Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

On this day, over a decade ago, there was not a computer, television screen, or radio station that was not broadcasting the images of two commercial airlines crashing into the Word Trade Center. Before that day, 9/11 was only known as the number you dialed in an emergency.

That night, as Mark Styne noted in National Review, many Americans went to bed wondering if they would wake up the next morning. At the time, I was a dealer support liaison for a major telecom company. That night, filled with neither fear of rage, just an empty, surreal desolation, I wrote the following column.

Sipping strong coffee in the breakfast nook of his downtown apartment on 14th and Union, National Review's rookie Editor Rich Lowry hears the low roar of a plane. It is a quarter of nine, and though he has learned to tune out the noisy bustle of the city that is New York, the sound seems out of place. It's too loud, louder than what he ever heard living in Manhattan.

"That's the sound people talk about when they report seeing plane crashes."

Lowry quickly tucks the thought away; New York is by nature a noisy animal. His thoughts return to work and the business of editing one of the largest and most respected magazines in the United States. Lowry is wrapping his brain around a possible follow up to his article advocating the decriminalization of marijuana, when the phone rings. The disembodied voice dispenses with conventional pleasantries:

"Turn on the TV."

What blazes across the screen is one of the most surreal and horrifying images the 30-year-old editor had ever witnessed. A live video feed from 5th avenue, just a quarter block from his apartment gives him a front row seat to the destruction that is unfolding. The North Tower of 2the World Trade Center is engulfed in a cloud of gray smoke. Just moments earlier, American Airlines Flight 11, hijacked by a group of unknown terrorists, pilot the doomed commercial airliner into the upper floors of the behemoth structure. In another 20 minutes, United Airlines Flight 175 will collide with the South Tower - within an hour, both structures, straining under the pressure caused by the massive structural damage will be flattened into a pile of twisted steel and shattered concrete.

The South Tower is the first to collapse. As it crumbles towards earth, it rains down a path of deadly debris destroying surrounding New York landmarks. The Marriott, the Commodities Exchange Building, the Dean Witter Building, and the US Customs house, all are destroyed within seconds. Over 300 police, firefighters, and rescue crews working to evacuate the doomed towers would be crushed beneath the falling rubble.

Back at his apartment, Lowry scans the chaos on Union Street below. He describes an almost carnival like atmosphere as hoards of people hurry out to 5th Avenue to get a better view of the unfolding disaster. Ghoulish spectators rush to snap photographs of themselves, grinning like imbeciles against the backdrop of the falling towers. Lowry describes the scene:

"The street was clogged, because cars, including a bunch of cabs, were pulled off along the side of the street, their drivers standing next to their cars, with the doors open, sometimes with their radios turned up high. One moron had pulled his pick-up truck over and sat up near the cab so a friend could snap an Instamatic picture of him with the worst terrorist attack ever on the American homeland burning in the background."

As the South Tower of the Trade Center Collapses, the FAA makes a dramatic decision to close all air traffic across the nation, an unprecedented step never before taken. Hundreds of flights are rerouted to Toronto and Halifax, leaving local emergency workers scrambling to find makeshift accommodations for the stranded travellers. 40 minutes later, Flight 77, a Boeing 757 en route from Washington's Dulles International

Airport to Los Angeles, carrying 58 passengers and six crew members aboard, slams into the Pentagon. The Pentagon was on Alpha security alert at the time. While the administration commences the evacuation of all federal office buildings in Washington, United Airlines' officials report that that United Flight 93, en route from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco is missing. The smoldering wreckage of the plane would be found in a field southeast of Pittsburgh.

Back in New York, Rich Lowry sits in his office scanning the latest cover art for National Review's October 1st issue. In bold imposing letters set against a black background read the words "AT WAR". 24 hours has passed since his Nation was attacked by faceless cowards. CNN is reporting that the death toll will exceed 10,000 souls, more than the Revolutionary War, Pearl Harbor, and the war of 1812 combined. There are no words to describe the deep sense of loss and anger we at the Rant feel at this time. Platitudes about defending the shinning City on the Hill feel hollow as one watches footage of rescue crews sifting through the shattered remains of our cherished symbols of freedom.

Our day of infamy was a perfect September day in New York.

Joseph Leger

No comments: