As we mark the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, frequent NR contributors and other friends remember that morning.
RALPH KINNEY BENNETT
I was in my office in Washington when my secretary came to the door and told me to turn on the television. I was soon transfixed by the horror unfolding on the screen. I bowed my head at my desk and began to pray for all those in the World Trade Center towers and the hijacked airplanes. As the realization that this might be a general attack involving airplanes began to grow, my mind began scanning the names of friends who I knew flew frequently. I thought of David Beamer, a fellow elder in my church, who often traveled on business. How many more planes had been commandeered? Perhaps he was aboard one. I whispered a prayer for Dave. It was not until the next day, in a throat-catching phone call, that I learned Dave’s son, Todd Beamer, was aboard the “fourth plane,” United Flight 93. It soon became known that Todd was one of those passengers who apparently attacked the terrorists in the cockpit, thus thwarting their plans by bringing the plane down in the western-Pennsylvania mountains not far from my hometown.
— Ralph Kinney Bennett retired from the Washington bureau of The Reader’s Digest as an assistant managing editor.
I had taken the second cup of coffee into the living room and flipped on the TV to see if there was any late news. A plane had just flown into a World Trade Tower. I looked out the picture window. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It couldn’t be an accident. It had to be an attack of some sort. What to do? The best thing, I thought, was to do what I had planned and get out of town. I went down to the garage, picked up the car, and headed up the FDR drive. Within half a mile, there were streams of emergency vehicles — fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, sirens blowing, red lights flashing — streaming southward on lanes usually closed to truck traffic, headed for the disaster area. I kept the radio on and listened with growing horror. By the time I had reached Sharon, in the quiet Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, two hours later, many of those men, having charged into the maelstrom to give what help they could, were themselves, already, also dead. God rest their valiant souls.
— Priscilla L. Buckley is author of Living It Up with National Review: A Memoir, among other books.
It’s hard to know where to start in recounting what I remember most about September 11. The day started for me with finding myself sitting on the taxiway at Dulles Airport for a seemingly interminable period on a westbound United Airlines flight, thinking I was going to miss my San Francisco connection en route to the Pacific Command in Hawaii for meetings in my role as a deputy assistant secretary of defense.
My second thought was that I should’ve taken the earlier American Airlines flight that my assistant had offered up as another option, one that connected through Los Angeles to Honolulu. I later learned that the earlier American Airlines flight was the one that al-Qaeda operatives flew into the Pentagon that morning.
I was actually able to leave Dulles before it closed and return home, where I found a message on my answering machine for me to come to the Pentagon as soon as possible. I’ll never forget approaching the Pentagon through clouds of billowing smoke from the crash site, the first responders fighting the fire and the armed soldiers protecting its grounds. It was at this moment that it all really hit home that America had been savagely attacked.
— Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
CANDACE DE RUSSY
The most gripping, clarifying, and enduring of all my recollections of 9/1l is the televised image of the second commandeered airliner barreling low out of the incongruously untroubled cerulean blue and then piercing, like a giant, white, shark-like arrow, the second World Trade Center tower.
Initially, watching the first tower implode floor by floor — implacably and as if in slow motion — I had felt locked in a state of disbelief, mesmerized and confused. It was as though this plunging inferno, and the certain immolation of the multitude trapped inside, could not possibly be real — simply could not happen in our America.
But, at the moment the second airliner sliced into its target, the veil was lifted. Bewilderment gave way to the realization that terrorists, shaped and perverted by malice, had violated our homeland and were incinerating our innocent countrymen. Fury and resolve swiftly followed — a rock-hard, clearheaded, to-the-end-of-days fury; the resolve to join with those who proclaim the true character and motives of these murderous fanatics, to support at whatever cost the fight against them, and to bring to power courageous warrior-leaders capable of waging this war unto total victory.
This window into my state of mind on 9/11 is hardly original. No doubt it mirrors the instantaneous psychic processing that millions of Americans experienced on that fateful day. The image of the hellish penetration of that proud tower remains forever indelible in my mind, and, like that of so many of my fellow citizens, my resolve to defeat this enemy remains unbreakable.
— Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues and contributor to NRO’s Phi Beta Cons blog.
On 9/11, after watching the horrendous story unfold all morning, I went out to keep a short appointment. I had a feeling that when I returned I would learn that a friend had been killed, and the premonition proved true. Attorney Barbara Olson had been on the plane that terrorist hijackers smashed into the Pentagon. Her husband, Ted, then the U.S. solicitor general, said that she called him from the doomed plane on her cell phone, and he told her what had happened in New York. When I reached for my phone directory to call Kate O’Beirne, a close friend of Barbara’s, I noticed that right below her number was the cell phone number of Barbara Olson, who would never answer again.
