9/11 + 20

Part One: The Weight of Memory

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana

The sky above the New York City skyline was clear and gloriously blue on that Tuesday morning in September in the Land of Ago, now 20 years in the rearview mirror of our lives.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

I wasn’t in New York then; on September 11, 2001, I lived with my widowed mother in a three-bedroom, two story townhouse in a South Florida gated community near the future city of Doral, some 1,054 miles away from the World Trade Center and its iconic Twin Towers. But I remember how beautiful the sky over Manhattan that morning was – a gorgeous shade of cerulean blue that would have been perfect had it not been for the two plumes of black smoke and angry flames from the fires in the upper floors of World Trade Center 1 and World Trade Center 2.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

Like millions of Americans – and millions more around the globe – I remember the sight of the Twin Towers burning from the impact of two highjacked Boeing 767 airliners – American Airlines Flight 11, which hit the North Tower at 8:46 AM Eastern with 92 people aboard including five hijackers, and United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the South Tower at 9:03 AM Eastern with 65 occupants, including five hijackers. All aboard were killed.

A decade ago, I wrote this on my original blog, A Certain Point of View:

On that Tuesday morning 10 years ago, I woke up a bit after 8:30 AM; I made my way downstairs and went through the usual routine of serving myself a bowl of cold cereal and making two cups of coffee in a Mr. Coffee brewer. As the coffee brewed (making those weird gurgling sounds that some coffeemakers do during the brewing process), I went to the front door, picked up that morning’s copy of the Miami Herald, then automatically walked over to the TV set and turned it on.

It must have been 8:48 AM by then; Good Morning America was on the air and already Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson were talking (offscreen) with ABC News reporters on the ground in New York City about a possible accidental collision of a plane – possibly a commuter plane or small personal aircraft – with the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Now, I can’t recall exactly everything that was said on that broadcast, but I do remember that there was a lot of confusion and speculation about that first crash, which we now know was American Airlines Flight 11, which had been hijacked by five Al Qaeda operatives after taking off from Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Some of the theories/rumors/comments went something like this:

“An accident along the lines of the B-25 Mitchell bomber which hit the Empire State Building in late 1945.”

“A small commuter plane must have had a malfunction or the pilot died of a heart attack.”

“Someone said they thought they had seen a missile being fired at the building.”

“It was a big jetliner.”

Because Mom was then living in the master bedroom upstairs and rarely turned on her TV, I ran up the stairs, yelling, “Mom! Turn on the TV! There was a plane crash in Manhattan!”

Mom was brushing her teeth at that moment, so she asked me to turn it on while she finished her oral hygiene routine.

By then, ABC’s cameras had zoomed out a bit and I could see the North Tower standing against that clear blue September sky; a gash could be seen between the 93rd and 99th floors and angry red flames licked the base of a black plume of smoke.

Suddenly, at the 9:03 AM mark – just as Mom sat down on her bed to watch – we saw a twin-engine airliner (United 175) fly straight into the South Tower and hit Floors 78 through 84.

“That,” I thought, “was no accident.”

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay 

And on the heels of that, “That’s like the climax of Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor.” (In that 1994 Jack Ryan novel, a vengeance-driven Japanese airline pilot crashes a Japan Airlines 747 on the U.S. Capitol and kills the President and most of the high ranking members of the government in one fell swoop during a joint session of Congress.)

Of course, there was much worse to come: the collapse of the Twin Towers and the deaths of nearly 3000 people in less than one hour, the news that American Airlines Flight 77 had struck the Pentagon and that another plane (United Flight 93) was on a track for another target in Washington, DC but had crashed in Pennsylvania flooded the airwaves, and every network kept looping the impact of the jetliner against the North Tower almost endlessly.

I had always wondered how the average American had felt on Sunday, December 7, 1941 when the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reached the nation via radio broadcasts.

Sadly, now I knew. My country had been attacked. America was at war.

