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Saturday, September 11th, 2021

Twenty years, twenty reads: Reflecting on the September 11th attacks two decades later

Today is the twen­ty year anniver­sary of the hor­rif­ic Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks. With two decades now hav­ing passed since that awful day, a lot of pieces have been pub­lished recent­ly about the attacks, their after­math, and how the tragedy affect­ed the Unit­ed States and the world com­mu­ni­ty. Here’s a col­lec­tion of twen­ty of the most inter­est­ing, thought-pro­vok­ing arti­cles and columns that we’ve seen.

“Survivors Are Still Getting Sick Decades Later”

This pho­to essay by Hilary Swift and Corey Kil­gan­non intro­duces a group of Sep­tem­ber 11th attack sur­vivors who were exposed to the tox­ic dust fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the build­ings at the World Trade Cen­ter com­plex. They note:

By some esti­mates, more than 400,000 peo­ple in Low­er Man­hat­tan, includ­ing those who lived, worked and stud­ied there, were exposed to tox­ic mate­r­i­al from the pul­ver­ized tow­ers, lead­ing to health issues that were diag­nosed many years later.

The George W. Bush White House, the EPA (then under the con­trol of Chris­tine Todd Whit­man) and Rudy Guil­iani all made state­ments or allu­sions in the after­math of the attack that the air in Man­hat­tan was safe to breathe, when in fact, it was­n’t. (Whit­man mem­o­rably said: “I am glad to reas­sure the peo­ple of New York … that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink.”)

NPI’s found­ing board­mem­ber Lynn Allen was among those at the World Trade Cen­ter on Sep­tem­ber 11th. She was able to walk out before the com­plex was destroyed, but was exposed to the tox­ic dust for hours there­after. Lynn died of ovar­i­an can­cer in 2011. Not a day goes by when we don’t miss her.

“How mass killings by United States forces after September 11th boosted support for the Taliban”

This piece by Emma Gra­ham-Har­ri­son exam­ines how the Unit­ed States and its NATO allies squan­dered an oppor­tu­ni­ty to declare vic­to­ry after dis­lodg­ing the Tal­iban and with­draw com­bat forces ear­ly on, then inad­ver­tent­ly fueled the Tal­iban’s long insur­gency by fail­ing to pro­tect Afghan lives.

“The insur­gency was not inevitable. There was a good chance for peace in 2001. Every­one, includ­ing the Tal­iban accept­ed they had been defeat­ed. But the US and their Afghan allies per­se­cut­ed and mar­gin­alised those who’d lost the war, not just Tal­iban but trib­al and fac­tion­al rivals of those who had seized pow­er,” said Kate Clark, co-direc­tor of the Afghanistan Ana­lysts Network.

“Gifts of Aloha”

This short remem­brance by Dean Sen­sui recounts a vis­it from a con­tin­gent of musi­cians, dancers and oth­ers to New York on the one-year anniver­sary of the attacks in Sep­tem­ber of 2002. The accom­pa­ny­ing video is avail­able to watch on YouTube. Sen­sui explained his role in the visit:

Mona Wood invit­ed me to come along to doc­u­ment it. There’s almost ten hours of footage. It was boiled down to this musi­cal mon­tage that bare­ly touch­es what every­one felt and experienced.

“Barbara Lee, Who Cast Sole Vote After September 11th Against “Forever Wars,” on Need for Afghan War Inquiry”

This inter­view from Democ­ra­cy Now between Amy Good­man and the amaz­ing Bar­bara Lee can either be watched or read using the pro­vid­ed tran­script; it delves into Lee’s coura­geous and his­toric vote against the autho­riza­tion for the use of force in Afghanistan as well as what Lee believes needs to hap­pen now to ensure we can learn from the mis­takes we made in Afghanistan.