I remember seeing another friend, Tony Snow, reporting the story for Fox News with a backdrop that he calmly reported might be the next target: the U.S. Capitol dome. I think it was the first time Snow signed off with a phrase that stuck: “fair, balanced . . . and unafraid.” That weekend, walking around the neighborhood, I counted over 100 American flags displayed on porches. We listened to a favorite bluegrass CD we had purchased at a Michigan country store, and the homespun songs were as sweet as ever. But in the face of sudden national tragedy we knew that the innocence and simplicity of that era in history would never return again.
— Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.
THOMAS F. FARR
I was at my desk in the State Department’s office of international religious freedom when the alarm bells sounded. My colleagues and I walked calmly out of the building — we had seen tapes of the first airliner hitting the Twin Towers but did not know the severity of the crisis. Even when we saw smoke rising from the Pentagon across the Potomac River, it was difficult to fathom what was happening or why. Only when we reached our homes did most of us even begin to ponder the fullness of the catastrophe that had struck our nation.
In the months that followed, the Bush administration implemented a “forward strategy of freedom” designed to counter Islamist terrorism with ordered liberty. But ordering freedom proved exceedingly difficult, in part because stable self-governance — especially in highly religious societies — requires religious freedom. The Bush administration was not prepared to engage that toxic subject in the lands of Islam. President Obama mentioned religious freedom in his Cairo speech, but his administration has done little about it since.
Why should it? Why engage a problem that most Muslim governments find so troublesome? One plausible answer is that if Osama bin Laden had been raised in a Saudi Arabia with religious freedom, 9/11 might never have happened. Instead of being steeped exclusively in the vile teachings of Wahhabism and Sayyid Qutb, he and his generation would have been exposed to multiple interpretations of Islam and other public religious arguments.
This answer has its detractors: “realists” who resist any analysis of religion in foreign affairs; conservatives who insist Islam, not radical Islam, is the problem; liberals who seek the privatization of all religion. But the strategy of advancing religious freedom deserves a try. The potential benefits are enormous.
— Thomas F. Farr is a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
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.
— Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
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”).
— John Fonte is author of Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?
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.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON
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 Institution, the 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.
It was a typical day in Washington, meeting with asparagus growers, until our meeting was interrupted. Immediately we all realized America would be different. You could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon out of my office window. Everyone had the same question: What would this all mean? Most staff went home, but I remained in the office, staying connected with reporters and constituents who wanted to know what was happening, to feel reassured that our government hadn’t been decapitated and weakened. As we gathered on the steps of the Capitol that evening, I was confident that America was stronger and more united than ever.
As our nation gathered itself, I had the opportunity to work with Jane Harman, Susan Collins, and Joe Lieberman to guide our nation through major intelligence reform. We restored the intelligence capabilities that are essential to keeping America safe. The intelligence successes of today — the ability of the CIA and the military to work jointly to take out Osama bin Laden and target terrorists around the world — were the result of the bipartisan intelligence reforms that came out of 9/11: Republicans and Democrats working together for America.
The lessons of 9/11 are instructive for today, when the spirit of oneness has disappeared. America needs strong servant-leaders who have the desire to solve the problems we face. The spirit and unity of purpose that we found as a nation in the wake of 9/11 are what we need to get Washington working again.
— Former Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra is running for United States Senate from Michigan.
M. ZUHDI JASSER
As a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy and an American Muslim whose family fled the tyranny of Syria for American liberty, the attacks of 9/11 struck at the very core of who I am. The Navy man in me wanted to rush to re-up with the Navy and be the first in line to take the fight back to the monsters that had attacked us. And as a devout Muslim, I felt an even greater call to action and a tug of responsibility to fix the deep underlying problems that have placed a stranglehold on my faith and led some of my co-religionists to such brutality.
The attacks put into hyperdrive a life-long mission to fight the ideology of political Islam, which is what fueled the militant radical Islamists that attacked us on 9/11 and is fueling the ever-increasing threat to our homeland today.
For me, 9/11 created a passion to provide an alternative American Muslim voice to the Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups, one that advocates to Muslims and non-Muslims the principles of the U.S. Constitution — liberty, freedom, and the separation of mosque and state. Liberty-minded Muslims whose identity is tied to Americanism and our First Amendment are our only hope for victory in this ideological battle against militant Islamism.
— M. Zuhdi Jasser is president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.
