend it with their very lives.

What the nation has become, through death by fire, bravado, war, forgetfulness, treason, and blunt stupidity could not have been foretold on September 10, but here we are — a lurching ship of state captained by a malicious hater of the American soil. That same captain, maddened by his own stunted heritage, will today disgrace the soil of Ground Zero. It is a difficult reality that has been dealt by the hands of fate; one that is still being played out. (Gerard)

NYC Mayor Bloomberg may have turned the tenth anniversary remembrance into nothing more than a photo-op, but as for the rest of America, we Never Forget.

Project 2996 remembers the fallen. For many, no remains were found. Their ashes were scattered in the wind.

In time, everyone had passed by as well and the street was empty except for the settling smoke. I looked outside the window where a small maple grew and noticed that its leaves were covered with small yellow flecks. I looked down at the sill outside the windows and saw the yellow flecks there as well.

At some point in the next few minutes it dawned on me that there would be no bodies to speak of found in the incinerating rubble across the river. I knew then — as certainly as I have even known anything — that all those who had still been in the towers had gone into the smoke and that, in some way, the gleaming bits of yellow ash were their tokens, were what they had become.

And I knew that all they had become had fallen upon us as we ran in the smoke; that we had breathed them in when the wind reached us; that they were covering the houses and the sills and the cars and the sidewalks and the benches and the shrubs and the trees all about us.

What they had become was what the wind without a storm had left behind. Now that it had passed everything was, again, silent and calm with the blue sky above the houses on Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights beginning to emerge from the fading smoke as the breeze of the harbor shifted the plume away from us and moved it uptown, into Manhattan, leaving the Heights again as an elite enclave, above and to the side of New York City.

The yellow flecks stayed like small stars on the surface of everything in the Heights for three days until the first rains came on a late afternoon to wash them away. I walked out into that rain and back down Pierrepont to the Promenade where for months the fires would burn across the river. The rain came straight down and there was no wind. As I walked down the sidewalk I noticed the rainwater running off the trees and the buildings and moving down the gutter to the drains that would take it to the harbor and the sea. And that water was, for only a minute or so before it ran clear, gold.

Tomorrow, New York officially opens the National September 11 Memorial. Stunningly beautiful and serene.

In the footprints of the old Twin Towers are two square, below-ground reflecting pools, each nearly an acre (4,046 square meters), fed from all sides by waterfalls that begin just above ground.

They are bordered by bronze panels inscribed with the names of those who died there, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania.

Four of those names are Georgians:

  • Claude Michael Gann of Roswell, whose tribute you can find here. Mike was recently remarried and attending a conference at Windows on the World.
  • Major Stephen V. Long of Georgia, whose tributes you can find here and here. Already a war hero, he was at his post at the Pentagon when it was attacked.
  • Maynard S. Spence Jr of Douglasville, whose tribute you can find here. He was on the 99th floor of the second tower.
  • Harshad Sham Thatte of Norcross, whose Legacy page is here. He worked for the same company as Mr. Spence, Marsh & McLennan.

While the last ten years have nurtured a resurgence of patriotism not seen in recent generations, there are those among us who would just as soon forget it all. A few weeks ago, a young 30-something of our acquaintance noted that he didn’t think anything should be done to remember 9/11, even though the anniversary fell on a Sunday, thus providing a perfect opportunity for a service centered on healing. “Why? What’s the point? Why does that matter now?” (Paraphrased) The young man’s apathy and utter selfishness still astounds me. If he (and the rest of his generation) is incapable of feeling any kind of empathy for those still grieving, then he (and they) can look forward to nothing but failure. But there are so many who feel the same. Refusing to accept evil at face value and instead projecting blame on such-and-such policies, Christopher Hitchens dismissively calls these naysayers “the intellectuals” and describes his own change of heart:

The proper task of the “public intellectual” might be conceived as the responsibility to introduce complexity into the argument: the reminder that things are very infrequently as simple as they can be made to seem. But what I learned in a highly indelible manner from the events and arguments of September 2001 was this: Never, ever ignore the obvious either. To the government and most of the people of the United States, it seemed that the country on 9/11 had been attacked in a particularly odious way (air piracy used to maximize civilian casualties) by a particularly odious group (a secretive and homicidal gang: part multinational corporation, part crime family) that was sworn to a medieval cult of death, a racist hatred of Jews, a religious frenzy against Hindus, Christians, Shia Muslims, and “unbelievers,” and the restoration of a long-vanished and despotic empire.

[snip…] So, for me at any rate, the experience of engaging in the 9/11 politico-cultural wars was a vertiginous one in at least two ways. To begin with, I found myself for the first time in my life sharing the outlook of soldiers and cops, or at least of those soldiers and cops who had not (like George Tenet and most of the CIA) left us defenseless under open skies while well-known “no fly” names were allowed to pay cash for one-way tickets after having done perfunctory training at flight schools. My sympathies were wholeheartedly and unironically (and, I claim, rationally) with the forces of law and order. Second, I became heavily involved in defending my adopted country from an amazing campaign of defamation, in which large numbers of the intellectual class seemed determined at least to minimize the gravity of what had occurred, or to translate it into innocuous terms (poverty is the cause of political violence) that would leave their worldview undisturbed. How much easier to maintain, as many did, that it was all an excuse to build a pipeline across Afghanistan (an option bizarrely neglected by American imperialism after the fall of communism in Kabul, when the wretched country could have been ours for the taking!).

And then, of course, don’t forget that those who wanted to kill us then, still want to kill us now. New York is now under high alert for a suspected attack during remembrance gatherings.

But back to those who want to forget. A few days ago, I was discussing my continued befuddlement at the young man’s attitude with my daughter. Long-time readers will remember she graduated from college last year after a frustrating and, at times, uphill battle staying in her major after a possibly devastating medical diagnosis. Despite her obvious gifts, I believe it was an inherited streak of galactic-grade stubbornness that kept her going and helped her to eventually achieve her goal. She said, (again paraphrased) “How can you expect him to understand struggle or loss? He’s never had to work for anything. He’s never lost a family member, had to protect someone he loved or even faced death himself. Until he does, he’ll never get it.” I am so proud of her that sometimes words just escape me. Tomorrow, in addition to remembering those that fell ten years ago, as a family, we celebrate a new chapter in her life. After all the affectionate names and titles she’s had here over the years, tomorrow she gets an official new one: “The Pianist.” And it comes with a paycheck.

“Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then say ‘what should be the reward of such sacrifices?’
Bid us and our posterity bow the knee, supplicate the friendship and plough, and sow, and reap, to glut the avarice of the men who have let loose on us the dogs of war to riot in our blood and hunt us from the face of the earth?
If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace.
We ask not your counsels or arms.
Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.
May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!”
– Samuel Adams

Many of us will carry the grief that began that day to our graves. Peggy Noonan understands that hole in the America’s collective heart, as well.

They tell us to get over it, they say to move on, and they mean it well: We can’t bring an air of tragedy into the future. But I will never get over it. To get over it is to get over the guy who stayed behind on a high floor with his friend who was in a wheelchair. To get over it is to get over the woman by herself with the sign in the darkness: “America You Are Not Alone.” To get over it is to get over the guys who ran into the fire and not away from the fire.

You’ve got to be loyal to pain sometimes to be loyal to the glory that came out of it.

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