On the twentieth anniversary of the day terrorists from the al-Qaeda network used four civilian airplanes as weapons against the United States, the weather was eerily similar to the bright, clear blue sky of what has come to be known as 9/11. George W. Bush, who was president on that horrific day, spoke in Pennsylvania at a memorial for the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 who, on September 11, 2001, stormed the cockpit and brought their airplane down in a field, killing everyone on board but denying the terrorists a fourth American trophy.
This letter is a stunning and heartbreaking account of our nation’s unraveling and it’s architects.
George Bush plays the wise elder statesmen today, but, he was complicit in using a tragedy to foist war and undemocratic policies on our nation.
Twenty years later we still “reap the whirlwind.”
Heather’s last sentence pierced my heart with the words “they took a vote.”
The very core of democracy is now in peril.
Here is my essay that was published in the Winston-Salem Journal yesterday. It’s behind a pay wall or I would just post a link.
“On September 11 of 2001, on the way to my studio workspace on the 92nd floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center, I witnessed a defining national tragedy. Since that day 20 years ago, I have thought a lot about those events, and the subsequent fallout from our national reaction.
There was a tidal wave of sadness that engulfed New York City in the days and weeks after the towers fell, as the colossal hole in the ground smoldered on the southern tip of Manhattan. Memorials sprung up in parks and along fences all across the city, with people posting or wearing pictures of their dead and missing loved ones. Every firehouse was shrouded in black, memorials to lost members posted at each door. There were so many funerals that the NYFD asked the public to attend so their widows wouldn’t be alone. The artists in our group gathered to absorb and commiserate as we were coming to understand what happened. The body of one of our colleagues, Michael Richards, had been found, identified by the wallet in his pocket. We were dumbstruck by all that might imply.
Yet in the midst of all the chaos and trauma, people came together to grieve and to help. Volunteers of all sorts assembled to assist in the herculean task of cleaning up Ground Zero.
Something I noticed then was the divergent ways people reacted to the catastrophe, mostly coalescing into two camps: those who asked “Why would anyone hate us so much that they would resort to such madness?”, and “They hate our freedom. Bomb them all back to the Stone Age.” The official responses boiled down to “let’s get to the bottom of this, find out who is behind it, and bring them to justice”, or “This was an act of war which cannot go unanswered in kind.” There was a brief window when our collective response might have been reasonably tempered, to treat the terrorist attacks as a criminal act, work with international allies, and prosecute the perpetrators accordingly, as we did when Islamic radicals carried out the first attack on the WTC in 1993. With the most obvious perpetrators on Sept. 11th committing suicide in the process, that outcome was distinctly unsatisfying. Even a limited war in Afghanistan, with clear objectives and a definitive end-date, seemed reasonable.
We were not to act with reason.
The profound grief over what was lost – all those who leapt to their deaths or died at their desks, brave civil servants who gave everything to save others, the loss of innocence that we could live in a country untouched and unchanged by terrorist violence – became a fissure cleaved into cultural discord. While patriotism proliferated, divisions grew. The Bush Administration, sensing the difficulties of winning in the “graveyard of nations”, opted to focus fighting where they thought they could win. Anti-war sentiment against entering Iraq was quickly subsumed by forces intent on capitalizing on our collective grief.
We once talked about “not letting the terrorists win”, by behaving as a free people. Our open society, the ease with which we entered buildings, boarded planes, welcomed strangers, communicated privately, was suddenly up for grabs. An administration that had won legitimacy by a single vote on the Supreme Court, was so eager to show it was in control after being caught flat-footed by the brazen attack, that it entered not one, but two wars. The costs were put on America’s credit card left unpaid, passed to our grandchildren in a woeful lack of critical infrastructure and essential services. The heartfelt patriotism that had joined us, has since hardened into a dangerous nationalism for some, leading to the Jan. 6th attack on our Capitol. We are reaping now what was sown then.
