September 10, 2003

Remembering Sept. 11, 2001

Two years ago, 3,000 Americans died in an act of terrorism so spectacular, so disastrous, so unbelievable, I still have a hard time understanding how, and why, it happened.

On that fateful day, as I watched footage of the attacks over, and over, and over again in a televised loop that eventually nauseated me, I stole time to write my weekly column. Here is my column, exactly as I wrote it that day.

"A Day Without Laughter" c. Ryan Rhodes, Sept. 11, 2001

I'm generally a jovial and innocent individual, and these traits are usually reflected in the playful content of my writing. In the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C., however, I have had little to be jovial or playful about, and my innocence has been severely shaken.

In fact, since news of the attacks first broke, I have yet to enjoy even one of my trademark full volume belly laughs, or engage in flippant and sarcastic conversation with anyone. Rather, I've maintained an air of stunned silence, not because I'm scared, but because I'm concerned. Oh, I'm also depressed, nonplussed, and indescribably angry.

I'm concerned for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because the once impenetrable borders of America have been penetrated, not through the conventional contrivances of war, but through the shadowy world of international terrorism, an attack medium in which the enemy is often nameless, faceless and, for all intents and purposes, omnipresent.

I'm concerned because the enemy, in this case, is armed with a weapon far more ominous than any bomb or nuclear weapon. Specifically, this enemy is armed with nothing less than ideas and beliefs, and the conviction to sacrifice themselves and the innocent in the name of their ideas and beliefs.

I'm concerned because, in an attempt to seek retribution and retaliation, the United States could spark a conflict for which the world is not prepared, a conflict that may involve chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons.

Finally, I'm concerned that, in a debilitating catch-22, the American people will be asked to sacrifice their freedoms in the name of preserving freedom itself.

I'm depressed, horribly saddened by the loss of life both aboard the hi-jacked planes and in the targeted buildings. These were victims who had the modest dreams of day-to-day existence denied them by the barbaric actions of terrorists who believe all targets, military or civilian, are fair game when it comes to carrying out their cause. These victims will never again hold their families close, take leisurely strolls along park walkways bathed in the waning light of a majestic sunset, or sit with friends and enjoy the millions of simple everyday miracles we often take for granted.

I'm depressed because all of the deceased met their ends under circumstances that no person should endure, and many executed final acts indicative of how hopeless and frantic their situation was. Some of the victims, teetering high above the ground, made the horrific decision to plunge hundreds of feet rather than face the searing inferno promising to burn them alive. For the horror they experienced, I'm deeply pained.

I'm perhaps most depressed at my loss of innocence, and the loss of innocence of America as a whole. From this bleak Tuesday on, terrorist threats will be very real specters haunting the American psyche, and there will be a lingering trepidation each time I set foot in a potential terrorist target, whether it be an airliner or a national landmark building.

I'm nonplussed, locked in a periodic cycle of disbelief, each time I see footage of the second airliner burst into flames as it slammed into the side of World Trade Center Tower One. Similarly, I can't believe both towers, bastions of American economic power, can no longer be seen as part of the New York City skyline.

Awash in partially complete news reports and rampant rumors, I joined countless Americans across the country in a frantic guessing game of "what happens next." Informed that fuel prices were destined to skyrocket due to the attack, I sat in a gas line for 45 minutes waiting to fill my tank. There were no frazzled tempers at the pump, no impatient horn blaring, only the same wide-eyed look of uncertainty and disbelief on the face of every motorist I encountered. Where will all this uncertainty lead, and what can we do to return to even a semblance of a normal existence?

Finally, I'm angry, furious that America was attacked in such a cowardly and pointless exercise of terroristic subterfuge. Worse, my anger is directed toward an unknown source, a source who could just as well be another face in the crowds I pass each day.

I'm angry that the machine of American anti-terrorist intelligence was unable to see this attack coming, although I'm also aware that similar and more devastating terroristic plots have likely been foiled repeatedly by the same machine.

I'm angry that the individual I was yesterday has been forever altered by Tuesday's events and I desperately want my innocence returned and to feel whole once more.
And, perhaps more than anything, I want to laugh again.

Reading this again, after so many months of distance, I'm struck by how prescient that column was. It also brought me back to that disgusting day.

Only, it wasn't a disgusting day. It was a gorgeous day. Here in Minnesota, it was slightly cool, yes, but amazingly clear and sunny. You couldn't imagine a nicer September morning. It was as close to perfect as you can expect a day to be here in the Midwest.

I was late for work that day, owing primarily to the fact that I had been informed I would be laid off just the day before. I was on the cruise control known as two weeks notice, so I didn't have a lot of incentive to drag myself to work.

My alarm clock radio went off, and as I fumbled for the snooze button, I sleepily made out the announcers saying something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I remember thinking, "Well, that pilot sure screwed up," thinking it was just a single seat Cessna.

The alarm went off again, and this time the announcers were more frantic, more desperate. Another plane smashed into the other WTC tower. I sat bolt upright. All the rules of coincidence told me this couldn't possibly be one.

"The World Trade Center has been attacked! They attacked the World Trade Center!" said an astonished voice on my crackling radio alarm.



Who the fuck are they?

Of course, now I know who "they" are. But, at that time, I had no idea who "they" were, and frankly I didn't care up to that point. Names like Osama bin Laden and al Zawahiri, and groups like the Taliban and al Queda were as alien to me as E.T.