What I remember most about 9/11 is a collage: first, the beautiful, azure-skied day. I noted it while sitting at my desk in Connecticut scribbling away at an article for The New Criterion. My first news was from a colleague who lived in Brooklyn. He wanted to stay home that day: a plane had smashed into the World Trade Center and pandemonium was building. I said okay, though I thought he was overreacting. “Probably a Cessna,” I said, plugging in a news search. At first, the result was indeterminate. It wasn’t long, though, before that beautiful day took on a surreal quality. Somehow, the clarity of the day heightened the horror of events. After a sputtering start, the news reports came in confused, repetitive cataracts. There were 10,000 dead; no, 20,000; no, 5,000. Another plane had hit the White House; no, the Capitol; no, the Pentagon. “We have other planes”: did we hear that then? I have a recollection we did but can’t be certain. Uncertainty. Rumors. Fear. “The world has changed today”: I remember thinking that. That afternoon, while watching one of the endless replays of the towers collapsing, the fear gave way to anger.
— Roger Kimball is publisher of Encounter Books, and co-publisher and co-editor of The New Criterion.
Other than the collapse of the towers, distant shots of the billowing smoke spreading over much of the city, and a sharp sense of the precariousness of life and civilization, I remember the flags that cropped up everywhere. They were saying, “We’re a proud and unified country, determined to stand strong against those who would harm us.” Those flags and all they stood for seemed to many like a cultural turning point — the passing of an era of postmodern relativism and political correctness.
That post-9/11 sense of national unity dissipated long ago. Our cultural-political divisions are sharper than ever now. Yet the memory of that time remains powerful. To some, it supplies a reason to put 9/11 behind us. For others, the truths revealed by 9/11 have never really disappeared and are sure to press themselves upon us again — whether we like it or not.
Life and civilization really are precarious. They are achievements and can easily be lost, as a glance at history reveals. Time will test us again and again — it will force us to win back the freedom and prosperity we thought we could take for granted, but never can. That is what we should remember most about 9/11.
— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the author of Radical-in-Chief.
I remember going back to my office at Empower America from a regular Tuesday Bible study that had just concluded and turning on The Today Show. I saw what everyone else did, the first tower on fire. Matt Lauer was reporting that there had been “an accident” . . . and then he and Katie Couric went to some Today staff on the ground. One reporter was talking about what she saw, and there was speculation about air-traffic-control problems and a commuter plane. She interrupted her string of descriptions and speculations to shout: “Another plane just hit!”
Just about this time, our offices — located just diagonal from the White House, on 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue — were receiving calls from friends with all kinds of reports (at one point I remember someone saying there was a bomb in Lafayette Park). I called a friend of mine whose office was also downtown. He told me he was hearing the same kind of reports. “Something happened at the Pentagon; I heard it was a bomb,” he told me. He said he was evacuating his office, and we should do the same. The Secret Service came into our offices — it must have been about 10:30 a.m. — and told us we all needed to evacuate (our conference room overlooked the White House). Seventeenth Street and Connecticut Avenue were clogged with foot and car traffic. I walked with Bill and Noreen Burns to the Metro and waited with them for a train to pick them up. Then I walked home to Dupont Circle, trying to call friends in New York to see if they were okay — no calls would go through. The next day, six of us showed up at work: Bill Bennett, Jack Kemp, Jeff Kwitowski (the press secretary), Kevin Cherry (our associate), J. T. Taylor (the president of Empower America), and myself.
We talked about all the reports we had heard, watched, and read. The New York Times had printed as vivid a description as anyone (e.g., New York City was consumed in a “a hellish storm of ash, glass, smoke and leaping victims”). I thought the San Francisco Examiner headline got it the best: “BASTARDS!”
I recall that, after reading one description of the “hellish storm,” Bill said: “And they did this all with box cutters.” As we sat together summarizing what took place the day before, we all intuitively realized that the full truth was far worse than any of the rumors and hyperbole we’d been picking up the previous morning. We then called Jeane Kirkpatrick on the speaker phone to get her thoughts. She suggested we all urge the passage of a comprehensive declaration of war against Islamic terror organizations and their supporters.
We sat around the conference table and drafted a press release calling on Congress to declare war against “all fundamentalist Islamic entities waging war against the United States and our civilization, whether they assume the identities of Osama bin Ladin’s Al-Qaida, The Islamic Jihad, or any other amorphous grouping or ‘non governmental organization’ that is credibly known to be part of this abominable network of terror. The declaration of war should also apply to foreign nations that sponsor, harbor or support individuals and entities at war with the United States.”
The statement concluded, “We are at war, and Congress has the responsibility to declare war against those people and organizations waging war on us and against any nation known to be sponsoring, supporting or harboring those people waging war on us. Once having declared war, we must wage it, and remove this terrorism and these terrorists from the face of the earth.”
— Seth Leibsohn, former vice president of Empower America, is a fellow at the Claremont Institute and co-author of The Fight of Our Lives.
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 Society and 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.”
— Aaron Mannes, author of the blog TerrorWonk Plus, researches international-security affairs at the University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics and is a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.
