Everyone is reflecting on 9/11 this day. It would be cliche for me to write about where I was and what I was doing on that day. Since I do not like being cliche, I won’t. That day did affect me profoundly, on levels I cannot even describe.
What did affect me was the way today, ten years after the most vicious attack on this country since Pearl Harbor, dawned. It was the same as it was 10 years ago, maybe a bit cooler, who knows? I went about my morning, getting ready for church, and going to the Pancake Breakfast at the fire house. My mind kept going back to that morning. I cannot explain how it affected, at least, I cannot explain completely.
As the years have gone by, I have never completely forgotten the images I saw that morning, they were too horrific, too frightening, and even, too surreal to forget. Part of my heart was in those towers on that day, it was there with the firefighters of the FDNY. As I watched the towers burn, in my mind, I could see the firefighting activity going on. I could only imagine how crowded the radio channels were, and the chaos that must have been taking place at the 9-1-1 Center, and in the “radio room” (regardless of it’s size, and number of occupants, where ever the fire dispatchers are located, it is always called the “radio room”) My mind was in several different places at once. I never in my life fought a fire of any type approaching that level of intensity, and I certainly do not put myself on the same level as a firefighter in a big city. That being said, we share the same bond, in many ways. I also know the fire service from the dispatch side of things. I know how hectic it can get in a given dispatch center during a “regular” incident (Large auto accident, big fire, etc) I could only imagine the stress and the strain the dispatchers were going through, and through it all, each one maintained their professionalism and communicated clearly and effectively.
So, that was one level… and then there is the other one. My mind is still haunted by those images, especially of the people jumping, and the footage of the people trapped above the fire in both towers. The images were heart-rending, and to this day, are difficult to watch. Watching video is one thing, but seeing the still photos, is something else. Even though you can’t see individual expressions, the fear is palpable nonetheless. It’s hard at this point, not to lapse into meaningless cliche about who those people were, their dreams, desires, what they did, who they loved. It’s all been done, and I cannot do it any more justice, but, I do feel that aspect, and it makes things all the more unforgettable. All of those faceless people in those grainy photos and video of the upper floors, were someone to somebody, and they all left this world in a way none of them expected. I often find myself wondering what that day must have been like, especially for the person who looked out the window just as the aircraft approached. I cannot fathom that feeling, and I cannot fathom what it must have been like. Even worse, the people on the plane, who knew, like that flight attendant who was on the first aircraft to hit the towers, she was talking to someone from her airline’s headquarters, and she knew what was going on, she knew it. I cannot comprehend what that must be like, the overpowering helplessness that must have overcome all of them. Still photos abound of the people who watched the attack, and its aftermath, unfold. They were on the street surrounding the Twin Towers, they were in buildings throughout the area, and they were in Times Square watching it happen on the “Jumbotron” TV’s on some of the buildings. The photos of the people nearest the attack site are the ones that are the most unsettling. Each one shows a person, or group of people, their expressions showing a mixture of horror, and disbelief at what happened.
Then there is the other level, the one that kicks in involuntarily when I see something happening, it’s the analyst in me. I can’t help it sometimes. I can be reacting emotionally to something, but a detached part of my brain is recording sounds, words, and things that are going on around me, for later analysis when I my emotional outburst is over. It is an extremely rational part of me, and something that doesn’t go away. I remember that morning. I was getting my boys ready for school, and it was a typical morning with them Channel 11 is on the TV, and some kid show is keeping Andrew entertained, while the radio is tuned to Don and Roma on WLS, I am scarcely paying attention to the radio as I rush about getting breakfast, the volume isn’t that loud, and I will have time for it later. It was my day off from my job at Gateway Country Store, and I was going to enjoy it. As I pass through the kitchen, I hear the words “air traffic controller” and “New York” from the radio, and pay no mind to it. Just then, the phone rings, it’s my mom. “Tim do you have the TV on, watch the news, an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center.” …
That’s when it started, the analyst kicked in. I thought, how in the heck does an airplane crash into the World Trade Center. My first thought, before turning on the TV is to grab my Road Atlas. I quickly flip to New York City, wanting to know where JFK and LaGuardia were in relation to the World Trade Center, I found the proper page, still talking to my mom, and turned on the TV. I didn’t expect to see what I saw. A huge amount of smoke was pouring from the 1st tower that had been hit. I remember saying. “That had to be a huge plane that did that mom, that’s got to be 8 or 10 floors on fire, the only plane that’s going to do that is an airliner.” and she replied. “Well the news is saying they don’t know what kind of plane it was.” I hung up and sat to watch. My mind was seeing the images on the screen, and listening to Diane Sawyer, but the other part of my mind was thinking.