9/11 became a benchmark for what might move us to action against existential threats. America has since seen more large-scale tragedies; lives lost to gun violence now top 39,000/ year, the pandemic has cost us over 640,000 lives, not to mention the weather-related destruction due to the climate crisis. Still, little has caught our attention as 9/11 did.
If Osama Bin Laden’s goal was to divide America against itself, has his mission been accomplished? After 20 years, have the terrorists won after all?
It remains to be seen whether we have lost the lessons of this tragedy – that we’re better together than apart, that our government can work for all of us. The better angels of our natures are waiting to be tasked.
I am happy to say I was not among the 90% of Americans who supported President George W. Bush after the 9/11 terror attacks. Or ever. Not even when he gave his famous, rousing speech about "we're gonna smoke 'em out" and "if you're not with us, you're against us." My late partner and I were in a crowded New York City cafe a few days after the attacks, watching that speech on the TV in the cafe bar. When the customers in the cafe (including my partner) cheered Bush's jingoistic words, I whispered to my partner, "He is full of shit. He always has been and always will be full of shit." It was frightening to watch all those sophisticated New Yorkers, shattered and brokenhearted, eating up Bush's bluster. Later, tens of thousands of us marched in the Manhattan streets to protest Bush's invasion of Afghanistan, and again in 2003, his invasion of Iraq. Years later when the stock market crashed and our country looked as if we were days away from anarchy, poverty, and/or revolution, George W. Bush was still just a mediocre clown.(Don't get me started on how Bush wasted the massive American monetary surplus President Clinton and the American public spent eight years creating. Bush pissed it away and never looked back.) It is comforting that Bush gave a thoughtful, powerful speech today, sounding an alarm against domestic terrorism. But now — years after he helped set the stage for Trump and his followers — to shower George W. Bush with adulation, respect and honor is misplaced. To quote a line of dialogue from Robert Towne's brilliant, Oscar-winning screenplay CHINATOWN (uttered by the film's Shakespearean villain, Noah Cross): "Course I'm respectable. I'm old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”
“While we cannot know for certain what happened on that plane on that fateful day, investigators believe that before the passengers of Flight 93 stormed the cockpit, throwing themselves between the terrorists and our government, and downed the plane, they all took a vote”
That last sentence ... powerful, and poignant.
George W. Bush emerging from blessed obscurity to give a stirring speech on tolerance, diversity, and the value of the lives of everyday Americans is the hight of hypocricy. Needless, I was not among the approving 90%. Hell, we were attacked on his watch!
I spent yesterday wondering if we would ever talk about why, twenty years after 9/11, we still have to go through airport security screening. Why the Taliban went from fringe radical group to running a country. Why alQaeda still exists. There was not a peep in all the remembrances about the two reasons for the 9/11 attacks, stated by Osama bin Laden on al Jazeera on the day of the attacks; US military permanently stationed in Saudi Arabia and US backing if Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Why, after twenty years, nothing has changed, some things are worse, even after expenditures in blood and trillions in treasure, much of the latter into the pockets of defense contractors? (Aha! Perhaps a hint therein!)
There is so much more; HCR touched on much of it in today's letter. Suffice it to say that 9/11 should have made us smarter, yet so much of the country has gone willfully, proudly, in the opposite direction.
How do you do this, Heather? How do you manage to weave a tale of history so artfully? Wow.
I find the wrapper on the this piece to be the incredible irony that as we listen to George W. Bush say all those "right things" on this day, we are reminded that he may be regarded as one of the most destructive Presidents in our history. He attacked more than two countries. He attacked our debt, our integrity, our planet, our democracy. The damage from his eight years will ripple across this century with devastating effect. This is a man who many "would like to have a beer with". This is a man who supports immigration through art. There is a real charm about him.
Is "W" an innocent victim of Cheney and Rumsfeld's persuasion? Or has he actually been the devil himself? I guess it really doesn't matter. The millions of people needlessly displaced, maimed or killed don't care.