Work-wise, two contradictory images remain at the forefront of my 9/11 memory. The first is the complete chaos of the White House staff evacuation. After a security detail literally lifted the vice president from his desk and warp-speed evacuated him to the president’s Emergency Operations Center, speechwriter John McConnell and I were left behind in his office, staring at each other as if to say, “What are we, chopped liver?” I think I actually said that. After some confusion, the West Wing staff was evacuated to the mess. After more confusion, we were told to depart the White House complex, with instructions to “run for your life.” Inasmuch as I was in red patent-leather spike heels, I opted to walk for my life, having no concept of the gravity and danger of the circumstances.
My other crystal-clear memory is that once the military had located me and escorted me to the PEOC at the vice president’s request, I was awestruck by the calm, focused, job-like atmosphere of the bunker. The vice president had assumed command central, in constant contact with the president, and the administration hierarchy was completely engaged in their respective tasks: Secretary Mineta with airline issues, National Security Council chief Condi Rice coordinating with her charges. When Secretary Rumsfeld connected from DOD, his report was crisp and clear. My contemporaneous thought, which I have often marveled at since, and still do ten years later, was how extraordinarily well this team was meshing; how competent they were; how devoid of any of the friction and turf protection that such an unprecedented event could have precipitated (no “I’m in charge here”); how experienced each member of the team was. There was no fog-of-war confusion.
My most poignant personal memory was learning when I finally got home that an unknown military aide had tracked down my husband to tell him I was unharmed and safe. There was no time (and no unused secure phone lines) to call home; I knew my husband would get our young girls to safety, but they had no way of knowing how or where I was. Ten years later, we both remain profoundly grateful to that thoughtful aide whom we’ve never been able to thank.
— Mary Matalin served as an assistant to Pres. George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.
CLIFFORD D. MAY
As an ex-reporter it has long been my habit to keep a television on in my office — just the picture, no sound. I look up from time to time to see if there’s a news bulletin. On the sunny autumn morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I glanced at the TV and saw a plane flying into a tower of the World Trade Center. I turned up the volume. The question being asked, of course, was whether this had been a terrible accident or something much worse.
When the second plane hit we knew. There was, for me, a special irony in this. Just a few days earlier, I had met with Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and a small group of philanthropists. Their concern was terrorism.
They were convinced that the conventional wisdom was wrong. They did not believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 — ten years earlier — had ushered in an era of peace. They had “connected the dots,” as we now say, and saw lines linking the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the attack on U.S. military personnel serving at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 2006, the bombing of two American embassies in Africa in 2008, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.
They were not confident that the experts in university Middle East studies departments, Washington think tanks, the media, and the intelligence community understood what was happening or were thinking seriously about policy responses.
They were outraged, too, by the many apologists for terrorism. Sure, people have grievances. Civilized people do not express them by intentionally killing other people’s children.
A few days after 9/11, I met with Kemp, Kirkpatrick, and the philanthropists a second time. We agreed to create the Foundation for Defense of Democracies to study terrorism and the regimes, organizations, and ideologies that drive and justify it; to find better policies to defend America and its allies. Kemp was the founding chairman. Kirkpatrick was a founding member of the board of directors. Both have since passed, and may they rest in peace. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I remember them. And like millions of Americans and friends of America around the world, I mourn the victims of atrocities carried out to advance what the perpetrators call a jihad. I hope that we are coming to understand that this war did not begin in 2001 and will not end in 2011. As we should have learned by now, in every generation, freedom requires defenders.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.
My six-months-pregnant wife and I were driving to work in Denver when the radio station first reported that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. “How do you hit a skyscraper?” I said. Shortly after getting to my office, my wife called to ask me if I had seen the second plane hitting the South Tower.
I ran to a television and watched in shock until both of our buildings closed due to the potential threat. With so many airplanes unaccounted for, the threat was everywhere and felt all too real.
Once we got home, we spent the rest of the day and night watching the coverage: gut-wrenching video from Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and Shanksville. I also vividly recall seeing video from the Middle East of people celebrating the attack. The emotions that streamed through me that day went from horror to sadness to anger to uncertainty.
Many questions would soon get answered.
As I went to bed, I knew America had been changed in a profound way — an America about to welcome our first child. What kind of country would it be for her? Certainly not the one I grew up in.
— Matt Mayer is president of the Buckeye Institute.
JOHN J. MILLER
What I remember most about September 11 happened on September 12.
I was walking from my townhouse in Virginia to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, for my first day of work in a Washington, D.C., that would be forever different. In the grass beside Beulah Street lay a small American flag, a little bigger than an index card. My guess is that somebody had attached it to the antenna of a car — a tiny patriotic gesture amid a huge national outpouring.
But it had blown off. There it rested, at my feet.
So I picked up the flag. Later on, I pierced it with safety pins and attached it to the black bag that I used to carry everywhere.
The flag remains on the bag today, badly torn after a decade of rough handling but still showing the red, white, and blue.
