I cannot believe that it was 20 years ago today since the attacks of terrorism occurred in the United States of America. In some ways to me, it seems like yesterday; but in other ways, it feels like that day was a lifetime ago. In fact, the last time I stood on the observation deck at the top of one of the towers at the World Trade Center was on the afternoon of Saturday, September 12, 1998 — and I still have the ticket stub to prove it:
When I held those tickets in my hand while at the World Trade Center on that day, I never would have dreamt that a mere three years later, the towers would be completely destroyed by a terrorist attack.
What I Did That Day
Even when I traveled short distances back in 2001, I used to fly as a passenger on airplanes instead of drive in case I needed to fly somewhere else at the last minute. However — for some reason still unknown to me to this day — I decided on the evening of Monday, September 10, 2001 to take a car to get to a client in Augusta in Georgia the next morning, rather than fly as a passenger on an airplane.
Not long after starting to do business at the office of the client, the news began to unfold over the radio. Being originally from New York and knowing the flight paths for all three major New York airports, I first thought that an aircraft accidentally flew too closely to one of the World Trade Center towers on approach to Fiorello LaGuardia Airport — until I heard about the second airplane crash into the other tower minutes later and figured that this was no accident.
I also heard about the attacks on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the fate of the airplane which operated as United Airlines flight 93 — both of which would have been major top stories if each had happened on their own. With all that was going on, it seemed like the world was coming to an end that day. Upon hearing that both towers collapsed and realizing the potential of many thousands of people losing their lives, the employees of the client company — frightened and uncertain as to what the future held at that time — decided to hold hands and conduct an impromptu prayer vigil.
Believe it or not, I actually successfully completed my business at the client — despite the major distraction of the tragedy that had unfolded that day. By no means was that an easy task, as we wanted to know the latest details of what would surely become one of the most memorable days in the history of the United States.
Reality Set In
I remember driving home alone for three hours on an empty highway — Interstate 20, which is a major interstate highway — from Augusta to Atlanta on that fateful afternoon. Electronic signs declared a national emergency and that the airports were closed. Few vehicles were on the normally-clogged highways at rush hour. It was quite an eerie experience…
…and then I became angry.
How dare some third-world terrorists come over here and destroy part of my home using conveyances carrying innocent people as weapons? How dare they kill thousands of my fellow citizens who were simply trying to live their lives as usual?
All I wanted to do that day was find the tallest building and get to the top of it; or fly as a passenger on an airplane. I wanted to shout to the adversaries that if they wanted a war, bring it on, for they will be sorry. I wanted to show those low-life terrorists that they don’t scare me; that our country will only be stronger; and that the United States will be better than ever despite their attempts to destroy it.
Alas, people were afraid — especially in New York, where people are known to be tough and resilient. The routine life of air travel in the United States has significantly changed — and there are those who say for the worse; that the terrorists have won; and that the freedoms and liberties fought for by countless brave soldiers in many wars have diminished or disintegrated because they have been sacrificed in the name of safety and security.
For your perusal, two other articles which have been posted at The Gate over the years pertaining to the tragic occurrences of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 as discussed by members of FlyerTalk include:
Despite the horrific consequences which occurred as a result of the events which occurred on September 11, 2001, a temporary miracle happened: other than those who sadistically found joy and celebrated the aftermath of what would be considered unthinkable, the world was united like it never had been united before — perhaps in its history.
The role reversal of countries all over the world volunteering to come to the aid of the United States during one of its darkest moments in history; the offering of a helping hand from allies and adversaries — emphasizes the surrealism of a now-infamous day…
…and within the United States, the top stories were not about celebrities who had gone awry or other vacuous fodder which passed for news. Hope and hopelessness, survival and death, clouds and sunshine, present and future joined together with a delayed epiphany of the scope of reality as it affected millions of people. For the first time in American history, the entire air travel system was completely shut down; all major league baseball games were canceled; schools and businesses were closed — all as if time had stopped — and what seemed to be the solidarity of every citizen of the United States began to sweep the nation with proud displays of patriotism. Race did not matter. Politics did not matter. Religion did not matter — for the most part, anyway.