Good morning friends. HCR, I was hoping you'd take the weekend off, but I am glad you didn't. This letter is absolutely the best essay I have read, even though I was screaming in my head, as I read the words you quoted from Shrubby Bush's speech, "liar! liar! liar!" I was not in NYC at the time--I was in a classroom teaching medieval history across the state, about 100 miles east of Buffalo--but my entire family and a very large number of friends and colleagues were and continue to be living in the corridor between Boston and Washington, DC. And beloved former students. One of whom was serving in the Army as honor guard at the National Cemetery and the Pentagon at the time. His job, chosen by the brass because he had, before going into the army, served in the Peace Corps in some scary places, was to pull bodies out of the rubble of the Pentagon. He told me that their reasoning was that, since he was older than many of the others in his detail (all of 28) and had seen some bad stuff, he could lead the troops who had to recover the dead. I was fairly frantic to get in touch with him that day, as I was checking up on all my "people" who might have been caught in the horror. He let me know quite quickly that he was okay. And told me, over the next few weeks, what he was doing.
Friends, my dear, kind, humane, smart, talented former student committed suicide a few years later. It wasn't that he had been unable to deal with the memories of that day. It was because of the way the army, the government, and the Powers That Be treated him in the aftermath: as if he was a nonentity, disposable, a tool. He left the army, went back into the Peace Corps for awhile, but it wasn't enough to mend the wounds. I mourn him to this day. He was a victim, not of the tragedy of the day, but of the cynical creation of "9/11" by the evildoers in the White House and in every fucking Republican-led government. And I cannot forgive them.
As I listened to repeated statements yesterday of "never forget," I thought of the irony of the pushback against teaching the history of race (CRT) in this country.
Thank you, HCR for today's letter--the best I've read thus far.
It's interesting you bring up the 2000 election and Al Gore and highlights the difference between him and Trump. Despite seeing 100,000 mostly black voters disenfranchised, as you point out, and the fact that Gore won the popular vote, he abided by the Supreme Court's decision to hand the election to Bush because he is a man of honor, integrity and patriotism. The election in Florida was shady at best, yet he still accepted the rule of the court. Trump, on the other hand, clearly lost the 2016 election despite his claims of election fraud. He brought dishonor to his himself and his office and incited the Jan. 6 insurrection. Those are not the actions of a man of integrity; those are the actions of a whimpering child. But I no longer blame him for creating an army of the misinformed. I blame those Americans who swallowed his lies hook, line and sinker. Independent thought in this country is fading and is more dangerous than ever.
On a personal note, if you will allow me, I'd like to share my experience of 9-11. I was working on the 29th floor of an office tower in Jersey City, directly across the Hudson River from the twin towers. Everyone rushed to the windows when the first plane hit and when the second plane disappeared into the second tower the building was quickly evacuated. This was it. We're being attacked.
The subways were closed and there was no way I could get home to my wife in Brooklyn. So I went to the promenade at the river's edge. Yes, it was a spectacular pre-autumn day. The blue in the sky was deep and the humidity negligible. A group of us just stood at the railing and finally the first tower went down. We watched as the eerie smoke and debris snaked its way throughout lower Manhattan. Few people spoke as we looked on, mouths open, in astonishment.
And then I noticed the most bizarre thing. A man on the boardwalk had set up an easel and was making a painting as the scene unfolded. It's strange the things one remembers.
Later that afternoon I made it home. We stood on the roof of our 5-story loft building on the East River. It was getting dark and I thought I felt rain when we realized that tiny, burned pieces of paper from the World Trade Center site had drifted in the air and were dropping on us from above, like tears from those who were killed in the towers. The world changed that day.
I want to believe that each and every one of us, as we advocate for voters rights, as we participate in our local, state and National governments, by writing our representatives, as we vote, and as we keep pushing at all levels for democracy for all Americans, are “makers of history”. We have this amazing “vehicle” that we must aggressively persistently protect. I am so grateful for your letters Professor Richardson. Sorting through all the precursors of how we got to where we are is so helpful and inspiring! Thank you!
