WTC Articles: the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

In the days following the terrible attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it seemed that everyone had a desperate need to reach out, connect, and communicate with as many of their friends, family members, business associates, and fellow citizens as possible. We communicated by telephone at first, simply to verify that loved ones were safe; but then we followed it up with more phone calls and email messages. My email traffic doubled in the two weeks after the tragedy, and I've heard from people all over the world.

But most of these communications were ephemeral; a month from now, I'll still remember how long it took to track down a few family members in New York, but I won't remember the rest of the phone calls and email messages. The permanent record, I suspect, will be the photographs, the television images, and the writings. I've begun accumulating the articles, essays, editorials, op-ed columns, and assorted other writings, because I'm afraid I'll lose them otherwise. If nothing else, each one reminds me that there are myriad perspectives and insights into this event; every time I think that I've heard it all, read it all, and seen it all, along comes a new article or essay that takes me up short. When I am an old, old man, I want to be able to show these writings to my grandchildren, and perhaps even to their children, to say, "This is what happened on September 11th. And this is how we felt about it."

Because these articles, essays, and writings are stored on the Internet, it's possible that they may be moved or deleted at some point in the future; if you click on a link and find that it doesn't work, please send me an email message to let me know. And if you've seen a particularly noteworthy article or essay that you feel ought to be added to the list, please let me know.