— John J. Miller is national correspondent for National Review and director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College.
An incredible cerulean-blue sky — my husband and I marveled on the way to work in the morning. After dropping him off at his law firm near the White House, I drove across town to my office. A foreign-media analyst for the Department of State, I was finalizing a report on elite opinions concerning the globalization of the world economy and the role of the United States as the “global economic engine.” Shortly before 9:00 a.m., as I was editing my first draft, my office colleagues returned from purchasing their morning cups of coffee. “Have you seen the news?” they asked in shaken voices. I hadn’t yet glanced at our office TV. As the three of us looked at the monitor, the second plane hit the World Trade Center. We stood where we had risen from our chairs. It became clear there was a sinister purpose behind these events.
Our building, blocks from Capitol Hill, was ordered to evacuate. When I called my husband, he was in a meeting with a client and did not appreciate being disturbed. I think I was calm, but I had to repeat that Washington was being evacuated. He told me to wait; he and his colleague would make their way over to my office, and we would all drive home. My courageous cffice director refused to leave the building until I did. Once outside in the brilliant light, I waited. I had no cellphone back then, and the wait was agonizing. Finally, I spotted my husband and his friend in the hurrying crowd. He apologized for the delay — the streets around the White House were blocked, and they had to detour. We fell into each other, all of us hugging. We had heard bridges were closed, but we took a chance and chose the 14th Street Bridge out of town. As we drove, we witnessed a clear and terrifying view of the Pentagon on fire. Thick, roiling black clouds and sharp orange flames marred that blue sky.
On September 12, a majority in my office came to work; so many foreign newspapers headlined their articles, “We Are All Americans Today.” We filed our reports on the terrorist attacks gleaned from commentators around the world. Our mission changed that day.
— Diana A. Mccaffrey-Rivkin is a former senior analyst at the U.S. Department of State.
What I remember most about that day was not fear, but denial.
I was pulling into the parking garage of the Naval War College when the reports of the first plane came in. I assumed that some off-course private pilot had hit the tower. By the time I reached my office upstairs, the second tower had been struck. Then the third plane hit the Pentagon. “There it is,” said one of my colleagues, confirming our suspicion that we were under attack. We were ordered to evacuate the naval base.
That’s when I got obstinate: Why should we leave? Are we going to send everyone home over this? No!
I am not a military officer, and I have no special reserve of physical bravery. Rather, I was unable to accept that we would do anything differently just because a bunch of neurotic, repressed Middle Eastern men representing a group making ridiculous “demands” (as I wrote the following week in NRO) had commandeered some planes and raised havoc in New York and D.C. Finally, I was ordered to leave, which I did, in a huff of denial, pique, and growing panic about my friends and loved ones in New York, where I had once lived.
Two weeks later, I had to make a decision about whether to fly to Moscow with my wife and father. We decided not to change our plans, and we went. I am a large man with a dark beard and a scar across my face, and I was pulled out of line three separate times in Boston and London. I was glad for it. But I still couldn’t believe it.
Maybe I still can’t.
— Tom Nichols is professor of national-security affairs and a former chairman of the Strategy Department at the U.S. Naval War College.
REV. DAVID W. NUSS
How is it that some memories from years ago still seem like yesterday?
We were watching the first Monday Night Football game of the season at a popular sports hangout. As we prepared to leave, he mentioned to me that he was off to visit an East Coast naval base before sunrise with his admiral.
No one could begin to imagine the hellish nightmare that was to mark the early morning light.
Earlier that year he had been reassigned to a Pentagon post from patrolling the ocean depths in a nuclear submarine. I was living at a Catholic parish that was located just down the street from the White House. Among many other activities, our Washington reunion inspired us to prepare all summer for the Marine Corps marathon that we were going to run together in October.
When I first caught sight of the black plume of smoke ominously rising from the Pentagon the next morning, I immediately knew the hijacked commercial jet had slammed into the wedge where his naval detail was located. Almost instantaneously I received a series of panicked messages from D.C. friends who were unable to locate spouses and other family in the Capitol, the White House, and elsewhere. The sudden roar of military aircraft above and the growling of humvees on the streets heightened apprehension.
Rumors quickly swirled of another commandeered airliner that was headed toward a downtown target.
The two greatest towers fell in New York City. Soon thereafter, the bewildering rumors were confirmed: A fourth commercial jetliner had crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Later the world learned that its destruction had been brought about by self-sacrificing citizens whose bold heroism prevented the passenger jet from being used as a weapon of even greater destruction in the nation’s capital.
A message verified that my friend’s life had been spared.
All told, some 3,000 innocent people were slaughtered by Muslim fanatics on Sept. 11, 2011. The intentional killing of innocents is murder. The invocation of God to justify such unspeakable crimes is sheer blasphemy.
