Re-Imagining September 11

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A thought experiment: Place yourself back where you were the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The sky is that clear humidity-free blue that comes with the approaching fall, and the office towers of the Northeast are teeming with people as the work force is in full swing after summer vacation. You drop the kids at school, or go to class, or sit at your desk. Your mind is focused on work, on the cable news scandal of the day (the Chandra Levy murder was big back then), or your daily exercise routine.

You hear news of an explosion in an office tower in New York.  Possibly a small plane crashed into it. “Wow, isn’t that something?  How could that happen?” You turn your attention back to your day. Minutes later someone says there was a second explosion in New York — was that another plane? You get yourself in front of a TV and begin to stare. “My God, is this terrorism? Did they say it was passenger jet? American Airlines? Are we at war? What is going on?” Your thoughts turn to people you know in New York — “where is their office again?” You try to make cellphone calls, but the networks are overwhelmed. Disconcerting.

An explosion at the Pentagon? Another plane crash? It is an attack, isn’t it? Are they done? What about Boston? Wait … a bomb at the State Department … they evacuated the White House … “boy, that reporter looks terrified.”

The discomfort of the initial news turns to confusion and terror as the day goes on. The scale of the attack is unimaginable — “how many people must be in that building?” You are nearly sick to your stomach as you hear reports of people jumping rather than be burned alive.

And then the first building collapses. You gasp, as does everyone around you. You’ve just watched thousands of Americans die on national TV. Those people covered in ash like they are in a movie. Deep breaths necessary to even watch. Minutes later the second building goes. You are numb.

Try to purge all the knowledge you now have about September 11 attacks from your mind, your opinion about the war that followed, and think about how much was unknown that morning. Think about the confusion. Who was the enemy? Terrorists, they say, but who? Some talking heads are saying Al Qaeda, but what is that? Will the economy collapse? When is the next attack?

Remember the way that whatever was on your mind on the evening of September 10 immediately evaporated the next morning, and you had the feeling that everything had changed, but you didn’t know how. By evening, you wanted to stop watching the news, but you couldn’t. The president was going to speak from the Oval Office.

Now stop and change something.

It is September 11, two years in the future. The specifics have changed. Maybe a different city. Maybe a chemical attack. Maybe a dirty bomb on a subway. But something as incomprehensible as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were on September 10, 14 years ago.

But the horror is the same.

The confusion is the same.

The fear of the unknown is the same.

That evening, the President speaks from the Oval Office and you stare at the television.

President Trump, who you voted for to “send a message,” is staring back at you.

Robert N. Driscoll is a native of the Boston area who currently practices law in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this column are his own and not those of his firm. Nor are they the views of his wife, daughters, or greyhounds.

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