The first call was from my dad, Lieu­tenant — in fact, in his lat­ter years, he want­ed me to call him Colonel Tutt. He was so proud of being in the mil­i­tary. Again, World War II, he was in the 92nd Bat­tal­ion, which was the only African Amer­i­can bat­tal­ion in Italy, sup­port­ing the Nor­mandy inva­sion, okay? And then he lat­er went to Korea. And he was the first per­son who called me.

[…] He said, “I know what wars are like. I know what it does to fam­i­lies.” He said, “You don’t have — you don’t know where they’re going. What are you doing? How’s the Con­gress going to just put them out there with­out any strat­e­gy, with­out a plan, with­out Con­gress know­ing at least what the heck is going on?”

“Just four people on floors above where Flight 175 hit Twin Towers survived: Two are ‘brothers for life’”

This arti­cle by Nathan Place of The Inde­pen­dent retells the sto­ry of Bri­an Clark and Stan­ley Praim­nath, two of the four peo­ple who were on floors above where Unit­ed Flight 175 impact­ed the south tow­er of the World Trade Cen­ter complex.

On 11 Sep­tem­ber, 2001, Mr Clark was at work on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

At 9:03am, Flight 175 struck floors 77 to 85 of the build­ing, with Mr Clark’s office at the top of the impact zone.

“Our room just got rocked, just destroyed in a sec­ond,” Mr Clark told the Asso­ci­at­ed Press ten years lat­er. “And it was for the next 10 sec­onds after that imme­di­ate impact – that was the only 10 sec­onds of the day that I was afraid. Ter­ri­fied, in fact.”

There were three stair­cas­es in front of Mr Clark. On an impulse, he start­ed head­ing down Stair­way A. He had no idea that was the only stair­case that hadn’t been destroyed.

“Foreign Terrorists Have Never Been Our Biggest Threat”

This col­umn from Paul Krug­man exam­ines how right wing Repub­li­cans exploit­ed the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks to push their own agen­da (includ­ing tax cuts and the dis­as­trous inva­sion of Iraq) while also sow­ing divi­sion and dis­cord, which would help set the stage for the Trump error in the mid-2010s. An excerpt:

The Repub­li­can Par­ty wasn’t yet full-on author­i­tar­i­an, but it was will­ing to do what­ev­er it took to get what it want­ed, and dis­dain­ful of the legit­i­ma­cy of its oppo­si­tion. That is, we were well along on the road to the Jan­u­ary 6th putsch — and toward a GOP that has, in effect, endorsed that putsch and seems all too like­ly to try one again.

“How TV, art, education, bigotry, country music, fiction, policing and love have changed”

This col­lec­tion of assess­ments from twen­ty-three writ­ers and five artists con­cise­ly explores the cul­tur­al impact of the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks on every­thing from tele­vi­sion shows to lit­er­a­ture to to music and theater.

Sep­tem­ber 11th, 2001, was first and fore­most a human tragedy, claim­ing the lives of 2,977 inno­cent peo­ple and leav­ing, in its wake, incal­cu­la­ble grief. The attack would alter the lives of U.S. troops and their fam­i­lies, and mil­lions of peo­ple in Afghanistan and Iraq. It would set the course of polit­i­cal par­ties and help to decide who would, and who would not, lead our coun­try. In short, Sep­tem­ber 11th changed the world in demon­stra­ble, mas­sive and heart­break­ing ways. But the rip­ple effects altered our lives in sub­tle, often-over­looked ways as well.

“I Lost My Father on September 11th, but I Never Wanted to Be a ‘Victim’ ”

This per­son­al essay by Leila Mur­phy, which ran in The Nation, dis­cuss­es Mur­phy’s expe­ri­ence as a mem­ber of Sep­tem­ber Eleventh Fam­i­lies for Peace­ful Tomor­rows and her dis­com­fort with the offi­cial rit­u­als of Sep­tem­ber 11th grief, “with their over­tones of patri­o­tism and vengeance.”