In the intervening years I have heard the claim that time heals. That is a lie. Good choices over time bring about restoration and recovery. Ten years later, I am closer to understanding the power of the evangelist’s divinely inspired words: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overtake the light” (John 1:5).
—Rev. David W. Nuss is the pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Sandusky, Ohio.
ION MIHAI PACEPA
September 11 affected me more deeply than anything I have ever experienced, because I had been present at its conception. “In today’s world, when nuclear arms have made military force obsolete, terrorism should become our main weapon,” KGB chairman Yuri Andropov told me in 1972. Western Sovietologists generally limit themselves to recalling his brutal suppression of dissidence, his role in planning the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, and his pressure on the Polish regime to impose martial law. But the leaders of the KGB community, when I was one of them, looked upon Andropov as the father of a new era of international terrorism that profoundly changed our lives.
Hijacked passenger planes became a KGB terrorist tool in 1969, two years after Andropov rose to head the KGB. Before I broke with Communism in 1978, he took credit for 16 major hijackings of Western passenger planes. They were all organized by his Department for Wet Affairs (“wet” being a euphemism for bloody) and carried out by Islamic terrorists trained by the KGB. No wonder Andropov became the first KGB officer to be enthroned in the Kremlin.
September 11 was the Pearl Harbor of our generation, and it had the same end result: It made the U.S. stronger. Today it is not politically correct to express gratitude to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, but we should. They kept our country free of terrorism after 9/11. While mourning our dead, let us also pay our respects to them and to our military and intelligence forces who defended us. Let us also hope that no intelligence officer will ever be prosecuted again in the U.S. for defending our country.
— Lt. Gen Ion Mihai Pacepa (Ret.) is the highest-ranking intelligence official who has defected from the Soviet bloc. His book, Red Horizons (Regnery, 1987), was republished in 27 countries.
We lived in San Diego at the time, and that morning my husband had brought me my morning tea, as he did every day at 5:30 a.m. Then he slipped out of the front door to take our dog on his morning constitutional. I wrapped myself up in a sweatshirt and shuffled into the living room to turn on the TV. I squinted as I was still waking up, and I thought — hmmm, it looks like the World Trade Center is on fire. And right then I saw the second plane hit the second tower. It felt like being in the beginning of a Hollywood film, seeing things that could never really happen. Right?
Like everyone else, we have stories of going to work, being sent back home, watching the empty skies, and getting used to the quiet that was so different from watching the planes come into the airport near our house. We felt like we wanted to do something, but like most Americans we could only talk and pray and watch as the events unfolded. We communicated by e-mail to friends from all over the world. One message sticks in my memory — it was from a friend in England who said, “I feel like someone just kicked my cousin.” I thought she captured that perfectly.
Two months later I was back in Washington, D.C., working as a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice. Over the next several years, I had a chance to meet many brave souls who had rushed into buildings to help, who watched people jump to their deaths rather than be burned alive, and who had decided to join the military or the intelligence community to help take the fight to the enemy. I’m humbled by them every day.
— Dana Perino served as White House press secretary for Pres. George W. Bush.
September 11 would have been a memorable date for me even if the terrorist attacks had not happened. This was the first day of fall-semester classes at Ave Maria College (soon to become Ave Maria University), which had just added me to its literature faculty. I had flown to the United States from my native England four days earlier and was understandably a little nervous at my first day in my new job, especially as this was my first teaching position.
In a strange new country, in a strange new job, and still recovering from jetlag, the day already had an aura of surreal strangeness about it. And then I heard the news. My students asked me what we should do, and I responded that we should carry on with the day’s classes as if nothing had happened. I realized later that this response must have seemed really bizarre. How could Americans carry on as if nothing had happened when nothing had ever happened like this before?
It was then that it dawned on me that I was really an outsider in a strange new world. I could not feel the collective shock that all Americans felt on that day because all Americans had taken the 9/11 attacks personally. I was not an American and realized that my feelings were not at all like those of my neighbors. I was horrified by the scale of the atrocity, of course, but I saw it with the battle-scarred perspective of one who had grown up with IRA bombs exploding in my neighborhood, and with the tribal memory of Hitler’s blitzkrieging bombers fresh in my mind. My father had experienced the Blitz and every cockney prided himself on the way that he had carried on with daily life in spite of the best efforts of the Luftwaffe to browbeat him into submission. The best way of defeating Hitler, and the best way of defeating the IRA, was to carry on as if nothing had happened.
Today, after ten years of experience of living in the United States, I realize how crass my response must have seemed to my traumatized students. I was an alien in their midst, one who could not see or feel as they did in the face of such horror.
— Joseph Pearce is the author of Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays.