Stunned, I got ready to go to work, forgetting entirely to even click on my television. Had I seen the footage and the unbelievable events that seem surreal even to this day, there's no way I would have left the house. I would have been glued to my television all day.

Outside, in that glorious September air, it seemed inconceivable that New York was enduring a terrorist attack. Then, as I drove to my hated workplace, with my radio on, I heard that the Pentagon had been hit and that as many as four other planes were unaccounted for.

"What the fuck is going on?!" I screamed at the windshield, scanning the skies for errant planes.

Once at work, I saw enclaves of stunned IBMers discussing the unbelievable. I caught snippets of conversation, all of them sounded too incredible to be true.

At my desk, I tried to log on to the Internet, only to find that it was practically at a standstill due to the insane amount of traffic flowing through cyberspace. As slowly loaded, I saw the fireball that engulfed Tower One, and for the first time it hit me just how dire the situation truly was. People were dying. A LOT of people were dying. And that's when I noticed the first tears streaming down my face. It all seemed so pointless, so hateful, so wrong, there was nothing else to do but weep in disbelief.

Then, over the IBM loud speaker came the most callous and despicable public address ever. I can't remember the exact wording, but it went something like this: "Due to the events occuring in New York City, network traffic has been overloaded. Please restrict your Internet use only to business needs and keep focused on your weekday as usual."

Un-fucking-believable. You could hear workers up and down the halls yelling their displeasure at that announcement, and for good reason. IBM got the message: about a half hour later, all the television kiosks in the hallways had been switched over to news coverage and workers crowded around the terminals, thirsting for any and all information. Some were crying; all were stunned.

The rest of the work day consisted of one unbelievalbe image after another, after another, after another. Nothing made sense. Everything changed. Everywhere. Forever.

UPDATE: For those who believe in "understanding" terrorists and trying to see their point.

You want understanding? Fine. Let's try to understand together.

The Muslim religion flourished for hundreds of years after its founding. Largely a religion of peace, it gave rise to a culture that excelled in the arts and sciences, despite repeated Crusades to take back the Holy Land. Then, in the 1700s, some moron had a dream that he shared with a Muslim cleric. The cleric translated that dream to mean that the man's son would give rise to a new type of Islamic worship. It turned out not to be his son, but his grandson. Oh well, skipped a generation, I guess. The individual's name, Wahhab, and his Wahhabism strain of strict Koran interpretation took hold in what is now Saudi Arabia. Among its teachings were strong misogynistic tendencies, a condemnation of innovation, an all-encompassing adherence to daily prayer, and pretty much zero tolerance of non-muslims, or infidels. Wahhabism is the state religion of Saudi Arabia today. So, pretty much, that part of the Middle East, the most holy part of the Middle East, has been stuck in the 1700s.

But, not the rest of the world. We've moved on. We've become technologically advanced and are gradually becoming enlightened as a society. We try to value all races, all genders, all beliefs. They do not. That would be fine if they just sat on sand. We'd be more than happy to let them live in their backwards little worlds of state-run religions. But, in the 1930s, damn it, we found out they have oil. They actually DO have something we need. Like it or not, we do need that oil, for now anyway. So, the Middle East stagnation met Western progressivism, and it has NEVER been a pleasant introduction. We're infidels, after all. But, we're infidels with really neat things, and a whole shitload of money, and the ruling classes of the Middle East tend to like that money thing. Not that they're willing to share that wealth with their starving masses or anything, but whatever.

Ah, but the starving masses care that they're starving, and they want answers. So, they're told by the clerics that the cause of all their misery is the decadence of the West. Sure, that doesn't make any damn sense at all, but when you're hungry and miserable, you'll believe most anything. So, they've been pretty surly with us since the 1930s, at least, and probably well before that. And it didn't help that the major powers of that time were out conquering new territories for colonization.

Then, the whole WWII thing broke out, bringing war to the Middle East because tanks and planes need gas to kill. That kinda sucked, and pissed them off even more. And, of course, there was the whole holocaust thing that resulted in the mass killing of Jews in numbers so staggering it's hard to wrap your mind around it. Plus, they were still hated by many European countries after the world, so the displaced Jews found themselves in the Holy Land, and in 1948 the U.N. decided that they deserved their own nation, which they did. The initial plan was to create two nations, Israel and Palestine, but the Palistinians didn't like that idea much, so a major war broke out between many Middle Eastern countries determined to drive Israel off the map, and little America-backed Israel. Israel kicked ass, because most of the Middle East can't fight their way out of a paper bag. This pissed off the already pissed off Middle East even more.

Oh, and the people are still starving, despite enough oil money flowing into most Middle Eastern countries to at least keep poverty at bay, but the ruling classes just don't like to share. So, they keep blaming the West, and now they had Israel to blame as well. All the better.

Which is pretty much where we're at now, except now some groups want an even more strict interpretation of the Koran than even Wahabbism expounds. These groups of Islamic Fundamentalists have all the anger and hatred in the world, for all the reasons listed previously. They're also pissed that they suck so bad. They're mad that they're nothing. They're mad that they're so damned irrelevant.

So, in order to show that they're relevant, they blow shit up. They kill themselves and others, usually innocents, so they can say "see, we matter, too," even though they don't.

They don't have a point. They don't have a message. They simply want to kill people who aren't "them." That's the reality, no matter how much you try to understand them.

UPDATE: Always, ALWAYS, remember.

Posted by Ryan at September 10, 2003 07:40 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!