Fast forward 20 years to 2021: some people still seem to be willing to pay to forfeit their liberties and rights in exchange for some modicum of security — even if that security is unproven and questionable — something which would have been unthinkable in pre-September 11 2001 America…
The horrific events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 led George W. Bush — who was then president of the United States — to launch two initiatives: the invasion of Iraq in which Saddam Hussein was eventually removed from power, as he was accused of stockpiling “weapons of mass destruction”; and the war in Afghanistan in retribution of those who masterminded the events 20 years ago.
Putting aside the debate of whether the United States should have invaded Afghanistan in the first place, a special operations unit of the United States military known as SEAL Team Six had succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden — who was responsible for the events of September 11, 2001 — during a covert operation at a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan shortly after 1:00 in the morning local time or 4:00 in the afternoon Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, May 2, 2011, as ordered by Barack Obama. The president of the United States wanted bin Laden either captured or killed in an operation which was code-named Operation Neptune Spear.
If the United States had to be in a conflict in Afghanistan, the killing of bin Laden should have been the perfect time to withdraw troops and end the operation in time for the tenth anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001…
…but the conflict simply slogged on for another ten years, directionless and with no focus or definitive final goal in mind. Was the purpose to build an entire nation from the ground up? Was it to seek more retribution for what happened on September 11, 2001? Was it to take the minerals and other resources for which Afghanistan is known to have?
Whatever are the reasons, the United States ultimately failed in many ways: hundreds of thousands of lives lost, hundreds of billions of dollars spent and mostly wasted, and countless lies repeatedly told to the world from no fewer than four presidential administrations of the United States — including the purported abandonment of American citizens in Afghanistan and supposed broken promises to allies of the United States who once trusted its leadership.
All of that and more was needlessly squandered away — and for what?
The argument is not about whether members of the military of the United States should have left Afghanistan — as already intimated, perhaps they should have never been there in the first place — but many people believe that the current president of the United States truly bungled the operation with bad decisions that ultimately killed at least 13 additional Americans; left literally tons of weaponry at the disposal of the very organization which was complicit in what happened on September 11, 2001; placed countless people in danger of being mortally wounded; and has the United States look like a weak laughing stock in the eyes of its enemies…
…and for what? To be able to brag that the operation ended in time for the twentieth anniversary of one of the darkest days in the history of the United States?
None of this really makes any sense to me. I guess I simply do not understand how and why we got to this point; but many people would argue that the result will become an even darker chapter in that otherwise storied — and relatively young compared to most of the rest of the world — history.
Thoughts For the Future
To this day, I still believe that a network of systems in the United States needs to be developed where a reasonable balance is struck between protecting the freedoms and liberties guaranteed to American citizens by the Constitution and ensuring effective safety and security without infringing upon those freedoms and liberties. The United States of America needs to once again be a favored place for foreigners to travel willingly without being subjected to what seems to be unreasonable security procedures.
As with thrill seekers who run onto the playing fields of professional sporting events, those people who purposely attempt to inflict terror upon fellow human beings must not be given the spotlight when they commit their heinous acts — no matter how big or small — as the attention only encourages them. Perhaps I am incorrect; but I get the feeling that many members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — are enjoying the vast amounts of attention they are currently receiving and may actually be feeling more empowered as a result.
We also need to keep in mind and remember that just because a person is Muslim does not mean that he or she is a terrorist. There are terror groups of all denominations and sizes; and even though the ones spotlighted in the media might have people who claim to be Muslim as the majority of their members, that does not mean in any way, shape or form that the majority of Muslim people are terrorists.
People all over the world need to work together not only to fight terrorism effectively, but to also mitigate — and even eliminate — the reasons behind what causes terrorist acts to happen in the first place. That includes — but is not limited to — correcting misunderstandings and stereotypes pertaining to one another; increasing tolerance and awareness to help decrease ignorance, indifference and hatred; listening to each other; and learning from each other in the hopes that we will respect and celebrate each other, our beliefs and our differences.