Thursday evening, I watched Michel Moore's documentary movie Fahrenheit 9/11. I had no idea about the Bin Laden family having ties to George Bush through his oil business. I gather while Osama Bin Laden was the black sheep of the family he still had some contact with members of the family. One of the few airplanes allowed to leave the United States was one approved by the Bush administration to get Bin Laden family members out of the country on Sept. 12. I had always wondered why there was never any criticism of Saudi Arabia. Follow the money! Interesting that DT made Saudi Arabia his first official foreign visit. We're, the People, being duped. Royally.
"We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." These words have haunted me for almost 20 years. If I live in the "reality-based community," where do Republicans live? They live in the world of Faux News, QAnon Shamans, the Big Lie, and Proud Boys.
Fuck George W. Bush. And the collection of fucking clucks he had around him, especially that master of evil, Dickhead Cheney. They had all the information in front of them to stop it, but Widdle Georgie was busy on the first of his many vacations, performing for the press with his brush-clearing all the month of August, while that fucking dimbulb Condoleeza Rice got briefed on it, "but nobody told us they would fly an airplane into a building! How could we know?" Just fuck all those evil fucking morons all to hell.
The bastards were planning to invade Iraq from the day they got there, and they were so gung-ho to do it, they let Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in December, then they wouldn't take the Taliban's offer of surrender, because that would prevent their great little adventure when they invaded Poland, er, I mean Iraq.
That worthless, talentless, piece of shit, who would have been a failure at living in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass but for the accident of his birth! He isn't fit to garden the lawn at that memorial. The least of those 40 was a bazillion times better a human being than George Fuckhead Bush. The man who wrecked the world, because he was a fucking MORON.
I will NEVER forgive him and that collection of draft-dodging "patriots" in his so-called "administration." Torturers, murderers, profiteers. How many billions did Cheney make from the invasion of Iraq?
You're a far better person than I am, Dr. Richardson, that you can treat that morherfucker like he's a member of the species. He'll die with the stain of 9/11 etched in whatever he's got that passes for a heart. And all the rest of those worthless scum who made America worse by the fact they ever existed.
I hope they all burn in hell for ten eternities.
The finest use of television I've ever experienced was the ABC special with Peter Jennings the Saturday morning after 9/11 Answering Children's Questions. I can remember one young boy of middle eastern decent asking if he could ever be a pilot, for example. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulYiXQSHw9M I sent Peter Jennings an email thank you ... and received a personal answer back.
"a senior adviser to Bush told journalist Ron Suskind that people like him—Suskind—were in “the reality-based community”: they believed people could find solutions based on their observations and careful study of discernible reality. But, the aide continued, such a worldview was obsolete. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.… We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
Well they certainly did create a reality. Just look at that reality: After at least $3 Trillion dollars and likely more like $8 Trillion, Donald Trump, a Republican, negotiated a surrender agreement with the Taliban that included releasing 5000 Taliban prisoners and the complete exit of the United States by May 1, 2021. An entirely unconditional surrender.
The very last event of that exit was a gigantic explosion killing 13 US soldiers, and, of course many, many more Afghans.
A reality that left 240,000 innocent Afghans dead for no reason at all.
A reality that left 2500 US soldiers dead for no reason at all.
A reality that everyone knew as a lie from the beginning because: Not a single attacker of the United States was from Afghanistan, not one.
A reality that even me, an engineer in a software organization with no political or historical experience knew was a mistake and its intent was entirely to enrich George W. Bush and his buddies in the military-industrial complex that HAVE won the Afghanistan "war".
America lost in Afghanistan but George W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, with their ownership in many stocks of military contractors? Huge, huge winners.
Yes, Bush and his merry band of poor judgement good ole boys, all with silver foots in their mouths, with more hubris than brains, and more corruption than patriotism, created a reality alright.
They created an America where Americans lost....and became losers in our own eyes and the eyes of the world......in ever so many ways.
Diana King called your brilliant last sentence "Powerful and Poignant". I totally agree, but I also want to convey how reading that last sentence sent a chill down my spine and generated a feeling of great pride and respect for all Americans who are actively engaged in trying to save our democracy from the under-educated and sheepish Americans who are threatening both our health and our country.