A television producer called and told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, so I ran to the den, saw the second plane crash in real time, sped to the TV station, went on air occasionally, and mostly sat in a dingy office angrily writing an article (“U.S. Failure”) on American policy mistakes which National Review Online published that afternoon.
Two contrary responses see-sawed in me on 9/11: a heart swollen with misery over the (initially reported) 7,000 deaths and a mind swirling with strategic implications, notably the hope that Americans would focus on the Islamist threat.
The latter offered some solace. Unlike most Americans, I felt safer on 9/11 because I expected the day’s atrocities finally to wake my countrymen to the “Death to America” movement that had already caused some 800 deaths since it first struck in 1979 at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
However imperfectly, that awakening did occur. The anti-Islamist reaction now under way assures that those who died on 9/11 did not do so in vain.
— Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
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.
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.
REV. JAMES V. SCHALL, S.J.
On Sept. 11, 2001, someone spoke of a bombing. I went into the rec room. Several men were watching a plane crash into the World Trade Center. Then came the Pentagon blast. We had a rooftop observation patio that looked down the Potomac to the Pentagon and National Airport. I could see smoke coming from the Pentagon. I went down across Key Bridge to the path along the Potomac that leads by the Pentagon. I did not go beyond Roosevelt Island.
In the next few weeks and months, it was clear that something radically different had happened. I recall with amusement that the next three times I went through airport security — then super-cautious — in Roman collar, I was singled out for special searching. They only found my rosary, which may have become, as I now think of it, a victim of the new ideology that makes all religious equally suspect.
What changed was the hypothesis of the modern world. Marxism was much easier to comprehend than Islam. This is why “Islamofascism” is so popular an explanation for the attack. It allows everyone to blame the West. It allows intellectual blindness to continue.
— Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., is a professor of government at Georgetown University.
CAROL M. SWAIN
What I remember most about Sept. 11, 2001, was the patriotism, the camaraderie, and the brief period when churches were packed and newscasters unashamedly made references to God. But what could have been a national revival ended all too quickly.
Much of what we experienced seems to have been a momentary blip. Instead of revival, we have suffered a loss of common sense at the highest levels of government. Instead of getting serious about visa overstayers and tighter border security, we have turned much of our surveillance on our own citizens. By its failure to enforce immigration laws, the government sends the message that we are not serious about protecting our citizens. Grandmothers, pregnant women, and the handicapped are inconvenienced at airports and subjected to the voyeurism of the scanners.
I regret that the terrorists have won. The 9/11 terrorists have won because they set into motion a set of conditions that have radically eroded our civil rights and civil liberties. The rule of law has lost its meaning. Terrorists have used their knowledge of our national ignorance for tactical advantage. The next generation of terrorists may come from native-born Muslims and from the ranks of disaffected black Americans recruited in prison.
— Carol M. Swain is professor of political science and of law at Vanderbilt University. Her more recent books include Debating Immigration and the newly released Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise.
There are moments — and there will be plenty of them this week — when that day still feels like yesterday. “Where was I when” is never a question that I have to ask about those hours that September. I was in a brokerage office in Midtown Manhattan, watching the screens as usual, and then not as usual. Sometime later there was a cry from a colleague as the first tower collapsed into dust. She had been in the wedding of someone who had stayed too long on a floor that had — that day — been too high. On CNN there was speculation where other planes might strike, and underlying it all, beneath the sadness, the anger, and the fear, was the shock that this was happening in America, the last best hope, a place where war was not meant to come calling.
I stayed on that afternoon in the office, on a pointless vigil for who knew what, with another colleague, an army veteran, professionally calm, good to have around. NRO got in touch. I wrote a few words. Then the trudge home through a too quiet city with Hell at its tip, and countless fluttering desperate fliers (missing, last seen at, father, mother, daughter, son) just ahead.
People sometimes say it’s a cliché to talk of the perfect blue sky that morning. Well, that’s how it was.
— Andrew Stuttaford is an NRO contributing editor.
I was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. I was blessed to be a few corridors down from the point of impact. But I felt the walls of my office shudder, and smelled the smoke that filled the hallways. Yet one memory stands out: To my surprise, no evacuation alarm ever sounded. We all simply filed out onto the lawn outside — where we looked back at the broken and burning Pentagon.
In the months that followed, the evacuation alarms in the Pentagon did go off several times, as false reports came in that other planes were headed our way. Each time, we exited the building and stood there looking up at the sky, waiting for the next attack. That attack never came.
There are only two possibilities that explain why: Either the terrorists lost interest in attacking America. Or we uncovered their plans and stopped them. The answer is self-evident.