Part Two: A House Divided

Now, almost a generation after the attacks on New York City, Washington D.C., and the crash of United 93 – the flight with only four hijackers aboard that failed to hit its target, which was believed to be either the U.S. Capitol Building or the White House, because its passengers and crew resisted after news of the other attacks reached them via cell phones – part of the Global War on Terror has ended, and the U.S. is a far different place than it was on that day in September 2001.

For a brief window of time after the attacks on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, most Americans forgot that they were conservatives or liberals, Democrats or Republicans, religious or non-religious, Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, or “hyphenated Americans.”  Like their forebears on Sunday, December 7, 1941 – the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor –  most Americans put aside their differences and rallied behind the still new and untested President, George W. Bush.

Even before the U.S. government knew with 100% certainty that the attacks had been masterminded and ordered by a wealthy Saudi-born terrorist leader named Osama Bin Laden and carried out by 19 members of his group, Al Qaeda, thousands of young men and women rushed to enlist in the military. Members of our armed forces, first responders, and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – the same Rudy Giuliani who became former President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and helped to instigate the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol to reverse the results of last year’s elections – were all hailed as heroes.

And most of all, we mourned for the 2,977 victims who were killed, cursed the 19 hijackers who committed the greatest act of murder-suicide in U.S. history and hoped that the 6,000 injured in New York City and the Pentagon would recover.

And for a brief period in history – right up to the run-up to the unnecessary and reckless invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 – not only were Americans united, albeit less so than during World War II, but all of our allies in Europe and other parts of the world said, “We are with you. Today, we are all Americans.”

For the first time in its 52-year-history (in 2001), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) invoked Article Five of the Atlantic Treaty, which states that when any member nation is attacked by any foe, all of the other members immediately go into action to render assistance, including the use of military force.

In October 2001, after Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden and his accomplices to the U.S. for trial, a U.S.-led NATO force, allied with the anti-Taliban Afghan resistance force known as the Northern Alliance, invaded Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. By Christmas of that year, the Taliban had been kicked out of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, and Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group scattered throughout the country. Some of Bin Laden’s fighters were killed, many were captured, including the principal planner of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and many others, including Bin Laden himself, evaded U.S. and Afghan forces at Tora Bora and made their way to Pakistan’s rugged, wild, and lawless Northwest Territories.

Now, 20 years later, America is, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “a house divided against itself.”  Her citizens – which have never been fully united except in times when our nation’s existence was clearly at stake, usually from external threats like Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, or the former Soviet Union – are once again engaging in their usual arguments about how big a role government should have in our lives, how religious – or irreligious – we should be, whether LGBTQ folks should have the same rights as non-LGBTQ folks, over women’s reproductive rights, equality of the sexes, and above all, the ancient and ugly issue of racism and racial inequality in America.

To those who don’t study American history – and trust me, many people don’t – the current divisiveness seems to be a new phenomenon. Trust me, friend. It is not. Within my own lifetime, it was there for all to see from the year of my birth – 1963 – and it has persisted, broken only by a few moments of national tragedy – the Kennedy-King assassinations, the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle accidents, and (of course) the September 11 attacks. During my 58 trips around the Sun, the huge chasm between white America and colored America, conservatives and liberals, urban dwellers and rural dwellers grew wide as a result of the cultural changes of the Sixties and Seventies and was worsened by our misguided and tragic intervention in Vietnam.

As America’s renowned documentarian Ken Burns said in an interview with The American Prospect four years ago to talk about the then-upcoming 10-part series The Vietnam War:

You said Americans have forgotten the genius of compromise. What do you mean?

We’ve done this many times in our history. Obviously, the Civil War is the most cataclysmic example of that. I had asked Shelby Foote, the Southern novelist, why the Civil War began. He said because we failed to do what we have a genius for.

Americans like to think of themselves as uncompromising people. But our genius is for compromise and when it broke down, we went to war.