What kind of plane was it?
How did it hit the tower?
How fast was it going?
How many people on board?
and the most chilling of all. “It had to be deliberate”. To me, at that moment, nothing else made sense. I have spent my life, literally, studying World War II, and that also lead to study, and reading about military history in general, as well as terrorism. That also led to learning about military strategy, military thought, and other things I cannot list. My analytical mind was coming to only one conclusion. Terrorists did it. At that moment, it was the only thing that made sense to me. Airplanes just don’t take off from an airport, and crash into skyscrapers. The term “accident” was dismissed completely from my mind. I knew an attempt was made in 1993 to destroy the WTC by Islamic Terrorists. Somehow, I knew I was watching their second attempt at it. As if to underscore that line of thought, the second aircraft hit the other tower. Then I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt it was deliberate. Immediately, my mind was in overdrive. A deep sense of foreboding told me it wasn’t over, that there would be more. My mind was racing, listing potential targets, and dismissing them. I then began to look outside for the signs that a plane was heading for the Sears Tower. By now, one had hit the Pentagon, and the news was reporting that another aircraft was missing, and presumed to be heading for Washington.
I couldn’t contain myself anymore. I was on the computer, trying to do my own amateur analysis of who the culprits were, and before his name was even spoken on the news, I knew it was Osama Bin Laden. I pulled an old copy of the Naval Institute’s magazine, called “Proceedings” from my bookshelf. In it, was an analysis piece about Osama Bin Laden written in 1999 I think. I could think of no other person, and no other group other than Al Qaeda. I had the radio, computer, and television going all at once, I was on the phone with my friend Peggy from Ohio, talking about the situation in New York. Just then, I heard the high pitched roar of what could only be fighter planes flying overhead. I leapt to my front window, and grabbed the binoculars I always kept nearby. I caught them out of the corner of my eye, and turned the binoculars to the movement, after a momentary wobble, I settled the binoculars on the aircraft. 4 F16’s were clearly visible, flying in two pairs, and what really struck me was the fact that they were armed. “Sidewinder” missles were clearly visible on the wing tips. As fast they appeared, they were gone, rocketing northeast. I continued my conversation with Peggy, as we both watched the coverage on ABC at our respective homes.
I will never forget how I felt that day, and I will never forget how this has affected me. To watch the documentaries, as I did yesterday, it is almost haunting. What was scary, or, perhaps, just weird, or whatever, is how some of the documentaries echoed some of my initial thoughts on the day’s events, some of the people involved, in both Public Safety, and the Federal Government were thinking the same things I was thinking in the initial stages of the day’s events.
9/11 haunts me, in ways that I can’t even describe. On one level, it’s the memories of what I saw, and then on other, deeper levels, it’s an almost frightening understanding of the machinations that brought us to that point.
Like others before them, those who wish to inflict a given political, or belief system on a society, through terror, are not “madmen” or “out of there minds” they are not “twisted” or irrational. They are rational, by their own standards, and, like many before them, people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, just to name a few, the aforementioned labels do not fit, and are not even appropriate.
A “madman” may be frightening, but a madman is not rational, he is not calculating, he doesn’t think systematically, he acts on impulse, and destroys things without rhyme, reason, or a greater, if you will, purpose. Hitler, Stalin, and the Islamists were not, and are not madmen either. They are cold, calculating, political creatures, who would willingly waste human life in pursuit of their political goals. That is what makes them more frightening than a madman. They believe, and because they believe, they will act. And they did just that. That is where the understanding has to start, and the understanding is necessary so we can protect ourselves in the future, and strike them down if necessary.