Articles and Reports

  • November 11, 2001. Colson Whitehead, "Lost and Found," New York Times Sunday magazine retrospective on New York City, two months after the attack. There are so many different perspectives on New York City, especially from those who were born here or who have lived here; and while every one of them is different, every one is correct and accurate. Still, I found Whitehead's commentary to be especially poignant, and it reminded me of when I first moved to Manhattan, in June of 1968: "No matter how long you have been here, you are a New Yorker the first time you say, 'That used to be Munsey's' or 'That used to be the Tic Toc Lounge.' ... You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now." Now, of course, it is the World Trade Center that we all talk about in terms of something that was here once before, but no longer here now. By the way, Colson Whitehead is the author of (among other things) The Intuitionist, a discussion/review of which you can find in the list of General Fiction books elsewhere on this website.
  • September 26, 2001. Leander Kahney, "'Mommy Liberty' Packs a Gun," Wired on-line. This is a brief article describing the 17 year old student who drew a startlingly vivid sketch of the Statue of Liberty holding a massive revolver in one hand, while cradling a baby swaddled in an American flag in the other. The caption for the drawing is "The most dangerous place in the world is between a mother and her children."
  • September 25, 2001. George I. Seffers, "Y2K may be model for defense," Federal Computer Week. One of several articles (not to mention dozens of email messages I've received) suggesting that Y2K-inspired backup/recovery procedures had been instrumental in getting people out of the WTC towers, and then restoring the computer systems and databases of the companies that had been operating in the building. But this article goes further: it quotes US Comptroller General David Walker, in congressional testimony delivered September 21 before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, as saying that "The Y2K task force approach may offer a model for developing the public/private partnerships necessary under a comprehensive homeland security strategy. A massive mobilization with federal government leadership was undertaken in connection with Y2K, which included partnerships with the private sector and international governments and effective communication to complement any needed corrections."
  • September 22, 2001. Joanna Glasner, "MS Denies Wingding Thing, Again," Wired on-line. One of the urban legends that began circulating around the Internet in the days after the September 11th attack was that one of the hijacked airplanes had an FAA "call signal" of "Q33 NY". It turns out that, in Microsoft Word, if you type those characters in the "Wingdings" font, you get ... well, try it yourself, and I guarantee that it will send a shiver up your spine. But as the Wired article points out, this strange effect was first noted back in 1992, when people did the same thing with the characters "NYC" in Wingdings or Webdings font. At the time, Microsoft denied that there was any conscious scheme to create the bizarre effect of those characters; and in the wake of the current September 11th rumor, it has issued another denial.
  • September 22, 2001. Elisabetta Burba, "Whooping It Up: In Beirut, even Christians celebrated the atrocity," Wall Street Journal editorial page. Ms. Burba is an Italian journalist, who happened to be in Beirut with her husband on September 11th. She reports the reactions of local residents to the news of the attack: "Walking downtown, I realized that the offspring of this great civilization were celebrating a terrorist outrage. And I am not talking about destitute people. Those who were cheering belonged to the elite of the Paris of Middle East: professionals wearing double-breasted suits, charming blond ladies, pretty teenagers in tailored jeans."
  • September 20, 2001. Steve Konicki, "Ford Starts Stockpiling," TechWeb. Mr. Konicki reports that "Ford Motor Co. is modifying its lean-inventory business model in order to guard against possible parts shortages that would slam the door on production without warning. It's a significant move imposed by the new, uncertain world born September 11 ... Ford is not abandoning its just-in-time inventory management model at factories, where parts are delivered to the factory line within minutes of when they are needed." He goes on to quote a Ford executive as saying "We are planning for transportation disruptions for years in the future." Ford also is in the process of evaluating — on a contract-by-contract basis — whether to award parts contracts to U.S. suppliers rather than foreign suppliers to limit border crossings.
  • September 18, 2001. Lisa Girion and Jon Healey, "Tracking Worker Whereabouts May Become More Common," Los Angeles Times. In the days after the September 11th attack, there was several "trial balloons" about the possibility of a national ID card being introduced by the government. I'm opposed to it, not that anyone in Washington is likely to ask my opinion, let alone listen to what I have to say about it. Meanwhile, though, this article is a thought-provoking discussion of a somewhat more acceptable, voluntary, "grass-roots" form of ID. Obviously, not every employee is going to be thrilled about the idea of his/her employer knowing his/her whereabouts at all times — but if such a system had existed, and if a reasonable percentage of the employees working in the WTC buildings had voluntarily participated in such a system, there might be a lot of families who would now know whether their loved ones were alive or dead. And if we didn't do something like this at the corporate level, maybe we would do so at the family level. Cell phones are beginning to play that role, but if my kids were 5-10 years younger than they are now, and if they were wandering around NYC the way they used to (going to school, going shopping, going to the movies, etc.), I would certainly feel a lot more comfortable if I knew where they were ...
  • September 12, 2001. Yukari Iwatani, "As Attacks Unfolded, Americans Dialed Mobile Phones," Reuters report, downloaded from Yahoo on the Internet. This article makes an interesting point: the widespread availability of mobile phones may have reduced the level of panic that would otherwise have ensued in the moments after the WTC attack, because family members were more likely to be able to contact one another.This is probably just one of many other second-level issues and consequences that we'll be mulling over, during the coming weeks.
  • September 11, 2001. Sam Sloan, "Estimated 30,000 Dead in World Trade Center Attack," on-line report from someone who walked down to Ground Zero at 8:00 PM on the evening of the attack. As it turns out, the official figure of dead and missing is now (as of late September) "only" about 6,300 people — but in the hours immediately after the attack, many of us feared that the figure really would be in the range of 20,000 or 30,000 or even higher. Aside from that Sloan's report is typical of the first-hand reports of the people who were either at Ground Zero, or close enough to walk over to the scene and see what was happening.
Essays and Opinions
  • September 27, 2001. David Weinberger, "The First-Person News Network," JOHO: Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization. Weinberger is one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and is a very astute, very wry, very savvy fellow. In the "doomsday" issue of his newsletter, dated September 27th, he writes "When the Maine was sunk a hundred years ago, messages scatted over telegraph wires to feed the next edition of the newspaper. When the Arizona was sunk at Pearl Harbor, the radio announced the wreckage. When Kennedy was shot, television newscasters wept and we learned to sit on our couches while waiting for more bad news. Now, for the first time, the nation and the world could talk with itself, doing what humans do when the innocent suffer: cry, comfort, inform, and, most important, tell the story together."
  • September 27, 2001. Michael Parker, "Study Shows Airlines Now Safer For Terrorists," The Sierra Times article/editorial. I've never read anything by Michael Parker before, and had never heard of The Sierra Times until someone sent me a copy of this article. It's angry and it's blunt; it provides fairly persuasive evidence that even after the security at American airports has been increased, it's still fairly easy to sneak knives and weapons aboard an airplane. Mr. Parker believes the solution is to allow passengers who already have a license to carry concealed weapons (and, in particular, hand-guns) to carry those weapons onto a plane. I don't think it's a good idea, but I'll be the first to admit that I have absolutely no experience or expertise in the matter; and I have to admit that the article has made me re-think my position.