In fact, unbeknownst to us, al-Qaeda had set a number of follow-on plots in motion, including a plot to blow up high-rise apartment buildings in the United States using natural gas; a plot to replicate 9/11 in Europe by flying hijacked airplanes into Heathrow airport and downtown London; a plot to replicate the East Africa embassy bombings in Pakistan by blowing up the U.S. consulate and Western residences in Karachi; a plot to blow up the U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti; and a plot to carry out the “second wave” here in America by flying a plane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles. An al-Qaeda cell was developing anthrax for attacks inside the United States. We did not know any of this.
These plots were uncovered, and the attacks disrupted, thanks to the counterterrorism tools the Bush administration put in place following 9/11 — including the CIA’s enhancedinterrogation program. Today, many in our country take the fact that we have gone nearly a decade without another terrorist attack for granted. They believe that the danger has passed. It has not. In December 2009, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula nearly succeeded in blowing up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it prepared to land in the city of Detroit. Less than one year later, AQAP penetrated our defenses a second time — this time getting two package bombs aboard planes headed for the United States, which were timed to blow up over the eastern seaboard.
By the Obama administration’s own admission, it was completely unaware that this terrorist network had developed the capability or intent to attack us here in America. Why were they taken by surprise? Because, unlike the period immediately after 9/11, the United States is no long capturing, detaining, and interrogating high-value terrorists who could tell us their plans to attack the homeland. Until a vigorous detention and interrogation regime is restored, we will be in danger of another terrorist attack like the one we suffered on 9/11 — or worse.
— Marc A. Thiessen is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack.
The thing I most remember about 9/11 was how confused and unprepared everyone was — government officials and ordinary citizens alike. Cellphone service was gone very quickly, and very few officials, even at the senior levels, had Blackberries at the time. The streets of D.C. were filled with people who were wandering home, with very little information and high levels of anxiety. Rumors about a car bombing at the State Department and an attack on the White House heightened the tension.
In the decade since, the U.S. government has spent enormous sums of money aimed at making sure nothing like 9/11 ever happens again, and I am confident that we won’t see the same type of attack again. But our enemies are both evil and resourceful, and we must remain vigilant and nimble to prevent other types of attacks. What we learned on 9/11 is that we were not ready for that kind of attack, and we have acted to address that vulnerability. Unfortunately, there are other modes of attack, and the confusion I saw that day makes me wonder if we can ever be fully ready.
— Tevi Troy is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former senior White House aide. He is the author of Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians?
A single death is a tragedy, Stalin is supposed to have said, while a million deaths is a statistic. Three thousand deaths, witnessed by billions of people around the world in real time and then in numberless replays, was something different and new: heartbreaking, infuriating, appalling, and incomprehensible.
I was living in Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood in September 2001, a block north of National Review’s old offices on East 35th Street. A fellow in the apartment building next door was one of the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees who went to work that Tuesday morning and never came home. He had married a lovely young woman five months before.
I was evacuated twice that week: the night after the attacks, when authorities thought there might be a bomb in the Empire State Building and directed residents with homes in its shadow to walk some blocks farther away; and the day after that, when a similar false alarm led the police to order office workers near Grand Central to leave their buildings. We evacuees were somber and purposeful. As I walked down 22 flights of stairs from my office — the fire department directed us not to use the elevators — I sensed that the people behind and ahead of me in the long, orderly descent were determined not to give voice to their fear. None of us wanted to be the first who was unworthy of the victims who had climbed down the World Trade Center’s longer, darker stairways two days before, or of the heroes who had climbed up them.
— William Voegeli is a visiting scholar at Claremont McKenna College’s Henry Salvatori Center for the Study of Individual Freedom in the Modern World, and a contributing editor of The Claremont Review of Books.
THOMAS G. WEST
My first reaction to the attack was anger — certainly against the terrorists, but also against our government. The FAA disarmed pilots in 1987. Passengers and crew were ordered to submit quietly to hijackers’ demands. In the name of safety, government banned the very thing that could have prevented the murder of thousands: the Founders’ agenda of self-help, self-defense, and gun rights.
My second thought was that our vulnerability was partly rooted in the new, multicultural understanding of religious liberty. We are instructed not to notice, and certainly not to act on, the fact that Muslims have been the leading perpetrators of terrorism since 1990. Having blinded ourselves, we cannot deal effectively with those most likely to be terrorists.
Originally, free exercise of religion was a conditional right. In the 1780 Massachusetts Bill of Rights, typical of the Founding, everyone may worship God according to “the dictates of his own conscience” — but only “provided he doth not disturb the public peace.” In the political theory of the Founding, the hijackers’ doctrine of Islamic jihad has no more right to be tolerated than a mafia plot to kill off a rival gang.
Five men per airplane, perhaps armed with nothing more than box-cutters, took terrible advantage of these self-inflicted weaknesses, both stemming from the rejection of our founding principles.
— Thomas G. West is the Paul Ermine Potter and Dawn Tibbetts Potter Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College, and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute.