Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It’s 4 pm. School is over and I’m driving out of the parking lot, listening to the Polish news as usual. Suddenly, I cannot believe what I’m hearing. I turn it up. It must be a misunderstanding. My Polish must not be as good as I think it is, even though the word is the same in Polish. Atak. Did he just say the United States has been attacked? That can’t be right. How can that be? We have the greatest security in the world because we spend the most money on security in the world. There he goes again. He repeated it. Attack. He cuts to the New York correspondent who says it again. Attack! Impossible! I make a U turn and head back into school. I’ve got to tell someone. But of course, everyone already knows because the parents have brought in the information. In a time before information overload by being constantly connected through our various devices, it’s amazing we had been able to spend a blissful 2 hours not knowing about one of the most important events of the 20th century; that the most powerful country in the world had been attacked. As if to confirm my worst fears, there is an announcement on the PA from the Director that all teachers still in the building should attend an emergency meeting RIGHT NOW! I don’t remember what was said at that meeting except that we will have no school tomorrow, but I remember thinking that this is what some parts of the world experience every day. How protected we are but at what cost?
I leave but don’t want to go home. I don’t want to turn on the TV. I know. I’ll do my errands. After all, we have the day off tomorrow as the school assesses the security threat to our school. I drive over to pick up my leather jacket. Meanwhile, I’m listening to the news. I have no choice. There is nothing else on except this news. Atak, atak, atak. I walk into the shop where the man behind the counter is watching Fashion TV.
“Why are you watching that?” I ask incredulously. “Don’t you know that the United States has been attacked?”
“Oh yeah?” he answers. “Did you come for your jacket? It’s ready.”
And that would be the first of other perspectives. Another thing about being American is that you think the world revolves around you.
So I went home, turned on the TV and watched it continuously for 2 days. I finally needed a break from all this horror and had to get out of the house so I went to the supermarket. I stood in line for juice and heard 2 Americans in front of me talking about it. Strange, because there are never Americans in this store. They were flight attendants, strange again, and they were wondering about their colleagues on those airplanes. I joined in but no one knew anything other that what was on the news. I imagine that was what it was like in the States; people starting conversations with random strangers because you all had something in common for once in your life. After this one conversation though, all I heard in the supermarket were people complaining about the prices, talking to their kids, promising to take them out for ice cream, just ordinary conversation and thoughts. And that was my other perspective. Outside of the expected tributes, flowers and candles – “We are all Americans today.” – life went on as it always did. Except there was no other news even on Polish TV except this. When I got home, I had a message to call school where the secretary told me there would be school tomorrow and where had I been? I was the only teacher who hadn’t been home when she called. I told her I had to get out or else I’d be jumping out the window too.
A few days later, I put my thoughts on paper and here they are. The second piece is an answer to my friend who was so horrified that her normal peace loving philosophy had changed to revenge mode and wanted to join the army and tell her son to join too and together they could fight for “our freedom”. How images can manage your perception.
Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2001 14:24:45 +0800
Millions of words have tried and failed to express the horror of what happened on Tuesday. I won’t even try. It has all been said. I still find unbelievable the subtitle on the BBC: “Thousands believed dead after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.” I read it over and over and it still would not sink in. I still can’t believe that I would ever write such a sentence.
But since this is a media piece, there is plenty to say about the reporting and comments made by various reporters and politicians. Some so ridiculous it reminds me of the old aspirin commercial on TV, which instead of a doctor it’s, “I’m not a journalist but I play one on TV.”
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?
Bu$h is kept out of sight in some bunker in Nebraska while Cheney and other top officials are in the “fortified situation room” in the basement of the White House. Meanwhile propaganda chief, Karen Hughes is trotted out announcing that “at President (how I hate to use that word with his name but this is a quote) Bu$h’s direction, measures have been put in place.” Yes, put those myths in place above all.
Having had a glimpse of how our government works during a national emergency, I hope all of you are relieved and can now sleep peacefully. So it seems that while all the VIPs are protected, the rest of us will have to fend for ourselves as best as possible. And when it’s all over the scum will rise to the top once again.
Getting Bu$h back to Washington was supposed to send a powerful signal. To whom and what will that signal say? Would that be like the powerful signal Congress tried to send by standing around and singing, “God Bless America”. It was scary only in the sense of how pathetic and helpless the government looked.
Then we had all the Pearl Harbor analogies apparently based on the recent movie, which, according to the reviews, was only slightly based on historical fact. The Japanese Prime Minister while being interviewed about the stock market (hey, let’s not let this get in the way) was “outraged by the attack”. How he felt about the Pearl Harbor remarks was not reported.
