September 11

There are quite a few blog posts showing up in the past few days memorializing or offering recollections on what September 11, 2001 was like for them.  I frequently struggle on anniversaries like this because I find myself out of sync with many others and with respect to this event in particular.

Make no mistake, it was a very bad day and I felt the trauma as much as anyone.  However, I tend to want to see us move on and do better as opposed to continue to only reflect back on what happened.  That said, I do think some reflection and observation on this particular anniversary is, perhaps, in order.

My day was absolutely normal when it started.  I woke up cranky as I often do, made coffee and drove to work.  I was just a few minutes later to work than perhaps normal but for no other reason than I was tired.

It was my custom to listen to the NPR news broadcast in the mornings (and still is) and I was doing so as I drove into the parking lot of my company around 8:30 or so in the morning.  As I did so, the news broadcaster, Carl Kassell, interrupted his news reading, hesitated and then said that there was a fresh news report that a small aircraft had hit the World Trade Center.

I was a bit surprised to hear that but immediately concluded that New York must be experiencing very low cloud cover and/or fog and someone must have finally done something badly wrong in that airspace. 

But it didn’t stop me at all.  I went into my office, closed my door and began reading emails and doing work.  I generally don’t like to talk in the earliest part of my mornings and my staff was accustomed to me doing those things behind a closed door.  Sometime after 9am, one of my staff opened my door and asked if I did not know that the world was on fire. (or words to that effect.)

I was surprised at her distress, started asking questions and got news going on my computer.  It took just a couple of minutes to learn that one hijacked aircraft had gone into the World Trade Center, not a small civil aircraft and that other aircraft were known to be hjacked as well. 

Then we learned of the second aircraft and things just seemed to get blurry for a while.  Our news feed slowed to a crawl because the internet was overwhelmed.  We were able to get a portable TV going and got some news from that.  I went to my car a couple of times to listen to the radio as well. 

After a couple of hours, there was news that parents were pulling their kids from school and I announced that those who wanted to leave and do the same, could.  I also offered that it might be best for us to stay where we were for a while longer until we knew that someone had a handle on something.  We stayed for a bit longer but it became clear that no work would get done and I let everyone go home.

I went home as well. 

I worked near Addison Airport in the Dallas area.  I lived under one of the normal approach paths for Love Field and DFW airports.  It was immediately striking just how quiet things grew both in the air and on the streets.  Like most of everyone, I watched the news, talked to some family on the phone and felt punched by the events most of all.

I made some calls to business friends in the New York City area to check on them and didn’t reach many but some were answering.  One friend, a jewelry manufacturer, holed up in his facility in lower Manhattan and stood guard over his business for days.  His wife witnessed a man get beaten in their Queens neighborhood for being nothing other than of Middle Eastern descent. 

In the evening, I started to get calls and emails from friends around the world asking if I was OK.   They knew me to be a frequent traveler and from their vantage point, it would be perfectly logical for me to be in New York or Boston or Washington, D.C. 

I sat on my back patio for a good part of the evening and just marveled at how quiet it was.  It was still like an early sunday morning.  No sound of cars, people or airplanes.   When my telephone rang, it sounded abnormally loud every time.

I was as shocked as anyone and probably a bit more upset than some given what I knew of the airline industry.  I deduced what had happened very quickly and never learned anything that truly contradicted my guess that hijackers had taken control of airplanes and most passengers had cooperated in the idea that doing so would get the airplane on the ground.  But the hijackers had broken the model and done the unthinkable. 

I was bitterly proud that those on UA 93 had learned what was going on and had fought back.  When I heard that, I knew that never again would passengers be passive in such circumstances.  I haven’t been proven wrong in 10 years either.

I’m genuinely sorry for those who suffered direct losses that day.  I’m also fairly bitter about where we are 10 years later.

It upsets me that we haven’t raised a bolder building in the World Trade Center’s place yet.  If it had been up to me, we would have finished that long ago. 

I am very disappointed at the losses of personal freedom in the last 10 years.  I’m extremely upset that people went along with it so passively and I’m very upset that Congress continues to cower in political fear rather than eliminate those losses.  I think the Patriot Act was one of the worst things ever done in terms of legislation.

I hate that our airline transportation security is still theater rather than real.  Consider that in 10 years, the TSA hasn’t once thwarted a terrorist threat.  But they have allowed numerous breaches in that time and under circumstances that leave me wondering if anyone is actually doing their job.

It infuriates me that the TSA is more of a problem for us all than a solution.  That the TSA is a source of theft and insult rather than a professional corps of security people doing their job well.  It angers me that the solution to security 10 years later is to invade their bodies with scanners or sexually asssault them with pat downs.  The United States should be a better place than that.

It’s been a horrific decade for the airline industry.  September 11 was the start and the heavy hits have kept coming ever since.  Consider that American Airlines has lost more than $1billion a year in the last 10 years.  Several major airlines have had to declare bankruptcy.  Many others had to merge or die. 

And every time they think they’ve got  a handle on things, another punch comes. 

There have been other disappointments.  The only truly new mainline airplane to be built and delivered in the last 10 years has been the Airbus A380.  In the 1960s, we saw tens of new ones designed and built.  What’s worse, while we’ll see 2 more in the next 10 years, that’s about it.   What happened to innovation in building new airliners?

It’s been a bad 10 years for the United States.  I would like to suggest that we consider just how much we’ve all taken and how we all are still standing today.  I would like to see the next 10 years in the United States to be a decade to rebuilding, growth and facing up to our problems and challenges. 

I would like to have some pride in my government.  It’s been too long now. 

I would like to see my fellow citizens be just a bit less selfish, a bit less political and a bit more focused on cooperating with each and achieving things.  It’s time to get back to achieving success and overcoming challenges presented to us.  It’s time to be leaders again rather than bitter isolationists.  It’s time to wake up and get back to competing. 

It is definitely time to find new leaders.  I want to see people who understand what it means to represent the whole rather than the special interest.  I want to see leaders who work hard, play hard and set sterling examples of looking forward to the future.  I want people who ask us to stretch rather than wait passively. 

Today should be a day to reflect not only on our losses but on how we need to get going with our lives and our country and do much, much better.

One Response to “September 11”

  1. “Why would the terrorists bother to do it again? They achieved their goals. The goal of terrorism isn’t to take out particular targets. Those targets are just collateral damage. The real goal is to make us into our own worst enemy, and get us to damage ourselves. They’ve achieved that in spades, and we continue to damage ourselves. Why mess with success?”

    –TLK, 2011

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