ALVIN S. FELZENBERG
I had recently joined Bret Schundler’s campaign for governor of New Jersey. After Labor Day, the candidate departed on a brief trip to Israel. September 11 was the day I had blocked out to tend to personal affairs back in Washington.
A friend dropped me off at Newark’s Penn Station at 8:30 a.m. At about 8:40 a.m., word came that a plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center. We assumed that the aircraft had wandered off course. I boarded my train. A few minutes later, we were informed that the second tower had been hit by second plane. We could see a ball of fire on Tower Two from the train.
With rail service suspended for the rest for the day, I disembarked at Philadelphia 30th Street Station at about 9:45. Bomb scares telephoned into the building forced us onto the street. I made my way to a small hotel where I had stayed during the 2000 Republican Convention. I took the last room and spent the next 24 hours fixated on the television. Little did I know that several months later I would be part of the team attempting to find out what had happened and how we might best fortify ourselves against its possible recurrence.
— Alvin S. Felzenberg served as director of communications for the 9-11 Commission.
On Sept. 10, 2001, I left a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Bratislava, Slovakia, to go to Frankfurt, Germany, and then home. At Frankfurt, I happened to meet with my friend Newt Gingrich, and we flew home together talking about taxes and other economic issues — domestic concerns far removed from the threat of international terrorism.
After all, why talk about foreign policy? We had won the Cold War. We had nothing to worry about on that front — or so it seemed.
The next morning, I heard the first tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. Then I saw the second tower struck, and it wasn’t long before smoke from the Pentagon could be seen from our office windows. I could see people streaming from nearby Capitol Hill offices as I sent an all-staff e-mail announcing our immediate closing.
All I could think about was the song that the British army is said to have played as Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, “The World Turned Upside Down.” Our whole agenda had indeed been upended by forces beyond our control. Suddenly we were on a war footing, but everyone rose to the occasion.
I remember being enormously impressed with how quickly our team at the Heritage Foundation assembled a comprehensive list of sound recommendations for protecting America. I was proud to see the Bush administration adopt many items on that list, which helped make it possible for us to ward off future attacks.
Let’s continue to work to remain strong — and vigilant.
I was at the Hudson Institute in D.C., watching the TV news with Marshall Wittmann, when the second plane hit the towers and there was no question that we were at war. Our first thoughts were of Pearl Harbor. Early reports suggested that the White House (several blocks away) was under attack and that American deaths might reach 20,000, which would have been the greatest loss of life on a single day on American soil since Antietam.
America’s response, I believed, would be (and should have been) Jacksonian, with a special Old Testament fury reminiscent of the mood in December 1941. Shortly after 9/11, I was not surprised to see an article by Walter Russell Mead predicting a Jacksonian reaction. In the end, our mood and response was half Jacksonian (from the singing of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the National Cathedral in September 2001 to the killing of bin Laden ten years later) and half something else (the admonition shortly after the attacks to “go shopping”; the sudden embrace of a new concept, “the religion of peace”; and, lately, the fervent search by many among our elites for something called “Islamophobia”).