September Eleven - when the world went a bit awry
A personal memoir
By A.H. Jaffor Ullah
“These days are dangerous: Virtue is choked with foul ambition, and charity chased hence by rancor's hand.” ¾ William Shakespeare
Today, on September 11, 2002, we are remembering the events of a day that went awry if you happened to be in the US on that fateful day. It was a day of bewildering confusion to put it mildly. Anyone who was old enough to remember what happened in the eastern seaboard of America, in the morning hours, when four commercial jetliners were hijacked by terrorists, would remember the events of the day for the rest of their life, which is mired in absolute infamy. Make no mistake about it. I wrote earlier that a bewildering confusion had followed once the hijacking of the planes had started in the eastern seaboard.
I was driving my car to work at about 8:15 in the morning. When I reached the hump of a bridge over Lake Ponchartrain, which is call Twin Span Bridge, I was listening to CNN report live from New York. Normally at this time of the day, the CNN reports the business and other world news. But instead of broadcasting the regular news program, the CNN was reporting live from New York. The reporters were nervous and one can tell that from their voice and speech pattern. What I learned from the radio astounded me, to put it mildly. I learned that some unknown terrorists have hijacked multiple passenger jetliners from Boston and few other airports all located in the eastern seaboard. One of the hijacked planes has rammed one tower of the Twin Tower Building located in the south side of Manhattan in World Trade Center complex. As the broadcasters were narrating the story from New York City, they screamed and holler to let us know that another plane has just hit the tower of the WTC building. Only then, it became crystal clear that it was no accident. As I was driving another 30 minutes or so, I keep hearing in the radio newsmen describing yet another plane crash that just happened in the outskirts of Washington DC. Because of the confusion that abounded in the morning time from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. in the eastern seaboard, no one was sure what exactly was happening in New York City or in Washington DC. When I reached my office, which is a Federal Building, I saw the panic-stricken faces of many of my colleagues. There was a giant screen TV at the basement of the building where quite a few of my coworkers were huddled to watch the TV. Naturally, I went there to see for myself the extent of the damage that the WTC buildings took because of two explosions caused by the hijacked planes. A sad faced colleague told me that a portion of the Twin Tower Building had just collapsed. Knowing how many people work in that WTC complex and the time of the day, we all were saddened because we knew the casualty figure would run into thousands.
The ramming of the Pentagon Building by the third hijacked plane was not fully known at 9:30 a.m. our time (10:30 a.m. in the East Coast). At about 10:00 a.m. our building was shut down because of the heightened security measure. I have friends working for the government in Washington DC area who also told me that most federal buildings were shut because of security concern. One may surmise therefore that the entire federal government from coast to coast was shut down as a fall out from hijacking of the planes and subsequent demolition of Twin Towers in NYC and a portion of Pentagon Building in the suburb of Washington DC.
I reached home at about 10:45 a.m. On the way from my office to home, I tuned to our local affiliate radio station of the CNN. Some new information on Pentagon Building demolition by one hijacked plane was still not being heard. By noontime, we learned that a section of the Pentagon Building in the suburb of Washington was badly damaged as we saw in the TV screen plumes of smokes coming out of the demolished building. The fate of the fourth hijacked plane was not released at this time. Later in the afternoon, we heard that that plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, which hundreds of miles away from the eastern seaboard.
Sometime in the noontime or a little later, we saw a nervous President addressing the TV from an Air Force base located in my home state of Louisiana. According to the news story, President Bush was in Florida in that morning when the hijackers commandeered four passenger jetliners. The security force that protects the US president flew George W. Bush to one undisclosed US Air Force base perhaps in the southern states and then took the president to Shreveport, Louisiana, where from Mr. Bush addressed the nation. It was a very unusual press report by the president. And trust me, I have seen many presidents giving speech in the television starting from Richard M. Nixon. Mr. Bush was visibly shaken and so were the newsman and the handlers of the president. The security force then took the president to another undisclosed Air Force base. On that fateful day, there weren’t any plane on the sky excepting the Air Force One and few military planes in American sky.
