In many ways, the September 11, 2001 feels like a lifetime ago. 15 years ago, I was 13, and practically the entire period of political development in my life occurred following the terrorist attacks that day. In a certain sense, I didn’t experience pre-9/11 politics.
But it also seems like it happened not long ago because the events of that day are so vivid in my mind.
I’ll never forget that it was a Tuesday. Tuesday was the day I took a tennis class, which was naturally cancelled — but I’ll get to that presently. I was homeschooled, so I was at home during the morning.
My dad spoke to my aunt on the phone that morning (I don’t remember what about) but she offhandedly mentioned to him what my uncle conveyed to her: that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. It was assumed at the time that something with the guidance system malfunctioned, if memory serves.
That was all we were aware of until shortly after, when we received a call saying that tennis class was cancelled — naturally, with everything that was going on.
Everything that was going on? What?
We switched on Fox News just a few moments after the second plane hit the other tower. At the time, there was little discussion of what was behind the crashes and the focus was on reporting the events as they transpired.
Minoru Yamasaki used a tube frame design in the architecture of the World Trade Center towers, in which the building is structured like a hollow cylinder, in order to resist winds and which also allowed for an open floor plan. It also meant that, once the outside of the structure was penetrated, the tower would be much less stable and liable to collapse.
I distinctly remember the sinking feeling of watching the first, then the second, towers sink to ground zero. To this day, seeing the clips of the collapse brings back the same feeling, if somewhat muted now.
We then received news of Flight 93 and the plane that hit the Pentagon. By that point it was clear that America was under attack, but by who and why was speculation. It felt apocalyptic.
It wasn’t until the next day that it I heard it was likely terrorism. As an unengaged teenager, I had no idea who Osama bin Laden was. He, like other people, places and terms, became a household name in the aftermath.
There are many lessons that could be learned from that terrible day — many that have been discussed and rehashed numerous times. I’d like to mention just a couple.
The first is that leadership matters. Events certainly unified us, but we were unified in resolve, more than by anger and rather than by fear. We have President Bush to thanks for that, despite any shortcomings he may have had. His clear-eyed and quiet focus over the following weeks was integral to our recovery from the shock.
By contrast, current seekers of the highest office in the land like to emphasize leadership, but all evidence indicates that they would be among the most divisive chief executives we’ve ever had.
The second lesson is that, no matter how dark our days, there are true, sacrificial American heroes who will rise to our challenges — from the first responders, to those on Flight 93, to those who chose sign up to serve our country in the military.
So long as such people exist in reasonable number in America, she can and will be great, regardless of who tries to bring her to her knees.