The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Eighteen Years Ago Today

Posted on | September 11, 2019 | No Comments

 

My wife woke me up and handed me the phone. My brother Kirby was calling: “Stacy, it’s terrorism. They hit the World Trade Center.”

What the hell? I was an assistant news editor at The Washington Times, and my workday didn’t usually begin this early, especially on a Monday* after I’d worked the late shift Sunday night. To be awakened so early startled me, and I began trying to process what my brother was saying.

“Stacy, turn on Fox News,” Kirby said, and I stumbled into the living room where the TV was showing the smoke billowing from one of the iconic twin towers on the New York City skyline. Terrorism? It seemed absurd to leap to such a conclusion. I recalled how a B-25 plane had accidentally hit the Empire State Building in 1945, and began to argue with Kirby that this could be a similar accident — a small plane, an inexperienced pilot perhaps — but my brother was adamant.

“No, Stacy, this is terrorism,” Kirby said. “Remember how they tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993?”

Well, we weren’t going to settle this dispute by phone, and obviously I needed to get ready for work, so I hung up the phone and got in the shower. A few minutes later, my wife came in and handed me the phone again. It was Kirby: “They hit the second tower! I told you it’s terrorists!”

Getting dressed quickly, I left for work about 9:30 with an hour’s drive to The Washington Times office, and listened to news radio in the car as events unfolded: A plane slammed into the Pentagon, then the Twin Towers collapsed — one at 9:59 and the other at 10:28.

By the time I got to my desk, the staff had already put together an extra morning “bulldog” edition of the paper, and the next few hours were a blur of activity. One thing I remember very clearly was watching an evening news broadcast on the TV in the newsroom that showed crowds dancing in the streets of Cairo and Gaza — the Islamic world was celebrating this deadly terrorist attack. My office phone rang.

“Stacy, two words — nuke Medina,” Kirby said.

My brother’s logic was obvious: Destroy the second-holiest city of Islam, with the clear implication, “Guess what’s next?”

Some people might accuse Kirby of “extremism” for this kind of cold logic, but there is beauty in simplicity, and by the night of Sept. 11, 2001, it was clear that something had to be done to send a message to those people who believed America could be attacked with impunity.

The idea of blood guilt, a collective blame that justifies unlimited reprisal, is abhorrent to the civilized mind — and that’s a problem. We are perhaps too civilized, and our barbaric enemies therefore believe that we are weak. Are they right about us? Have Americans become so decadent that we lack the will to defend our civilization? This morning, I watched the ceremonies at Ground Zero, with relatives of the 9/11 victims reading the roll of names of those killed that morning in 2001. One of those was a young girl, probably only 12 or 13, who gave a brief tribute to her uncle, who had died in the Twin Towers. I didn’t catch the name, so I don’t know whether her uncle was a businessman working in his office that day, or whether he was one of the heroic NYPD officers or FDNY firemen who died in the collapse of the towers. Yet I was struck by the idea that children who weren’t even born in 2001 have suffered losses — their uncles and aunts, their grandparents or other relatives who were among the innocent killed that day — and all of our children have inherited a world permanently changed because of the 9/11 attack.

* NOTE: After publishing this, I was informed by commenters that Sept. 11, 2001, was a Tuesday, not a Monday. Memory plays tricks, I guess.



 

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