Eight years ago the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York was blasted by a terrible explosion, one of the first and worst acts of aggression that cost American lives on our own soil at the hands of foreign born terrorists. Time went by; people were buried; structures were repaired; trials and convictions eventually occurred; and we began to forget.
The Twin Towers of the New York Port Authority's WTC had been reoccupied, with over 430 private companies, representing the entire globe's aspirations and fortunes. These majestic skyscrapers gleamed in the morning sun, shining examples of the interconnection of nations of an optimistic, free, capitalist, and mutually dependent orb, reflecting into the new millennium some of the best and brightest of a hugely successful network of commerce linking all continents.
A doctor colleague of mine from New York (absent these last several days) has in her office a large, framed print of Manhattan Island from the air. With the Twin Towers leading, it looked like a great ship putting out to sea.
Just as December 7th, 1941, is known as "a date which will live in infamy," after many great vessels of the United States Navy, with their crews, were destroyed by surprise attack, so too for the hideous events of September 11, 2001, almost sixty years later, when the "great ship" of Manhattan, with its magnificent skyline, was struck by two passenger aircraft-turned-missiles, which devastated those beautiful towers, and thousands caught within, before the live-footage, horrified eyes of the world. For the full extent of the damage to be assessed, many weeks will be required. First, trained crews must clear away the mountain of rubble, a mass tomb. Already it appears that several adjacent edifices in and around the WTC complex are no longer sound and will have to be removed as well. At least one more has collapsed.
Almost at the same time as the first plane was smashing into the WTC, another was roaring down in a trajectory toward the White House. Then, inexplicably, it veered off and plunged into the Pentagon, killing more people there than in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. One additional large aircraft had been taken over by terrorists. It was apparently also in route for Washington, D.C., when its passengers, having heard what had already begun to occur at the WTC, sacrificed themselves to abort its targeted mission. It crashed, with no survivors, near Pittsburgh.
No one can measure the meaning of the lost lives, perhaps five thousand or more, each one precious. But the true cost of the disaster far exceeds the destruction of buildings and aircraft.
Not just in the United States but throughout the world, shocked citizens have been responding from deep emotional impact to what has occurred. In Lebanon, many Muslims were lining up to give blood (a fact apparently not noticed by many hotheads in our country involved in hate crimes against loyal Arab Americans and others of simply Eastern appearance). The European head of NATO was expressing its solidarity. In Canada, folks were offering assistance to our stranded air travelers and, as my brother, Andy, has pointed out, giving testimonials of admiration for what this country has contributed to modern civilization, plus assurance that we shall rise Phoenix-like from these ashes, stronger in the future. In a gesture of allegiance, an Italian political figure offered his country's help to pay for the rebuilding of one of the demolished structures.
Though the phrase "be careful who your friends are" comes to mind, both Russia and China have sent official condolences and pledged cooperation with the fight against terrorism. Saudi Arabia, too, among other Islamic countries, is likely to have an interest in and join us for the looming, prolonged struggle against groups sponsoring or carrying out acts of terror. And so it has gone. Millions have expressed their sympathies and desire to stand with us. Their voices, from all races and cultures, have drowned out those of a silly few militants who at first expressed satisfaction at what had happened to "the great Satan."
But many also have voiced great concerns, alarmed that the strong protector of peace and stability in the world was now itself seemingly in need of assistance and protection, that if it could happen to the most powerful nation, then it might occur anywhere. Indeed, it is now a brave new world, one in which, as never before, no single nation can take for granted its security and freedoms.
As I write (9/16/01), we are still waiting for our stock exchanges to reopen, and for our communications and air transportation to resume a level of convenient functioning close to that before last week's devastating body-blow.
There will now need to be a reordering. It is far too early to determine the shape of the coming realignment. There has been too much action taken in anger. The problems are not open to easy solution. One can only hope that thoughtful men and women with cool heads, true statesmen, will carefully lead us to well considered choices. Yet the agendas of the terrorists cannot be allowed to prevail.
Meanwhile, we have insufficient words to properly praise and thank the many emergency work heroes who have appeared from the dust and flames of these multiple disasters, or the great numbers of private individuals from around the planet who have offered their blood, prayers, food, clothes, money, shelter, and words of encouragement. Not least in demonstrating true valor were the hundreds of New York firefighters and EMS workers who were heading up the WTC towers, attempting further rescues, even as thousands were frantically racing away before those giant buildings collapsed.
It may be years before we are fully "back to normal." For many, the scope of what has happened simply has not sunk in. The relatively carefree way of life many of us enjoyed before last Tuesday may be gone forever. But we are a strong, resourceful, adaptive people, with a genius for resilience. We have been badly bloodied, even knocked down for a little while. Yet we are getting up. We shall carry on. The first attack on the WTC, eight years ago, may have left us a little complacent. The second has definitely gotten our attention!