What I most remember was the determination of small-town America that this attack on our country must be avenged. It was a distant aspect on that day of horror and heroism in New York, at the Pentagon, and in the skies over Pennsylvania. But it was the part I witnessed firsthand.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was hundreds of miles from Manhattan, in a small town in upstate New York — though my office at the time was across the street from the Twin Towers. I had a column due, so I reported what I could. I grabbed a notebook and headed for Main Street, to find out what the local folks had to say.
They had all grasped instantly what the fancier circles of American politics went on to debate for years, and some are debating still. They understood that this was war. They were certain that America had to strike back. They wanted to help, whether by giving blood or picking up their guns. At a donut shop, watching the broadcasts on a TV propped atop a refrigerator, the customers at the counter called it worse than Pearl Harbor. Their proposal for thwarting plane hijackers was not to frisk three-year-olds, but to issue everyone on the plane a six-shooter or, as the shop owner suggested, a Louisville Slugger baseball bat.
At the American Legion, a former post commander expressed his revulsion at the Palestinians dancing in the streets. At a tavern, the bikers and blue-collar workers called it “an act of war” and said, “Hit the terrorist groups” and “hit ’em hard.” These people are the backbone of America; they were ready to rally for their country then. I’d wager they are ready still.
— Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. PAT SAJAK
As I sat stunned with my wife, watching the towers fall, I said three things. Two were accurate; I’m afraid the third wasn’t. I said our lives would never be the same. I think it’s fair to say that’s certainly the case.
And, for some odd reason, I mentioned that Gary Condit was now old news. He was the top story on the cable-news networks, day after day, until that point, but he disappeared. But I also said we Americans would never forget this rallying moment. It would bring us together and keep us together. I’m afraid I missed on that one.— Pat Sajak is the host of Wheel of Fortune.
On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, I was looking at the blue sky and clouds as our Moscow–to–New York Delta flight sped over the Atlantic. Suddenly, the pilot announced there was a minor problem and we would be turning back and landing in Ireland. None of the other passengers appeared to react. But, as an experienced traveler, I knew that if we were turning back while halfway over the ocean, there was a problem, and it wasn’t “minor.”
At the airport in Dublin, rows of buses were transporting passengers. The arrival hall was packed. Everyone was asking what had happened. An American in his 20s said that two planes had just hit the World Trade Center and another had hit the Pentagon. His words seemed to hang in the air. I had spent most of my life studying how the forces of murderous fanaticism had victimized Russians and the inhabitants of Eastern Europe. Ordinary Americans going about their day-to-day lives had always seemed immune. But now America itself had been hit. I turned to the stranger and said, “We’ve just entered a new historical era.”— David Satter is the author of It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past, upcoming in December from Yale University Press, and director of the film Age of Delirium, based on his book of the same name about the fall of the Soviet Union, which will also be released in December.