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Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11/11 Ten Years Later

Part of this is a reprint from New Day's post from last year, but it's also updated.

At the time, I was working in-house for a no-fault insurance carrier on Wall Street. I was scheduled to attend two arbitrations in Huntington, Long Island. Physically, I was far removed from what was about to happen, but I still felt the impact.

Driving to Huntington on the Northern State Parkway, I decided to put on Howard Stern. At the time, he was still on 92.3 K-Rock, and not Sirius or XM Radio. Hadn't listened to him in some time, so I wanted a chuckle.

Howard was not joking that morning. He did let through a few asides about how frustrated he was that Pamela Anderson wouldn't hook up with him, but that was NOT the point of that morning's broadcast. People were calling in telling him that two planes had hit the WTC Twin Towers! Some had seen those planes passing overhead, some had seen the actual impact. I didn't understand what this all meant -- hadn't it already been 8 years since something happened to the World Trade Center?

Notwithstanding Howard's stature, I switched to the other stations on the radio -- surely this was either a rebroadcast of the 1993 bombing, or something entirely different. All other radio stations were reporting the same thing -- the Towers were hit, people were jumping out the windows, Muslim extremists were responsible. How the hell was this happening?!?!?!?

I made it to the first arbitration. The arbitrator had the TV news on, showing both towers in flames, yet we proceeded. Headed to the next one, my adversary was there, but the arbitrator was not.

After 20 minutes, she arrived, after pulling her daughter out of school. She explained to us both that she would not be able to adequately decide the arbitration and continued the case, exhorting us both to "go home and be with your families."

Before leaving, we briefly discussed what had just happened. Although it may be the work of terrorist, she said, it might have been an American, like Timothy McVeigh, who was behind this. I disagreed -- one week beforehand, Israel had pulled out of the World Counsel on Racism, and the US had followed suit. I opined that this was most likely the work of some Palestinian extremists who thought they could punish the US for our "Zionist" leanings. I said, "This was an act of war, nothing else. The US simply has to respond to this, or the rest of the world will think we're weak."

I called my Mom and my girlfriend (at the time) to let them know I was OK. Tried calling the office, but the calls wouldn't go through. I couldn't tell if I had to go into the office, but it seemed that just going home would be the best choice under the circumstances.

The traffic was heavier than normal on the parkways that day -- the State Troopers were out in full force. As I proceeded home, the Towers fell. Without the benefit of TV or Internet access (there were no Blackberries back then), I imagined them both falling down to one side, not collapsing in a stack. I began to fear that all of Wall Street had just been taken out.

I also got angry. I began to mutter under my breath, "Who did this? Who the ---- thought they could do this in our country?!?!?! Find them, kill them all, and let G-D sort them out!"

At the time, I still lived with my parents in Baldwin. My mother's birthday was that day, so as planned, we all had Carvel ice cream cake with my aunt, uncle, & grandmother as we watched CNN. By that time, in the evening, they had removed footage that rumored to show people in the West Bank dancing and selling candy, reveling in this lethal blow rendered by their would-be heroes. Damn them.

For the next week, there was no work. Mayor Giuliani had sealed off everything south of 14th Street in Manhattan, and that included my office. I did not know if I still had a job, or if my co-workers were safe.

Later, we learned that the husband of my mother's friend had perished during the attack. He was on the 90th floor of Tower One -- exactly the point of impact where the plane hit. We decided amongst ourselves that he never knew it happened, and we found solace in that thought. A week later, a memorial service was held in his honor at our synagogue -- it was jam-packed to the rafters.
In the following months, nobody hated anyone else. Total strangers would talk to each other on the subway as if there were no boundaries. A respect for the sanctity of life began to permeate everyone's thoughts and actions. At the same time, an enemy named Osama bin Laden, who had already claimed responsibility for the 1998 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, appeared to have been the central figure responsible for the attack. he would follow this up with video and audio tapes decrying perceived injustices against the Muslim world, that somehow justified this mass murder. He was being protected by the Taliban, an extremist religious party that bullied Afghanistan into submission, and was a leader in a gang known as Al-Qaeda.
In a more shocking turn of events, after the U.S. began its eventual attack of retaliation against Afghanistan, it was learned that one member of the Taliban was an American citizen named John Walker Lindh. America screamed for his head as a traitor, but he was instead convicted of a lesser sentence.
Looking back, it seemed like a cross between Pearl Harbor and JFK's assassination. Like those both events, 9/11 brought our country together in a time of shared pain, outrage, and chaos. Like both events, our country emerged stronger than before. Admittedly, it did not lead to victory in a just war, and did not serve to lionize the leader of our nation at that time. But it did remind us, the hard way, that life is short and fragile. It awakened us to the reality that others in this world are so easily swayed by inflammatory rhetoric, that they de-value human life. It made us more patriotic, more G-D-fearing, and more wary of who in the world seeks us well or harm.

Today, since 9/11 happened to have been on a weekend, I had the opportunity to watch the memorial service in lower Manhattan on TV.  It's hard not to get choked up or burst into tears not watching it -- it is more depressing than a Holocaust documentary with the theme from "Platoon" as the soundtrack.  The reaction I felt today was, "How MANY people died that day?  How MANY families were hurt by these terrorists?  How CAN they all heal, even ten years after?"

Unless we individually lost someone that day, we can't know.  We can only admire their resolve, including the numerous children who read the names of parents they'd lost, some of whom were only in infancy at the time. 

Since that time, there has been a small amount of closure with the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 1, 2011.  However, this only led to mass hysteria and continued conspiracy theories.  All day long we've been waiting with baited breath over a terrorist attack that (as I predicted) never materialized.  Apparently, we forgot the healing words of our leaders in the months following September 11, 2001 -- STOP BEING AFRAID.  Go out and live as you normally would.  To do otherwise is what these gangstas WANT us to do!

The Four Pillars would not normally be needed for the last remaining superpower on the planet, but some segments of the population need it, so here goes:

THE UNITED STATES EXISTS.  We revolted against Britain to seek independence and freedom.  We grew from a weak confederation of loosely united colonies to be the strong UNITED country that we are.

THE UNITED STATES MATTERS.  No matter how much hate is hurled at us by other nations and cultures, we remain relevant in this world, no matter what they try to do to us.

THE UNITED STATES BELONGS.  The rest of this world must admit, no matter how begrudgingly, that we are needed.  To promote freedom and democracy, and to develop lacking nations into respectable countries -- if they don't want that help, it's their fault, and not ours. 

THE UNITED STATES DESERVES.  Other nations owe us respect, even if they wish they didn't.  Without the United States, the rest of the world would fall into the two extremes of dictatorship and anarchy, and democracy would become extinct.

We are the wealthiest country, we have the strongest army, and we have the fairest and justest government in the world.  Who are we to become self-hating, weak-willed people pleasers?  Because a bunch of gangstas hate us?!?!?!  LET them hate us.  LET them talk their pseudo religious trash.  LET them demonize us in their cheaply-made, amateurish videos.  Who the heck are they?

They're NOTHING.  Why give them power they don't deserve by being afraid?

And once again, my best wishes to the families of those who lost loved ones on that day, and of those first responders who met their deaths later from Ground Zero-related illnesses.  G-D bless the NYPD, the FDNY, and the PAPD.  G-D bless the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.  G-D bless New York and New Jersey, and the United States of America.