The first time I saw the footage that day, on September 11, 2001, of the second plane coming into the Towers, it was the most stunning moment of my life. I can’t recall struggling so hard to believe what I was seeing, while at the same time knowing that this would change the world.
I was in Friendship House, just getting to work, and stopped to see what everyone was watching on the small TV in the lobby. My initial thought when I saw the first plane hit was that it was a simulation, a mock video, a what-if disaster scenario.
But then came the footage of the second one coming in. along with the commentary about it being a suspected terror attack, and I could only look at it, mouth agape and mutter: “No f-ing way.”
The most striking thing for me was the audacity of the attacks. That anyone would choose to strike against the U.S. was one thing but to do so in such a bold, theatrical and symbolic manner was another.
It was simultaneously impressive and horrifying, like those clever serial killers in movies. That I would later find out that they also struck the Pentagon and had another plane intended for the White House further heightened that impression.
The next reaction was to the inhumanity; the gut-sinking images of people jumping from the buildings and dying within them, and the thought of those innocent passengers helplessly headed to their doom.
And then I felt anger, anger at the terrorists and . . . at the U.S. – not the country itself but at the culture of imperialism and conflict that has existed in almost every administration in the past half century, which I felt was just as responsible for that terrible day as the murderous animals who orchestrated it.
I wrote about this in a Daily News column, just days after 9/11 and it provoked an angry response from some readers, some of them good friends of mine. One guy stopped me in the street; he seemed on the verge of popping me one as he roared, “You don’t know Americans! I have a lot of American friends! You have no right to write that sh*t!”
I was taken aback as he – and several others – had interpreted my words to mean that I thought those 3,000 people deserved to die. It was ridiculous, of course. No one but the most vile and radical could think that.
But so high was the emotion on the attacks, it not only brought on such an outpouring of compassion and support for the U.S. but it wiped the slate clean for it as well. Forget Hiroshima, forget the Bay of Pigs, forget Vietnam, forget all of the tyrants the U.S. has supported.
They were, in a rare instance, the victims now and my first and greatest fear about the consequences of 9/11 came true: a free pass. A free pass to move to war.
The rest, as they say, is history. Not one but two wars. Between Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. and coalition-caused deaths (meaning not caused by insurgents), depending on the source, number somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 and counting – and most watchdog/humanitarian groups question those numbers as being much lower than the reality.
Did the U.S. need to seek out and punish Al Qaeda? Absolutely. Did it need to start two separate wars, though? It was definitely a time for force, but well thought-out and precise force, not the usual flamethrower sweep.
But it was also a time for reflection; reflection on why there is such a strong anti-U.S. sentiment in many parts of the world, so strong that it can give birth to groups of people like the ones that committed the heinous crimes of 9/11.
This past weekend, I saw many tributes and TV specials on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I saw a lot of bravado. A lot of nationalistic boasting. A lot of crass exploitation (collector plates, 9/11 wine, business promotional deals).
But sincere reflection and restraint, any consideration that maybe, just maybe, they need to re-think foreign policy? I’m still waiting to see that.
~Written by Rudy Kelly