What I Remember
That unforgettable morning.


At the time, I was teaching communications at a typical medium-sized, liberal-arts state university. When classes resumed, I wanted to give students a chance to share their thoughts and express their feelings. I said, “What now?”

Their responses floored me.

“It’s America’s fault!” one shouted. “We brought this on ourselves,” said another. “If we weren’t always meddling in the Middle East, they wouldn’t have felt the need to pay us back,” said still another.

It was Allan Bloom’s thesis writ large. Moral equivalency on a scale of immoral proportions.

The experience was also a painful firsthand reminder of what decades of eroding American-history curricula has done to the American consciousness. It reminded me of the quote from Milan Kundera: “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was.” How true — and awful.

— Wynton Hall is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

My first thought was depression — and horror — after watching those jumping from the Twin Towers, and imagining the horrific choices left to them in their final seconds of life. Then for a second — before the apparent blackout of such gruesome news — there were news clips of cheering crowds on the West Bank. That and other such scenes made the morning sadness turn to anger. Finally, late in the day, I tried to remember when — or if — anything so monstrous had happened on our home soil. Maybe if we went back to something like the War of 1812? But, of course, even the British, who burned the White House, did not kill almost 3,000 Americans in a single moment. All the other close-to-home attacks — Pearl Harbor, the Villa raids, etc. — were different either in nature or in magnitude. So I went to bed that night thinking, “We’ve never seen anything quite like this before, and it is going to have to stop right now, if we are going to continue our civilization as we know it.”

— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institutionthe editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.

The morning of September 11, I was the COO of a financial-services firm at 50 Broad Street in downtown Manhattan — about two and a half blocks from the World Trade Center. When the second plane hit the towers, our windows rattled, and when the towers collapsed, our 20-story building disappeared under a 30-story-high debris cloud that swept down Broad Street past the New York Stock Exchange and instantly turned the bright morning into total darkness. I spent the day finding, caring for, and organizing our 176 employees into teams for evacuation. It took us three days to track down all our employees, who thankfully were all safe.

I was evacuated that evening on a ferry to New Jersey, the smoking ruin of lower Manhattan an extraordinary contrast to a beautiful late-summer evening. As I stood at the rail of the ferry, I thought of the work I had done in the late 1990s on the Hart-Rudman National Security Commission, which warned of the threat of catastrophic terrorism against our homeland. But no one at the time saw it happening in exactly that diabolical fashion. I had even done a PBS Frontline special in 2000 on the future of war and spoke on camera about bin Laden and threat of terrorism. That night, looking at the scene across the Hudson River, I was so saddened not only by the death and destruction I had witnessed that day in downtown New York, but by our failure in the national-security community — myself included — to out-imagine the enemy.

In 2002, I moved the family back to Washington and rededicated my career to national security.

The full story and my thoughts on the conflict are captured in a recent speech I gave.

— John Hillen is president and CEO of Sotera Defense Solutions, Inc. and a former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs. He serves on
National Review’s board.