I know that most just want to let it go. It is no fun to be overly focused on one event. On the other hand, the world we now live in has been so drastically changed since that one event, that I think it deserves further examination. In that vein, I watched about 3 hours of CNN's "real-time" coverage (I'll get the reason for the quotes in a minute) of the WTC attacks. Aside from the human interest, I wanted to see what intelligent people had to say when they were in the moment.
By the time I tuned in, the second tower had just come down. I did get to see WTC7 go down, which was largely ignored. No explaination was given, and Guliani was questioned about coming out of the building. He was cool as a cucumber. I suspect that he was one of the few people who really knew theat this could happen. I don't mean he had inside information but that he understood this was possible and he had thought about how he would react. He was brilliant, focusing on rescue efforts and avoiding any politics altogether. He confirmed that the fire was not due to a gas leak, but he gave no other explaination. I noticed that he announced that 4 out of 5 boroughs still had subway service and would into the evening so that kids and people could get home. That, I think, was brave and would not be repeated in today's climate of fear.
Nearly everyone(aside from Guliani, of course) stressed that it was essential that we find the people that did this and bring them to juctice. They said it in uncertain terms, calmly at times, sometimes with some fire. But it was the same thing, over and over. It was the one constant. "We must bring those who comitted such a horrible act to justice." A second point, nearly as ubiquitous, was that we can not change our way of life. George Shultz was the first person I heard use the word pre-emption. He stressed that a greater effort need to be made to identify and stop these types of attacks
before they occured. He did not mention a global war. He was directly asked if Americans needed to change their lives to adapt to this new threat and he rejected that idea uncategorically. I think I can quote him saying, "America... Must, Not, Change it's way of life because of this one event." This was the Secretary of State for Ronald Reagan.
Tom Clancy was scathing in his criticism for the government, but in a very calm and creative way. As you may know, Clancy wrote a book in which a hijacked airplane is crashed into Capitol Hill during a joint session, this effectively shutting down the government. So he told a story on the day of the event when he asked Zinn (I'm presuming here, but it was a general) if they had though about this as a real possiblitly. He said, "I'll be on it on Monday." Irrespective of that bit of sly criticism, Clancy stressed that it was important that we not lose our heads. Realize that it is "a very, very short list of people who could have done this", and of course he stressed the two main points of the day: They must be found. America should not change.
But right under the surface was the warning about Iraq. It was so clear looking at it five years later. He knew how bad they wanted to go in, and like others who echoed similar warnings, he worried that this would be used as a reason. He capped the interview by saying we should focus on not losing our heads.
Later I heard Wesley Clark give an interview on the phone which was as specific about who he thought did it as anyone's. He even named Bin Laden, I believe. (I should update this with some quotes that I have in my notes later). He was hitting on some pretty good material when suddenly the feed stopped. There was this little announcement about how they wanted to play this in as close to real time as possible so they had to take these breaks. Now maybe I'm a little dense, but why would you have to take breaks to play something in real-time? I'm sure it is innocent enough, but Clark's interview came back on after a while, they wrapped it up quickly, and it was over. I sure did feel like I missed something.
In between these guests, there was a repeating of president Bush's vow to find who was responsible and bring them to justice. that was the only statement given out of the White House at the time. You have to give him credit, that is what everyone else was saying too. CNN was in full time mode, and if they could quote something else, they sure would have loved to. But that was it, "We vow to do everything possible to find those responsible for this and bring them to justice." Two days later, bush had this to say.
"The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him."
- G.W. Bush, 9/13/01
Exactly six months later...
I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."
- G.W. Bush, 3/13/02
How anyone can take this man seriously, I have no idea. This might be the greatest contradicion of all time, and not on a small point. No, on the biggest point imaginable.
The president was still not at the White House six hours after the attack. At the sixth hour, as it were, CNN was reporting that they needed extra fighter planes to protect Air Force One. Extra fighter planes, in addition to the standard wing-men that accompany Air Force One, but I think I mentioned that.
Millions of New Yorkers took the subway home that day because they belived the threat to be contained, and I think as a show of bravery that was well needed. The New Yorkers reacted like the rest of us should have. The smart money (including Clancy) was saying that this group had actuallly already outdone itself. I don't think anyone could possibly reasonably assume that Bin Laden could launch fighter planes to shoot down Air Force One. Six hours later when all flights were on the ground, Bin Laden had well blown his terrorist load. I'm sure he was having a good laugh at the president's expense. I remember actually fearing for him when he finally did show up, walking across the lawn, exposed. I thought that an assasination would really instill the fear that the terrorists want us to feel. But I certainly wasn't worried about him on the flight over.
Later in the day there were explosions in Kabul. Nic Robertson had a bird's-eye view of what appeared to be a fuel-dump on fire that apparently had been hit with missles.
And there it was, Kabul in flames already. Who knew then just how far that fire would spread?