Twen­ty years after Sep­tem­ber 11th, the names of the vic­tims still car­ry weight. Though I have found a way to choose how I use that weight, I still feel uncom­fort­able with iden­ti­fy­ing myself as a vic­tim. I feel cer­tain that the Unit­ed sStates response to the attacks has not result­ed in justice—that vio­lence, secre­cy, and impuni­ty can­not be the answer—but I have also learned that real grief can only be felt, not relo­cat­ed to a par­tic­u­lar cause. That cause can remain essen­tial, and there may well be a role for peo­ple like me in push­ing back against the use of our vic­tim­hood for war and violence.

“Altercation: On September 11th, Was W. AWOL?”

This arti­cle by jour­nal­ist Eric Alter­man crit­i­cal­ly exam­ines the behav­ior of George W. Bush and his advis­ers on Sep­tem­ber 11th. As Alter­man explains, we’ve nev­er got­ten a full or an hon­est account­ing of what hap­pened that day from Bush or his inner cir­cle, who were sub­se­quent­ly caught fib­bing about the day’s events.

Twen­ty years lat­er, one could focus on lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of aspects of the phe­nom­e­na that the attacks led to.

I want to look at just one rather small ques­tion: What the heck was hap­pen­ing with George W. Bush?

I choose this because with all that atten­tion to that fate­ful day, nobody seems to know the answer to that par­tic­u­lar query. Even after 20 years, we have no cred­i­ble and con­sis­tent account of why Bush and his entourage took the actions they did that day.

“I was responsible for those people”

This piece by Tim Alber­ta, pub­lished by The Atlantic (where he is a staff writer) pro­files his cousin Glenn Vogt, the man­ag­er of the Win­dows on the World restau­rant, which was locat­ed at the top of One World Trade Cen­ter. Vogt sur­vived the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks, while sev­en­ty-nine of his employ­ees per­ished. Vogt is “still search­ing for per­mis­sion to move on,” Alber­ta writes.

On the morn­ing of Sep­tem­ber 11th, Glenn had a sched­uled 9 AM meet­ing with his assis­tant, Chris­tine Olen­der, to plan for the restaurant’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

Glenn was a stick­ler for being ear­ly; a 9 o’clock meet­ing meant he belonged in his office by 8:45. That morn­ing, how­ev­er, Taylor—having stayed up the night before, talk­ing with his dad — was late for school. As Glenn walked out the door of their home in Westch­ester Coun­ty, Tay­lor, a sixth grad­er, yelled for him to wait. He need­ed a ride. It was that unplanned fif­teen minute detour that placed Glenn on the West Side High­way at 8:46 AM, when the North Tow­er was hit, rather than inside his office on the 106th floor.

“Alum Nick Scown on his new film ‘Too Soon: Comedy After September 11th’ ”

This film review by Mer­ritt Mecham offers a syn­op­sis of Too Soon, a new doc­u­men­tary from Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah alum Nick Fituri Scown that debuted on VICE TV sev­er­al days ago. The film is an explo­ration of humor in the wake of tragedy, and Scown was inspired to make it after read­ing The Onion’s Sep­tem­ber 11th issue, which is the first time he laughed after the attacks.

Over­all, what Scown wants to share with Too Soon is “humor’s abil­i­ty to break the spell of depres­sion and anx­i­ety” and show how a comedian’s job “is to find light in the darkness.”

As he was edit­ing the film through­out the course of the pan­dem­ic, Scown observed peo­ple flock­ing to com­e­dy again. “In try­ing times, what­ev­er ter­ri­ble news is hap­pen­ing that day, it’s these come­di­ans that we go to to help process that and try to take some of the pow­er away from anger and frus­tra­tion,” he said.

“The World Trade Center, Before, During, and After”

This essay by Justin Beal, which is an excerpt from his book Sand­fu­ture, pro­files archi­tect Minoru Yamasa­ki (a Seat­tle native!) and his works, which most famous­ly includ­ed the World Trade Cen­ter’s Twin Towers.

