How 9/11 Should Be Remembered

The extraordinary achievements of ordinary people


| Web Exclusive, September 2009



9-11 Memorial Firefighter

Image by Jack Duval, licensed under Creative Commons.

Originally published by TomDispatch.

Eight years ago, 2,600 people lost their lives in Manhattan, and then several million people lost their story. The al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers did not defeat New Yorkers. It destroyed the buildings, contaminated the region, killed thousands, and disrupted the global economy, but it most assuredly did not conquer the citizenry. They were only defeated when their resilience was stolen from them by clichés, by the invisibility of what they accomplished that extraordinary morning, and by the very word "terrorism," which suggests that they, or we, were all terrified. The distortion, even obliteration, of what actually happened was a necessary precursor to launching the obscene response that culminated in a war on Iraq, a war we lost (even if some of us don't know that yet), and the loss of civil liberties and democratic principles that went with it.

Only We Can Terrorize Ourselves 

For this eighth anniversary of that terrible day, the first post-Bush-era anniversary, let's remember what actually happened:

When the planes became missiles and the towers became torches and then shards and clouds of dust, many were afraid, but few if any panicked, other than the President who was far away from danger. The military failed to respond promptly, even though the Pentagon itself was attacked, and the only direct resistance that day came from inside Flight 93, which went down in a field in Pennsylvania on its way to Washington.

Flights 11 and 175 struck the towers. Hundreds of thousands of people rescued each other and themselves, evacuating the buildings and the area, helped in the first minutes, then hours, by those around them. Both PS 150, an elementary school, and the High School for Leadership and Public Service were successfully evacuated—without casualties. In many cases, teachers took students home with them.

diana van eyk
9/15/2009 4:21:24 PM

On September 11th, 2001, I subscribed to the Utne Reader (I always had a love/hate relationship with it -- some of the writing is really good, but I found much of it so American and kind of "yuppy" -- sorry, I stopped subscribing about a year later). However, the September, 2001, issue had a strong effect on me. On September 10th, I read an article written by Nina Utne who had attended a funeral where she had a conversation with Patch Adams, and was deeply moved by it. It inspired me to write on a white board in my kitchen that I hardly ever used, "Choose Love Over Fear." When I turned on the radio and heard the news the next morning, the words "Choose Love Over Fear" were the first thing I saw. That had a profound impact on me, and I consciously decided to choose love over fear, and that's made a big difference to the quality of my life. I've taken a number of important, calculated risks and try to choose love over fear in many of the small decisions I make daily. It's been a worthwhile challenge. I'm so sorry about your loss, and appreciate the message from the Utne Reader that helped me to put it into perspective. Diana van Eyk PS -- I was living in Whitehorse, Yukon, at the time, and there was a very real possibility that a jet would be shot down over our city, so we went through a scare on that day too. People were sent home from work and school to be with their families, and we were being apprised of the situation on the radio. Luckily it turned out to be a misunderstanding based on a language barrier, but at the time, it was terrifying.