Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight….
I was on an airplane September 11th, 2001, flying out of St. Louis on my way to Austin, Texas. I had a connection in Dallas which we made as if routine. Once off the plane I moved through the terminal to find my gate. My cell phone had no signal but this was not unusual in airports. Walking past the bars I thought there were too many people in them for morning. They were gathered around the televisions. I did not pay attention to what they were watching. I got to the gate and tried the phone again. Nothing. I looked up with more attentive eyes this time. Other folks were attempting cell calls too and everyone looked frustrated, agitated. I finally noticed the “canceled” sign at the gate but no one was around to question. I looked at the television screen and realized something had happened. Only vague reports at the time were offered, but I understood that airplanes had flown into the World Trade Center. Nothing else was known or offered. There would be no air travel. I felt I should get back home. Dallas was only about 13 hours by car, so I’d rent something and drive back. No cars were available (others must have had this same idea). I finally was able to rent a U-Haul. There is more to the story, but that was my experience of the event as it happened.
On reflection it was unnerving to have been in a plane at the same time as the attack.
But I will now be completely honest with you. I have no other feelings to express about that day. The attack held no meaning for me. It was a television horror. It actually seemed like it happened nowhere. Or perhaps somewhere else. It became political almost immediately and the media coverage constantly asserted conflicting information about it; I found that I could not feel in any way confident of any of the assertions being made.
I didn’t feel as if the U.S. had been attacked. I still don’t. But perhaps I just can’t frame it other than as a single event. It was unsustained. For comparison imagine living in Libya, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Kosovo, or Lebanon, or Chile, or Vietnam, or East Timor, or, well almost anywhere else…those are examples of sustained military aggression.
I didn’t feel worried about anthrax. Though I can’t tell you exactly why, I’d guess it seemed too “staged” to me.
And in general, that is how I’ve felt about the events of 9/11 the whole time they were unfolding. Everything felt staged. I do not wish to offer any speculations on the events. You can read about them until you go blind from staring at your computer screen. I will simply offer that the destruction itself seemed perfect. How much more perfect could it be? But it seems on reflection that it’s very “cinematic grandeur” was it’s actual weakness as a real terror event. That is to say, its grandeur and the target itself served to galvanize a national response on the strength of its symbolic success. It was more useful than terrifying. This was a weak terror event as concerned a country as large as the US. It was in effect “only” a local event made “national” by its truly spectacular nature.
I’ve remarked many times to friends that an “evil genius” out to destroy our “way of life” would have done far better by attacking Midwestern malls. I’m pretty sure that the Bush/Giuliani call to start shopping again would have fallen on deaf ears and the economy would taken an irrevocable dive. That would have been terror “at home” in every home.
I was more concerned with the sniper attacks in D.C. as I had to travel there for work and I had friends in the area.
There was a sniper (or two?) in Ohio as well and that hit pretty close to home. That was scary. That seemed plausible, seemed like it could happen again, and with regularity in any city.
Most of us are tourists in our own country. It’s hard to “feel” much outside of your immediate reach. In order to “feel” the “right” emotions we have been inundated by images designed to elicit patriotic responses, designed to inculcate fear and suspicion of “fundamentalists” of the Islamic variety, designed to keep us subservient to our protectors. All dissent became anathema to the true believers of the great White way. Dissent was suspect and often declared criminal.
Honestly, I’ve always felt that the Oklahoma City bombing was far more relevant to our national identity. That event seemed very repeatable. And more and more so as our economy continues to favor the wealthiest owners and as our government seems to have been subject to a coup by those bankers and financiers who control us with the mythical beast “economy”.
So, ten years on, where do we find ourselves? Nowhere better for the event seems a certain assessment. You don’t need me to tell you that. And others have detailed ad nauseum the way we’ve lost our souls to the specter of terror and the fear of the “other” with the practical effects being loss of civil liberties to a frightening degree.
The terror of 9-11 has turned out to be the opening salvo in the war our political, military and economic elites have declared on the citizens of the United States.
Please consider also reading the following:
Post-September 11, NSA ‘enemies’ include us, by James Bamford
What 9/11 Makes Us Forget, by David Bromwich
Public Opinion Surprises, by Glen Greenwald