After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Imperial
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said,
"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
On September 11, 2001, the sleeping giant awakened again with a howl.
It was about 8:30 when I stepped out of the shower. I wasnít due at work
until 10 a.m. but I
was heading into the city early to pick up a dress I had on hold at J. Crew in the World Trade Center.
I worked right around the corner, so it was a convenient lunchtime shopping destination.
It was a beautiful day outside. Clear blue skies with fluffy white clouds,
about 70 degrees with
a cool breeze. The kind of day that makes you giddy. It was the last day New York would ever
feel that way to me again.
When I got to the corner to catch my train, I had to wait to cross as a
firetruck careened down
the street. I waited patiently as a second firetruck flew by. This didnít phase me. New York is
always on fire. I stood patiently, thinking about the beautiful dress awaiting me in the Trade Center.
But then police cars whipped past, then ambulances, seven eight nine ten of them.
Then black SUVs, official looking.
ĎUh oh,í I thought.
I went into the deli on the corner. "What in the hell is going on?"
I said to the store owner, a friend of mine.
"You donít know?" he asked.
When I shook my head, he pointed to the television on the counter. CBS
News was showing live
footage of the Trade Towers burning. Then it cut to footage of the planes striking the towers.
I stumbled home in a daze. I ran for the phone and tried to dial my family in Connecticut.
"All circuits are busy," the operatorís recorded voice said, sounding
breathtakingly callous under the circumstances.
I took the cordless phone with me as I climbed the stairs to the roof.
There they were, the top
twenty stories of each tower, poking their heads above the buildings in the foreground. I watched
the towers burn as I dialed every phone number I could think of, trying to reach somebody, anybody.
To let them know I was alive, to found out if they were.
In Old Lyme, Connecticut, my 14-year-old sister was speeding through the
halls of her high school,
sobbing as she ran. She burst into the main office.
"I have to call my sister," Charity wailed. She saw the t.v. set the secretaries
had perched on the filing cabinet, tuned in to the burning Trade Towers.
"She works there," she yelled, pointing at the screen.
"She works there, give me the phone, please!"
About that time I saw live what Charity was seeing on t.v. as she frantically
dialed and redialed my number. People, jumping from the roofs of the towers,
jumping to escape the fire. One couple, I saw later on t.v., held hands as they leapt.
Then the unthinkable happened. The Towers fell. Tower Two, then a few minutes
later, before I
could register the collapse of the first, came the collapse of the second. As if in slow motion, like
the worst moments in your life, the ones youíre never prepared for, the mountains of Manhattan,
the rocks that anchored our little island to ground, caved in on themselves with a rumbling that
shook the building on whose roof I stood.
As I stared hollow-eyed at the mushroom cloud billowing up from where the
used to stand, the call I had just made to a friend miraculously went through.
"I canít believe the Towers collapsed," she said.
"No, no," I said, "they didnít collapse. Theyíre just on fire. Iím looking
at them right now,"
I said, staring across at where the Towers had been every day of the 14 years I had lived
in New York. It would take me over 24 non-stop hours of watching and rewatching the
collapses on t.v. to accept that they had really happened.
When I finally went downstairs to my apartment, my dog Bridget burst out
of the bathroom.
She ran up and sniffed me.
"Okay, youíre all right," she seemed to say. Then she ran back into the
curled up in the space between the sink and the tub, and stayed there for three days.
By eleven a.m., I could smell the dust from the collapse. By noon, I had
to shut the windows.
We couldnít open them for days, and when we went outside, our throats burned and our
lungs filled with dust.
Later that afternoon, my roommate finally got ahold of me by e-mail. He
had run from one
of the falling towers, and was now holed up with colleagues in his office in the West Village.
"What should I do?" Stephen wrote.
"DONíT MOVE," I answered. "Stay there until weíre sure itís over."
"How should I come home?" he wrote back. "I donít think I should take the subway."
"Donít," I agreed. "Donít get on any of the famous bridges, either. And
donít get in a cab.
You need to be ready to run."
When Stephen finally left for home around five oíclock, he walked across
west to east, then over the Williamsburg Bridge on foot with hundreds of other people,
their faces and clothing covered in soot, their lungs burning. When they crossed over the
bridge into Brooklyn, the Hasidic Jews who lived there were waiting for them, handing
bottles of water to each person as they went by.
It would be seven hours before I spoke to Charity, though I had gotten
a message to my
family via e-mail.