  • September 26, 2001. "U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With," an article from a special issue of the humorous/sardonic Internet 'zine The Onion. The terrorist attack is so awful, and so serious that sometimes we need a little humorous relief. This tongue-in-check article quotes President Bush as saying, "America's enemy, be it Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, a multinational coalition of terrorist organizations, any of a rogue's gallery of violent Islamic fringe groups, or an entirely different, non-Islamic aggressor we've never even heard of ... be warned," Bush said during an 11-minute speech from the Oval Office. "The United States is preparing to strike, directly and decisively, against you, whoever you are, just as soon as we have a rough idea of your identity and a reasonably decent estimate as to where your base is located ... That is, assuming you have a base."
  • September 22, 2001. Verylyn Klinkenborg, "The Quiet Consolation of the Material World," New York Times op-ed page. Mr. Klinkenborg talks about taking a train out of the city, back to a home in a rural area of upstate New York or Connecticut, on the Friday after the September 11th attack. His words describe the way I felt, all during that week, as I swtiched from the awful scenes on television to the rural beauty of Taos, New Mexico, where the onset of fall is transforming the mountains into soft shades of gold and orange. "It's often possible to look at a rural landscape and feel that you're being drawn into it, that what you see in the distance somehow tugs you outward along the line of sight. But this was just the opposite. The countryside seemed to pour itself down into the windows of the pickup, the empty corncribs, the neat stacks of firewood, the mellifluous pastures on the highest hillsides. At home, the horses and dogs consoled me in a way I couldn't understand, until I finally realized that they could not be told what had happened that week. In that fact lay the consolation. They had only the old news to give, their old satisfaction with the world as they know it."
  • September 18, 2001. Jamie Nash Yourdon, "Metaphors Are Easier," Either-Or essay. The vast majority of the articles and essays listed here are written by "grown-ups," and much of the official pronouncements (not to mention the political, economic, and military decisions) are being made by people of my generation — grim, serious men and women in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s. But if, God forbid, all of this leads of a major military conflict, it will drag in the generation of young adults who are just finishing high school and college (I was particularly sobered by a news commentator who pointed out that roughly 65% of the population of Palestine is 18 years or younger). So it behooves us to find out what that generation thinks about the September 11th attack. My son Jamie is 24; he observes, in this essay, that "We are being told that this is our generation's Pearl Harbor. Is that meant to comfort us? Is that something that we're meant to appreciate, or value, or covet? Whom among our parents' generation value their memory of Kennedy's assassination in 1963 over their memory of the moon landing in 1969? There is no glory in misery, none whatsoever, not even when it brings us together as a nation, or serves as an historical touchstone. I would ask that pundits stop drawing this comparison as if it were welcome."
  • September 15, 2001. Frank Rich, "The Day Before Tuesday," New York Times op-ed column. I've long enjoyed Frank Rich's editorials, and this remains one of the most eloquent commentaries on the WTC attack. The final sentence of this editorial says "We have no choice now but, as a horror-struck Hamlet said after being visited by the ghost, to 'wipe away all trivial fond records' from the table of memory, and hope that our learning curve will be steep."
  • September 14, 2001. Usman Farman, "Brother, if you don't mind," posted on a website called e46fanatics.com. It describes the experiences of a Pakistani Muslim who was at Ground Zero on September 11th. Most memorable was the paragraph that read, "I was on my back, facing this massive cloud that was approaching, it must have been 600 feet off, everything was already dark. I normally wear a pendant around my neck, inscribed with an Arabic prayer for safety; similar to the cross. A hesidic Jewish man came up to me and held the pendant in his hand, and looked at it. He read the Arabic out loud for a second. What he said next, I will never forget. With a deep Brooklyn accent he said 'Brother, if you don't mind, there is a cloud of glass coming at us, grab my hand, let's get the hell out of here.' He helped me stand up, and we ran for what seemed like forever without looking back. He was the last person I would ever have thought, who would help me. If it weren't for him, I probably would have been engulfed in shattered glass and debris."
  • September 14, 2001. Ed Yourdon, "Words are deeds: reflections on the World Trade Center attack." As I noted in the road-warrior journal section of my website, I wished that I could have written something profound, witty, and brilliant that would undo the awful events of September 11th, or somehow provide a simple solution. But my thoughts on the disaster we not particularly profound, especially as I have no expertise or special insights into politics, terrorism, skyscrapers, or commercial airplanes. All I can do is respond as a human being who has watched unimaginable pain, suffering, grief, and destruction for the past several days. This essay records my initial thoughts on the attack.
  • September 12, 2001. Paul Bacon, "Three Blocks from Ground Zero," which I first saw posted on the "Mike Daisey's Journal" section of Mike Daisey's website. Mike offers the following description of the essay: "One of the most human accounts of Tuesday's horrific events is Paul Bacon's. He's written for Inside.com, McSweeney's, Might, Mother Jones and all the other places that the cool kids hang out, and you can peruse his fevered writings here. I met him at one of the McSweeney's readings I did this summer, about a thousand years ago."
  • September 12, 2001. William Safire, "New Day of Infamy,"New York Times op-ed column. One of the first of many somber, thought-provoking essays from the New York Times, which has done a magnificent job in covering the attack from many different angles. Near the end of his essay, Safire reminds us that "Along with the funerals, the grieving and the intelligence shakeup comes a grim recognition that America is at war and this time our land is one of the battlegrounds. The next attack will probably not be by a hijacked jet, for which we will belatedly prepare. More likely it will be a terrorist-purchased nuclear missile or a barrel of deadly germs dumped in a city's reservoir."
  • September 11, 2001. Jonathan Wallace, "A Hard Rain," The Ethical Spectacle. A first-hand report from someone who was following his normal work-day routine on September 11th: "Every morning these days I take the subway from Brooklyn Heights to the World Trade Center, where I catch the PATH train to Newark. I exited the subway at Park Place at 9 this morning and walked through the long underground passageway to WTC Two. Usually there is a violinist there, and he often is playing the Godfather theme around the time I get there. I didn't notice him this morning." There are, no doubt, thousands of stories like Mr. Wallace's; we've seen some of them on television, and a few more are popping up on the Internet. And, sadly, there are some 6,300 stories that will never be told; we can only guess what their last moments were like.
Resources
  • Urban legends site — a good resource to keep in mind when confronted with any urban legend. There's a separate page on the site dedicated to rumors, conspiracy theories, and gossip about the September 11th attacks.
  • Slashdot's collection of links related to the September 11th attack. In case you haven't heard of it, Slashdot is an Internet 'zine whose masthead says, "News for nerds. Stuff that matters."
  • CNN's chronology of the attacks. It speaks for itself.

 

For more information, please visit Ed's companion site here.
You may also visit Ed's blog here.