Nei­ther the Port Author­i­ty nor Yamasa­ki began with the inten­tion of design­ing the tallest build­ing in the world. The World Trade Cen­ter pro­gram called for 10 mil­lion square feet of office space — more than exist­ed in the entire city of Detroit at the time — and Yamasa­ki had to fig­ure out where to put it.

“Preserving the Selfless Heroism of the Passengers of United Flight 93”

This arti­cle by Paige Williams focus­es on Unit­ed Flight 93, which crashed into a field near Shanksville, Penn­syl­va­nia after the pas­sen­gers vot­ed to fight back and suc­cess­ful­ly con­front­ed the hijack­ers, as well as the sub­se­quent con­struc­tion of the Unit­ed 93 Nation­al Memo­r­i­al, now admin­is­tered by the Nation­al Park Service.

Locals arrived first at the scene of the crash, expect­ing to see a fuse­lage and per­haps even sur­vivors. Instead, they found it “eeri­ly” qui­et. The plane’s explo­sive impact, com­pound­ed by sev­en thou­sand gal­lons of jet fuel, had vapor­ized near­ly every­thing. Those on board had not just died; they had all but dis­ap­peared. First respon­ders found a crater marked by the ghost­ly imprint of air­plane wings, at the edge of a smok­ing, siz­zling for­est of hemlock.

“September 11th forged forever friendships between strangers who connected through tragedy”

This arti­cle by Nan­cy Dil­lon tells tells the sto­ries of Olivia Vilar­di-Perez and Brit­tany Oelschlager and Barabara Con­stan­tine and Ani­ta Wat­son. Vilar­di-Perez and Oelschlager each lost a father on Sep­tem­ber 11th and lat­er con­nect­ed at a camp for fam­i­ly mem­bers of the lost. Vilar­di-Perez cred­its Oelschlager with sav­ing her life at a low point, when she was con­tem­plat­ing suicide.

“Brit­tany saved my life that night. I want­ed to kill myself, and I called her, and she saved me. She remind­ed me I have a god­son and peo­ple who love me and asked, ‘Did I want to put them through what I went through?’ That shook me to my core. I kind of put all my stuff aside and cried myself to sleep,” she said.

“Still seeking September 11th perspective, twenty years after forgetting about baseball and covering real life”

This rem­i­nis­cence by Seat­tle Times sports enter­prise reporter Geoff Bak­er recounts his expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing the attacks (he was tasked with going to the Pen­ta­gon on an assign­ment for the Toron­to Star) and his thoughts on the annu­al com­mem­o­ra­tions of that event that have tran­spired ever since.

Nobody is just a sta­tis­tic. And on this twen­ti­eth anniver­sary of a day of death, that’s what I’ll stick with. And hope that oth­ers can join me in find­ing per­spec­tive that remains elu­sive long after one of the dark­est moments in this nation’s history.

“Some of the most iconic September 11th news coverage is lost. Blame Adobe Flash.”

This report from CNN’s Clare Duffy and Ker­ry Fly­nn dis­cuss­es how some of the online video from Sep­tem­ber 11th was made large­ly inaccessible/unplayable due to the dis­con­tin­u­a­tion of Adobe Flash, for­mer­ly known as Macro­me­dia Flash, a pro­pri­etary tech­nol­o­gy that used to pow­er online video sites (like YouTube) and was used for years before­hand by news web­sites to embed videos into web con­tent, or by gamemak­ers to pow­er online games.

Adobe end­ing sup­port for Flash — its once ubiq­ui­tous mul­ti­me­dia con­tent play­er — last year meant that some of the news cov­er­age of the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks and oth­er major events from the ear­ly days of online jour­nal­ism are no longer accessible.