In the early afternoon on September 11, 2001, we were glued to the television screen at home. Most network-affiliated stations have stopped showing their regular programs and instead they were giving news coverage of the unprecedented events of the day. I strictly remember that CBS’s anchorperson Dan Rather narrating the scenes that were taken hours before near the WTC complex. He warned us that some scenes contain words spoken by New Yorkers who saw one of the towers of WTC building come crashing down. One man in the background described the scene extemporaneously giving an introduction that started like “Oh, f----king Jesus” while another woman nearby screaming her heart out in deep anguish. To sum up, it was an extraordinary news reporting. Most newscasters were interviewing law enforcement officers, firemen, etc., who they could find near the devastation site. We saw in the television panic-stricken men and women in business suit running like hell going away from the WTC. Some women had to forgo their pencil hill shoes because one barely could walk while wearing those sexy shoes. Therefore, many high hill women’s shoes were seen scattered near the southside of Manhattan, which was the epicenter of devastation. The entire southside of Manhattan Island looked like a bombed out area. There was no telling how many people have vanished as the two giant towers came tumbling down. Speculations about the number of casualties were rife in the media. The newscasters were telling us the number could run as high as in the low five figures. Some experts were of the view that 20,000 to 30,000 people could have been trapped inside the WTC buildings as two planes rammed the two towers.
The news about the fourth plane that crashed hundreds of miles to the west from New York City in rural Western Pennsylvania was shrouded in mystery. No one had any clues on September 11 how the jetliner came down and hit the land. Only thing we learned late in the afternoon that there were no survivors in that crash. The government was surely tightlipped about the third plane that demolished a section of the Pentagon Building. We were told that fire was still raging at the crash site and many government office workers who were working inside the building were killed. It was also evident that there were no survivors amongst the passengers of the hijacked planes.
The other thing we learned on that fateful day that while the president was safe and sound, the vice president was whisked away to a safe place located underground. The government had to tell their employees in the morning to go home. It was widely feared that the unknown terrorists could target other government sites. There were many speculations about the identity of the terrorists by the news media. No one was however brave enough to point fingers at any single terrorist organization. Nonetheless, it was mentioned in the network news that some frantic cellphone calls from the hijacked plane that would hit a segment of the Pentagon Building had identified the hijackers as Arabic speaking persons. The government spokesperson and other members of the Congress and the Senate were telling the media that whoever did this terrible thing to America would be hunted down and brought to justice.
Speculations were rife that terrorists from Middle East may have engineered this disaster because of the suicidal nature of the operation and the earlier report that some hijackers of one particular plane were Arab looking. Knowing this vital information, the CBS news organization was quick to fetch their Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami to their New York studio from Baltimore, Maryland where he teaches at John Hopkins University. In the segment where Dan Rather talked to Prof. Ajami, it was mentioned that a repercussion against Muslim people might ensue if it turns out that the hijackers were Muslims. Prof. Ajami correctly predicted this because in the aftermath of the first bombing of WTC building on February 26, 1993, some Muslims were subjected to verbal harassment and irate Americans threatened a few. Since the magnitude of damage and loss of life on September 11, 2001, pales the one that happened 8 years ago, i.e., the first bombing of the WTC, there is bound to be repercussion against Americans who look middle-eastern and Asian.
The network television stations dutifully continued their nightlong coverage in the wee hours of September 12. In the morning on Wednesday, we were not so sure, whether our office building would open for work. To give the semblance of normalcy, the government decided to re-open the buildings. Extraordinary precautions however were taken for safety. We were all required to wear id batch. President Bush also returned to the White House on that day.
The world that we live in had changed in many ways since 9-11 terrorist attacks took place. Persons who are living tens of thousands of miles away in remote corners of Bangladesh, India, or Pakistan are also feeling the pinch of this manmade catastrophe. The event of day had surely pushed the world in the brink of a global recession. How long will it take to get out of this mess is not known for sure? However, what we know for sure is this -- the day that put the world askew would remain in infamy for a long time to come.
A.H. Jaffor Ullah writes from New Orleans.
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