Then there was Dan Quayle on CNBC. Remember him? The stock market was closed and they had to do something to fill the time. I guess they think he’s a legitimate voice. You know, this is where I believe in censorship of the press. He had nothing to say then, and he has nothing to say now and what he was saying was really frightening, even more frightening than being treated as a serious spokesman. What he said that in the aftermath the President should be given extraordinary powers and may have to do “things people won’t like, for example, giving up some of our democratic rights.” And I’m sure he means ours, not his. This would go along with the call -in show on FOX that Sky News was showing. The three callers, all from Texas, interestingly enough, thought we should close our borders to “those people”, and quit giving out news because it helps our enemies (she prefaced this extraordinary statement by saying she’s been watching TV for 2 days).
And what about that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania? Polish commentators are still asking if it was shot down but in the States, that has long been forgotten. They now have said the passengers tried to overcome the hijackers, thus turning them into heroes instead of possible victims of F-16s. The reason I question this is an interview I saw at least 5 times on CNN with a mother whose son called her right before the crash if he never sees her again, he loves her. Then she says, the phone went dead. Well, now he is listed as one of the passengers who called his mother and told her they were going to do something. Somehow she forgot to mention that during the televised interview.
Have you noticed how all the stations are using a split screen format? No matter who’s speaking, they’re on only half the screen. The other half is a constant and endless stream of the horrible shots of the airplanes hitting the WTC. You never know if you are watching old coverage or is this new. Meanwhile, underneath all this hysteria is a ticker of yet other information. Could this overload be the reason we cannot forget the scenes? And are terrified into supporting military action?
No flights, borders closed, Wall St. shut, National Guard on alert, but it’s business as usual they keep assuring us. Gee, in other countries we would call it martial law. When they started having the financial program guys on, I knew it really was business as usual. Poland has even gone back to covering the upcoming elections. God, they have the worst timing. Remember the first democratic elections in 1989 that were overshadowed by Tiananmen Square? It was an afterthought in the foreign news of that day, if they even found the time.
Polish commentators seem to feel that this will continue as long as the US treats terrorism as a criminal act not a political one. Here in Poland the expression of grief and sympathy for the American people expressed by Poles has been overwhelming. Polish friends calling me expressing their concern simply because I was an American. The front gate of the American Embassy stacked with flowers, candles and notes, one that said, “No Revenge”. President Alexander Kwasniewski saying, “Today, we are all Americans”.
Alright, he stole it from JFK in Berlin, but just as moving. In an interesting remark about whether it was worth it to rebuild the WTC, someone said, “They asked us the same thing about Old Town after World War II.”
These incredible events can be summarized by a placard held by a Palestinian in Jerusalem, “Terror is our common enemy. We are victims too.”
Sept. 11 Letter
Oct. 2, 2011
So I guess you didn’t like the last piece. This isn’t a case of, as Bu$h the cowboy said, “You’re either with us or against us.” Abhorrence of the terror attack does not lessen my opposition to US policies which developed strictly for protection of American interests. And I especially despise media manipulation of emotions. This rule by emotions with no background information just fans the flames of right wing chauvinism and fanaticism and paves the way for total support of military intervention. You say you want to join the army. Would you really put your life on the line to insure that the oil keeps flowing, to assure multinational companies continue to rape the environment and degrade people’s lives and CEOs make billions in salary? Would you want your son to do it? Sure, you individually can go in with a noble purpose, to punish them, (just like the terrorists did) but ultimately your body becomes just one more cog that keeps the wheel turning, bloody, unopposed, unchecked and never ending.
The reason that there was not an immediate strike shows the true nature of this imperialistic war. They first needed time, to gain support from the public and then continually beat you over the head with it just in case there are still some doubters out there. I’ve been watching the American stations and there is no dissent out there. And TV is what counts since 80% get their information from TV. Then they need to get the other countries in line. Pakistan, once our hated enemy is now our good friend and ally. Sensing an opportunity to consolidate their own power and agenda, we have the other corrupt regimes of the Middle East and Asia rushing onto the bandwagon. It’s time to make a deal with Washington! Pakistan’s deal, according to an economist at the London School of Economics is removal of sanctions and when Afghanistan is under our control, it will pave the way for a gas pipe to be laid from through Afghanistan and into Pakistan. That way Pakistan will become a player in the very lucrative Central Asia oil and gas business. And you can bet the profits from this will not go to alleviate poverty. China’s deal during the Gulf War was to support the US in the Security Council if we would forget about Tiananmen Square. This is what wars are really fought about. On BBC they had a report on a secret meeting between the Taliban and the US diplomats in a hotel on the Pakistani border TWO days after the attacks. What do you think went on there? Also the BBC reported on the price Russia was demanding for its support. Money, lots of it AND concessions on NATO expansion. And while you’re making a deal, bombing Chechnya because it’s a terrorist country without condemnation from the West would be nice too. Meanwhile Putin moans on TV that he feels our pain. The whole thing is just a poisonous web and the US is right in the middle of it.
Terrorists are everywhere. Often terrorist attacks in Africa are not reported because Africans are the only victims. And it all depends on how you define terrorist. In South Africa, in 1989, when white minority rule ended, our very own Dick Cheney refused to meet with Nelson Mandela in jail because he said he was a terrorist. So when American military officers train and advise the Taliban and dictators in Central and South America, Africa and Asia and then looks on uncritically while their star pupils practice their newly learned terror tactics against their own people, who are the real terrorists?