For exam­ple, The Wash­ing­ton Post and ABC News both have bro­ken expe­ri­ences with­in their Sep­tem­ber 11th cov­er­age, view­able in the Inter­net Archive. CNN’s online cov­er­age of Sep­tem­ber 11th also has been impact­ed by the end of Flash.

“I was eight in New York during September 11th. How did it change me — and my generation?”

This reflec­tion by Ben­jamin Oreskes draws on the expe­ri­ences of his moth­er, cor­re­spon­dent Geral­dine Baum, who was an eye­wit­ness to the col­lapse of the World Trade Cen­ter on Sep­tem­ber 11th and report­ed on the tragedy for The Los Ange­les Times. Oreskes him­self is now a reporter for the Times.

The real­i­ty is I remem­ber very lit­tle about that cloud­less Tues­day 20 years ago. I’m not sure if I remem­ber or if my mom lat­er told me, but that night, when she got home, I thought she was a ghost because of the dust that coat­ed her clothes and hair.

I felt fear. I know that. But what else? Was I con­fused? Dis­tressed? Here’s where my par­ents’ rec­ol­lec­tions replace my own.

“‘Did my service make a difference?’ Post September 11th vets face unique challenges, questions after fall of Afghanistan”

This arti­cle by the Chica­go Tri­bune’s Ali­son Bowen focus­es on the expe­ri­ences of ser­vice­mem­bers who were deployed to Afghanistan (and sub­se­quent­ly Iraq) after George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Don­ald Rums­feld decid­ed to launch inva­sions of those coun­tries in 2001 and 2003 fol­low­ing the attacks.

Mark Doyle, a Chicagoan who was in Afghanistan as part of a foren­sic account­ing team and lat­er start­ed Rags of Hon­or, which employs home­less vet­er­ans through a screen-print­ing oper­a­tion, said many of his employ­ees men­tion the dif­fi­cul­ty of find­ing purpose.
“There wasn’t ever a clear mis­sion,” he said.

“What was all the sac­ri­fice for? That is what’s trou­bling all these peo­ple. Did my ser­vice make a difference?”

“‘And then I felt the building shake.’ Idahoans share memories on twentieth anniversary of September 11th”

This piece from Scott McIn­tosh (an opin­ion edi­tor at the Ida­ho States­man) weaves togeth­er sto­ries from Ida­hoans who expe­ri­enced Sep­tem­ber 11th, both in New York and North­ern Vir­ginia and in places far away, like McMur­do Sta­tion, Antarc­ti­ca, Saint Mar­tin in the Caribbean, and Check­point Char­lie, Berlin.

“I could smell the smoke in my apart­ment for days after­wards. And so every­thing about that day was just so per­son­al to me. And so every year I’m not sick of it and I’ll nev­er be sick of it because I’ll always stop and remem­ber, I always take the time to stop and remem­ber what that day was, and remem­ber what was lost and remem­ber how lucky I was to make it through OK.”

“Works of art that commemorate and shed light on September 11th”

This com­pi­la­tion by The Globe and Mail’s Mar­sha Led­er­man presents sev­er­al artis­tic works that Led­er­man describes as suc­ceed­ing in help­ing us remem­ber, and maybe even under­stand­ing things we weren’t quite able to grasp before. It ranges from lit­er­a­ture and film to stream­ing the­atre avail­able on demand.

Cre­at­ing a work of art around a recent hor­rif­ic event comes with a com­pli­cat­ed set of implic­it rules and poten­tial mine­fields. Do not exploit the vic­tims for your art, do not tie up loose ends in any sort of neat-and-order­ly way, do not cross the line into maudlin sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty. Make the view­er feel uncom­fort­able, but for the right reasons.

A day for remembrance, but also a day for good deeds

On behalf of the board and staff of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, our heart­felt con­do­lences to every­one who lost a friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber on that dark day, and our thanks to every­one who has con­tributed to help­ing take this day back from the ter­ror­ists and spread­ing kind­ness in its place.

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