I have many memories from September 11. But what I remember most was when my wife and I decided to pack the kids in the car to get over to our church in Arlington for daily Mass. As we crossed the parking lot to enter the church, you could still see remnants of the plumes of smoke from the Pentagon. And, once in, we saw a packed church — daily Mass probably garners only about 20 to 30 people on an average day. Life, even in America, is always fragile, and yet we are a people that still see turning to God — in times of crisis as well as thankfulness — as right and important.
— Leonard Leo is the executive vice president of the Federalist Societyand chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
As a university professor, what struck me most was the change in the young people. For more than a decade I had been teaching history to chronically bored college students. The past, to most of them, was just irrelevant. When I lectured on Pearl Harbor, explaining how it had changed America and led an entire generation of young people to enthusiastically take up a war that they had previously shunned, the response was mocking half-smiles and heads shaken in disbelief. Within hours of the attacks, all that changed. The students who filed into my lecture hall at noon on 9/11 were very different from those who had noisily zipped up their backpacks and fled only a few days earlier. Reality had hit them in the face, and it hurt. They and I suddenly realized just how things looked on Dec. 8, 1941, and why Americans responded as they did. The young people got it — and for the most part, they kept it. When more than a year later their professors relived their glory days by holding candlelight vigils and tacking “No War on Iraq” posters onto their office doors, most students declined to join in. They, at least, had learned something about the world.
— Thomas F. Madden is professor of medieval history and director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my wife and I were sleeping in a hotel room in Los Angeles during one of our regular family visits. My mother-in-law called and told us to put on the TV: “Some planes have crashed into some buildings.”
We watched, first in our room and then downstairs at the breakfast bar. Talk was muted, everyone was stunned. We decamped at my in-laws’ where, like everyone in America, we watched the television. I plugged my laptop into the phone to monitor news online and check in with friends, particularly those working at the Pentagon. Back at home on the East Coast, friends were rushing home. In L.A., my in-laws live on a flight path where the drone of jets and the buzz of helicopters are so frequent that the noise passes unnoticed. But that day, the city was silent.
Months later, during the Super Bowl half-time ceremony, I realized we had also taken a cross-country flight from one of the airports the hijackers had used. But we had carefully scheduled our flights so that we would be home in time for the Jewish new year.
In the months and years that followed, I heard from friends who had happened to be visiting New York that day. They talked about helping to organize on-site blood drives. Another friend, who raises rescue dogs, volunteered in the weeks afterwards and commuted up to New York.
On 9/11, I wrote. It was a short article for NRO, calling for countering terror with a diplomatic offensive for freedom and human rights. It wasn’t much (although the article holds up), but in a small way I felt as though I could do something besides watch.
What stays with me, exemplifying the divide between pre- and post-9/11, is what I told my wife when she relayed her mother’s words to me: “Tell your mom to turn off the cartoon channel.”