My passion for travel is what works for me; and I believe that if more people around the world were able to travel — even if only a little — they would get an education like no other; and I believe the world would be a much better place in which to live. Samuel Langhorne Clemens — known by his more famous pseudonym of Mark Twain — said it best:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
That wishful thinking applies to all acts of peacefully countering terrorism — not just what happened 20 years ago today in the United States.
Final Boarding Call
We should all consider using the anniversary of this tragic day as an inspiration to consider thinking of how we can anonymously give of ourselves to help fellow human beings — and perhaps save lives in the process — even if the gesture may seem small and insignificant. A simple smile; a complimentary compliment; or saying thank you to another person could brighten his or her day as a start to improve our society overall. Positive change starts with us.
No matter where we live or travel — no matter who we are — we cannot be afraid. We must work towards ensuring that this fragile planet on which we all live is as safe, free, and enjoyable for as many people as possible; and we must stand tall and face down the sources of terrorism — no matter how frightening doing so may feel.
We can start by mitigating our differences. Black or white, heterosexual or homosexual, male or female, wealthy or poor, vaccinated or unvaccinated, young or old, we must stop with all of the fighting among ourselves that causes us to remain sharply divided and prevent us from actually moving forward in a positive manner and advancing as a species. We should correct our wrongs and our faults — but without falling into the abyss of overcorrection, which I believe happened in many ways in recent years.
Does anyone remember what the United States was like just after the events of September 11, 2001? Remember the camaraderie, the pride in being a nation united, when we were all Americans? I do…
Below — unedited and in its entirety — is the aforementioned original article which I wrote and posted at The Gate 15 years ago on Sunday, September 10, 2006; and a significant portion of it is generally what you already read above:
I remember that day vividly.
Due to the unpredictable nature of my business, I usually fly everywhere I go, even if my destination is within driving distance, because I never know if I will need to fly out directly from where I am at that moment.
Bizarrely, for some inexplicable reason unknown to this day, I made an unusual decision to drive the three-hour trip east on Interstate 20 to Augusta instead of fly from the Atlanta area.
I was training several employees at a medical college on how to use their new equipment.
About an hour or so into the training, I received word third-hand about an airplane hitting one of the towers of the World Trade Center. As a native New Yorker who has flown into New York many times, I knew that the flight path into LaGuardia Airport sometimes had aircraft fly close to the World Trade Center on approach to land, so I figured this was an accident.
Then, in concurrent reports, I heard about the affected tower collapsing, the Pentagon being hit in Washington, D.C., another airplane crashing into the other tower, an aircraft being hijacked in Pennsylvania, the other tower collapsing…
…the horrible news just kept pouring in and mounting, to the point where we were listening to it via the radio as it happened.
Management at the college decided to pause for a few minutes and have everybody gather in one area to pray together. It seemed like World War III had begun, as we knew nothing about what was happening or why it was happening. All we knew is that life in the United States would never again be the same.
Difficult as it was, I managed to stay focused and complete the training.
Driving home was eerily creepy and surreal. There was virtually no traffic on the highways — not even in Atlanta during the height of “rush hour” at 5:00 in the afternoon — and the electronic overhead variable character signs emblazoned the words “Hartsfield Airport Closed — National Emergency”.
When I arrived home, I finally was able to see video footage of what happened that day. As a native New Yorker, I was furious when I found out that suicidal terrorists had struck and successfully destroyed parts of my “home”. I never wanted to be on top of the tallest buidling I could find or get on an aircraft as much as I did that day to show those terrorists around the world that I am not afraid. How dare they attack my home!!!
My only regret was not first stopping at the airport in Augusta to offer a ride to Atlanta to several passengers who were most likely stranded there due to air traffic in the United States being completely shut down in an unprecedented action.
FlyerTalk members personally experienced the horrors of that infamous day as well. As a close-knit community, worried about the well-being of each other, they posted in the now-legendary Tragedy Roll Call – Please Sign In thread.
There are many other threads in a plethora of different FlyerTalk forums whose topic pertains to that fateful day five years ago tomorrow — too numerous to list here. However, do a Search on FlyerTalk for “9/11” or “September 11” in your favorite FlyerTalk forum or throughout FlyerTalk to find out the thoughts, opinions, facts and personal experiences about other FlyerTalk members pertaining to September 11, 2001.