One of our Army men in the film says, “Vietnam drove a stake through the heart of America, and we haven’t quite recovered.” I am not willing to accept entirely that half-empty view. There are others, including an Air Force fighter pilot who said that the ‘60s were a confluence of all these different rivulets: of anti-war protest; of civil rights; the women’s movement; of the environment; and it produced some of the greatest music. The man said I thought that is what I was fighting for.

Many of us seem to have forgotten, but on September 10, 2001, George W. Bush was not exactly the most popular President, and the controversies about “hanging chads” and recounts of votes in the 2000 Presidential election were still lingering in the background. Many Democrats considered Bush to have benefited from the fact that his brother Jeb was governor of Florida, and that the state official (secretary of state) responsible to ascertain the results of the election there, Katherine Harris, was a staunch Republican, otherwise Al Gore would have been the 43rd President of the United States. Then, as now, Republicans disliked Democrats intensely, and the feeling seemed to be mutual.

September 11, or 9/11, was like a temporary bridge between the two Americas – progressive and reactionary – and bathed everything in a patriotic glow of red, white, and blue. In every American town and city, it seemed like American flags were flown on almost every block. Heck, even my mother bought a flag kit so we could fly our Old Glory on national holidays.

And yet, by 2003, that glow of “we are all Americans” was gone, and the neo-cons led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice led us down the rabbit hole known as the Iraq War, even though Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s long-time dictator, did not have a role in the 9/11 attacks nor did he have weapons of mass destruction. In time, as an anti-war movement brewed and folks like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh agitated conservatives to a fever pitch over “wedge issues” like gay marriage, the so-called “War on Christmas,” and the rightness of the war in Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom became another stake into America’s heart.

And by the time Donald Trump became President nearly 16 years after that Tuesday when the Towers fell, the divisions in our society were so bad that:

  • Trump fans were calling journalists, particularly those who reported for centrist or left-of-center media outlets, “enemies of the people”
  • People who identified as “Christian” and conservative began aping Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and (especially) Donald Trump and called Democrats all sorts of nasty names, including “DemonRats” and “Communists”

And thanks to Trump – and right-wing media doofuses who include the now late Phil Valentine – the COVID-19 pandemic morphed from a public health crisis into a politically divisive wedge issue. Now Americans are either pro-mask, pro-vaccines or they’re anti-mask, anti-vaccines. And as the body count from COVID-19 and kills kids like Galveston, Texas’ Kali Cook (age 4) because their parents are – or were –  firmly in the “anti-vax” camp, we still see anti-mask “advocates” the likes of Tennessee’s Erika Casher.

Casher has been in the news as of late because she was caught on camera smirking and laughing – not to mention chewing gum in a gross fashion – as 17-year-old high school student Grady Knox told the Board of Education of Rutherford County that he wore a mask because his grandmother, a retired teacher, had died from COVID and that he, Grady, was willing to wear a mask to protect others as well as himself from the dangerous coronavirus. Casher is a case worker for healthcare giant Cigna, and her mocking reactions to Grady’s speech have caused great ire on the Internet.

See, Casher is an anti-mask “protestor” who, despite being a registered nurse in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, thinks kids should not wear masks in school. She doesn’t deny that COVID is real, mind you, but she is one of those nurses who thinks she knows more than epidemiologists or virologists and carries professionally-printed placards that read “Let our kids smile” to school board debates about how to protect said “kids” from the pandemic.

As Abraham Lincoln once said during the long runup to the American Civil War:

“A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Substitute “pro-health” and “anti-health” in Lincoln’s speech so it reads like:

“A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure permanently half anti-health and half pro-health.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

 Who would have thought on that Tuesday 20 years ago today, that day with the beautiful blue skies marred by the plumes of smoke billowing from the soon-to-collapse World Trade Center in the Big Apple and the side of the Pentagon in Washington, that America would be, once again, a house divided?  I didn’t. I bet you didn’t either.

And yet, here we are, the lessons of the past clearly forgotten.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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