"The world blew up today," she said.
More certain than the sun rising, we were going to retaliate. But against who?
Within 24 hours, the FBI released the names of all 18 hijackers and established
Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks. By October 7, we were bombing Afghanistan.
A few short months later, the war was over. Yet it produced no results. The war had
removed the Taliban from power, but it had failed to bring us the head of the man who
is responsible for our pain, the man who made us howl.
George W. Bush promised he would find Osama Bin Laden.
Itís a year later, and Osama Bin Laden is still at large, taunting us periodically
grainy, black-and-white video image. And all the Bush administration has delivered is
a series of direct hits against our Constitutional protections.
It has introduced TIPS, the citizen spy network that robs us of our Constitutional
to privacy. It has taken advantage of a panicky Congress to ram through the Patriot Act
and the Homeland Security Act, which rob us of our Constitutional rights to freedom of
speech and freedom of assembly. We have squandered all the goodwill the world bore us
after 9/11 and have become instead an international pariah, recklessly withdrawing from the
ABM Treaty and refusing to sign the Kyoto Accord, and about to enter a war with Iraq for
which there is little public or Congressional support in the U.S. and even less in Europe.
We are viewed as a country so dangerous that former chief U.N. arms inspector Richard Butler
was moved to say that America has "a drunk at the wheel and somebody has to take away the keys."
Over two million jobs have been lost, Enron and other financial scandals
have the stock market
in a panic with no effective response from the White House, whose only solution is tax cuts,
despite the fact that the last tax cuts produced exactly zero results. And last month demonstrators
who met Bush in Portland to protest war in Iraq were pepper-sprayed and beaten by police.
And what is the Justice Department doing? John Ashcroft has announced he
begin prosecuting people who download music off the Internet.
As an American and as a New Yorker, I have many questions about September 11.
Why did Bushís brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush, declare martial law in Florida on September 7?
Why did Bush continue to read to Florida schoolchildren for 30 minutes after he learned of the attacks?
Why has Bush fought so hard to prevent an investigation of 9/11?
Why did the Bush administration ignore warnings from the Israeli, German,
Russian and Egyptian
governments of an impending al-Qaida attack, including specific mention of the Trade Towers as a target?
Why did military fighter jets arrive in New York City at 9:20, a full hour
after air traffic control lost
contact with Flight 11 and 42 minutes after NORAD was informed that the plane was dramatically of course?
Why were FBI agents told prior to 9/11 not to investigate al-Qaida activities?
Why was an airplane in Afghanistan allowed to load passengers and take
off while the military
stood by and did nothing?
Why are ten FBI agents suing the United States government, claming they
were ordered not to reveal
that the real reason the U.S. was bombing Afghanistan was not to capture Osama bin Laden, but to
force the Taliban out of power so that Bush could build an oil pipeline across Afghanistan?
Why was the Pentagon preparing strategies for attacking Afghanistan in July?
Why did the Bush administration shelve a detailed plan for fighting al-Qaida
given to them
by the departing Clinton administration?
Why was Osama bin Laden receiving kidney dialysis at the American Hospital
in Dubai from
July 4-14, 2001, and why was he allowed to leave after meeting with CIA station chief Larry Mitchell?
Why did the Bush administration allow 14 members of the Bin Laden family
to leave the U.S. on a
Saudi jet days after 9/11 without questioning them and while the entire country was a no-fly zone?
Until Congress conducts a thorough investigation of the events of September
11 unimpeded by the
Bush administrationís stonewalling, excuses and finger-pointing, we will never know the answers
to these questions.
I still have nightmares. Mostly I dream about those people who chose a
quick jump over burning
to death in the flames engulfing the towers, falling through space, their arms flailing madly.
I still canít think of it without crying.
Everybody in this country was affected by that day. You either died, or
loved somebody who did,
or you saw it happen and live with the images in your mind and canít shake them no matter how
hard you try. Or you watched in horror on television, as weíve watched JFK murdered, over and
over and over again. Or you simply live in the United States of America and hear now the national
anthem with a new sadness, a tremor in the solidness of the American dream.
And every one of us lives with the attack against our civil liberties,
with an administration that is
using an American tragedy as an excuse to roll back our civil liberties in the name of a war on terror,
and now as an excuse to attack Iraq and gain control of yet more oil. And with a Congress, a press
and a public too cowed by the threat of being called unpatriotic to protest.
Is America still the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Christian Livemore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org