Yes, maybe the American public will learn tolerance. But they’re not going to learn it by waving a flag, singing America the Beautiful (because who is really paying attention to the words?) and listening to Oprah. Because this is TV and that means entertainment. Someone is directing those seemingly random shots of people grieving. It would be great if Oprah had some real issues on her program that would actually teach the public something. For how can they learn if no one is teaching them? Instead of having Dr. Phil on constantly telling you how to feel better about yourself, how about a program with Palestinians and Israelis discussing the issue? Or the widening gap between the rich and poor? Or how the US with a 5% population uses 25% of the world’s energy? Oprah has the power and respect of millions of Americans to do this. And because she and Tom Hanks and other “media stars” don’t, makes me feel nothing but contempt for them. Julia Roberts gave 2 million for the victims, a noble act. But think what 2 million from her and others would do if it were invested in tolerance education programs in schools and on TV? Or how about a movie? As I write this, NPR has a story about Hollywood trying to find a way to make a movie about this without too much depth, without depressing or offending the public and oh yes, make some money. Maybe Oprah, Julia and Tom can star in it.
Didn’t it bother you that while thousands in Yankee Stadium were there to express their grief, they showed images of Clinton, and all the rest of the politicians who were there laughing and joking with their cronies, all of whom have their eye on the next election? Not to be left out of the Real Man loop, Clinton had to brag that he too put a hit on bin Laden. And lost. What was the point of that, except more media coverage for him?
The terrorists don’t hate New York. They hate the symbol of the World Trade Center which just happens to be in New York, just like the Pentagon is in Washington. If it had been in East Podunk in the middle of white America, it still would have been hit.
As Americans we’re quite an arrogant nation due to our wealth and location. This translates into, let’s face it, horrible acts for which we do not suffer the consequences and people resent this. For how do other countries suffer for getting out of line? By sanctions, by withholding loans, aid and military equipment. Who’s going to do that to us, the richest country in the world and the main supplier of all that? Why are we surprised that some feel terrorism is the only recourse they have? I’m not saying not to punish, but violence with violence? I wouldn’t accept that on the playground and I’m certainly not going to do that now. Is it any wonder our society is so dangerous? And if I may continue the kindergarten metaphor, if a kid came up to me and tried to blame something on someone with no proof, I wouldn’t accept it either. Because I say so, is just not good enough. But it seems to be good enough for the richest country in the world. You say you want a military response that will be directed only at those responsible but you know that’s impossible because who is responsible? Thousands of innocent lives will once again be lost and for what?
You say we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. That isn’t true. It depends on what we do. We can use our strength in ways other than military. That just reinforces the bully image. A sign of strength would be a willingness to re-think policies that breed terrorism. Imagine this:
Imagine kids growing up in refugee camps. What if they saw policies changed so they can return home and live in peace?
Imagine kids working in factories for 50 cents a day. What if these kids saw their jobs given to their parents at a decent wage and they can go to school?
Imagine if people were encouraged to grow food first for themselves and their community and then for export at fair prices.
Imagine villages and towns that are self-sustainable with a job or a role for everyone.
Imagine sanctions and military might used against countries who abuse human rights and not the profit margin.
Imagine foreign aid based upon proof that the money was going to better lives not bank accounts.
Imagine these kinds of initiatives loudly and proudly led by the United States and implemented in the United States as well.
Imagine that the American public and the world saw it on the news every evening.
Imagine what that could do….
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
From a Northwest Airline employee: “I lost my cousin at the world Trade Center and today I lost my job.”
“My US visa was revoked because I wasn’t allowed to work and it was based on my husband’s job. We are British citizens and he was killed in the World Trade Center.”
“Question authority before they question you.”
History is Written by the Winners
On September 11, Richard Drew was also covering the Fall Fashion Week. He rushed to the site, where he captured the dramatic pictures of the people jumping out of the towers.
In most American newspapers, his photos ran once and were never seen again; the memories of “jumpers” were so heartrending, their plunges so traumatic and their suicides so stigmatic that officially and journalistically, they ceased to exist.
In official records, nobody had jumped; no one had ever been a jumper. Instead, people fell or were forced out by the heat, the smoke and the flames. A decade on, this denial still holds. The 9/11 Museum will consign the story of the jumpers into a hidden alcove, and there is widespread reluctance to DNA-identify the remains. In that sense, the jumpers were modern unknown soldiers, and their pictures, the photographic equivalent of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We will never know truly their motives, but retellings of the jumpers’ stories were at best a measured alteration of history, and a signal of many such revisions to come, as politicians and pundits continue to hijack the narrative and legacy of 9/11.
Photograph from September 11
by Wisława Szymborska
They jumped from the burning floors, one, two, a few more, higher, lower.