[What follows is a slightly edited transcript of what I saw and how I felt on the 11th of September, 2001 from Brooklyn Heights in New York City. On that day I was posting to a West Coast Computer Conferencing system known as The Well. As a result, even though I was writing from Brooklyn Heights directly across the river from the Towers, the time stamp reflects PST. Real time is +3 hours.]
Tue 11 Sep 01 08:07
Saw the first tower collapse from the Promenade across the river in Brooklyn. Fine white and pale yellow ash everywhere. Lower Manhattan covered in smoke with ash still drifting down.
Military jets overhead every five minutes or so.
Lower span of Brooklyn Bridge jammed with people walking out of the city, many covered with white ash. Ghosts. The Living Dead. BQE empty except for convoys of emergency vehicles.
Sirens in all directions. Ferry ships emerging from the smoke heading to the Brooklyn shore riding low in the water fully loaded.
This is monstrous.
Deaths in the thousands in New York.
My body is trembling with sorrow and rage. I saw the first tower fall. Everyone in it would have been killed. This, all this, must be stopped. Those who have done this must be wiped out to the last.
War with whom?
Any and all terrorist organizations, foreign or domestic, must now be brought to a swift and complete halt no matter where they are located.
I watched this happen. The enormity of it cannot be communicated. Vile and bestial.
We need to destroy any and all capacity of anyone living anywhere to do anything like this ever again. There were thousands in those buildings. Thousands.
There is no justice swift enough or sure enough.
All that we have must be brought forward and used without restraint. This is an act of war beyond Pearl Harbor.
Military jets overhead again.
More ash on the street. I am cooled down. Way down.
This is pure evil.
*Tue 11 Sep 01 12:33 *
There is no World Trade Center visible from the Promenade. But you can smell it from there — a sort of burnt stench as if someone lit newspaper in a trash can and then poured water on it. That kind of wet, burnt stench.
It is bright in the sunshine now except for where the Trade Centers stood, and there is still a plume of thick brown smoke smouldering up from there making the sun behind it look dim and oily.
Just now I saw three large military helicopters land across the river from the Heights on the big pad at the foot of Wall Street. People on the streets are talking quietly — many of them on cells now that some of those nets are back up.
Everything is as quiet as it was this morning when I got up and began to take a shower.
Showering I felt a vibration shake my building in Brooklyn Heights like a subway train passing deep underneath the structure. I didn’ t think much of it. I’ ve felt similar vibrations before.
Getting out of the shower I was dressing, and I heard the second explosion from the second plane striking the buildings.
I turned on the radio and found out what was happening.
I dressed and left the house and walked a block to the Promenade at the edge of Brooklyn Heights and saw both towers in flames sending huge gouts of smoke into the air.
You don’ t know what to think. You don’ t know what to feel. You’re just reacting. The promenade was jammed with people with more arriving.
Then as I watched the first tower just imploded and plunged, it seemed to me, straight down. Then a huge brown and black rolling cloud of smoke came boiling through all the streets between the buildings and surged outwards towards us on the other side of the river and, at the same time, upward until it took over the center of the sky.
You could see bright shiny bits of metal squares tumbling up and down and drifting out of the smoke that moved up and blew out to the south east it was like confetti or stuff tossed out of windows in a ticker tape parade. I felt the sound before I heard it and it shook everything around me. I heard gasps and screams around me. People were turning away. Everyone with children was leaving the promenade. Some were moving closer.
The smoke took over everything. I knew that anyone in that building was dead. There was no building. I started to shake, and to weep, and to look around at the others who were in all states of reaction. And I had to go back to my house to regroup.
After I was in the house for a few minutes I heard another larger explosion. I went back out and down to the promenade again, but this time I couldn’ t see the sky as I had before. This time the whole sky had been darkened and, the wind having shifted, this fine white ash was swirling down the street. Not heavy, but everywhere around me and it was settling down lightly on all the surfaces.
When I got to the promenade again the entire southern tip of Manhattan was enveloped in a dirty brown cloud, No buildings visible at all. Nothing. It filled the sky and made it dark. Turning the corner if you looked uptown past the Brooklyn Bridge which was filled with hordes of people walking towards the Brooklyn shore you could see the buildings start to emerge from the smoke. People were sparse on the promenade now although down towards the end there were more, and if you walked down there you could see a little bit into the downtown section of Wall street. And there were ferries moving out of the smoke at high speed.
And then I started to hear the military jets but I didn ‘t see them. But no other planes are to be seen.
Now it is still smoking there. The trade centers are just gone. Erased. 50,000 people they say work there and 150,000 pass through.
What do I feel? I don’ t know what I feel — except that I want vengeance. I want everything this country possesses put onto the people who did this, and the people who supported this act, and the people who believe this is the way in which political ends are achieved.
I want there to be war until these people are eradicated whoever they are, and where ever they are. I want it made clear that anything even approaching this evil act will be met with utter destruction — people, families, villages, cities, nations. This is an act of war and war must be the response.
We will be having a long series of mass funerals for many weeks. I only hope that this country finds the stomach and the resolve to carry retribution forward until it is complete.
That is what I feel, now, today. And I ‘m not alone. I’ m not alone at all.
Tue 11 Sep 01 12:42
We need to be in a state of War and to pursue the real aims of war. Against what country? Against a list of countries that support, harbor, or approve of terrorism.
A list of countries. All of them. And we need to take action that is terrible and unilateral. Individuals, families, villages, cities, nations… all must be pursued and eliminated.
There needs to be revenge. There needs to be a balancing of the scales.
This is the greatest single evil act against Americans in history. It cannot be allowed to stand.
Tue 11 Sep 01 22:11
All day the images have repeated themselves on television while the smell of the smoke persisted in my rooms. Off and on, all day, I walked to the promenade to look at the reality of it and watch the smoke that didn ‘t stop. It will now play itself out, over and over again in my mind, until the day of my own death.
Television and reality. It is very difficult to separate the two, and when one has no reality, television is the thing that replaces it.
And because it is through television that those responsible for this monstrous act receive their impression of this country, I believe they have made a fundamental miscalculation about the deeper nature of the United States. A miscalculation that will cause to be visited upon them what I pray will be a terrible lesson; a lesson that will make the survivors envy the dead.
If you look at television, at the endless products of pap and nonsense that are piped out of the media centers of the United States, it is easy to see us as a weak, self-obsessed and foolish people. And many of us are that, even if we pretend to be other than weak, self-obsessed and foolish.
We have sitcoms and MTV. We have endless opinions about things which are not really central to serious life questions and serious policy decisions.
Our young people look foolish in their vanity and their fashions. Our military institutions are often ridiculed. Our entertainments are light and vapid. Many in positions of influence give short shrift to millions more with deeply held religious and traditional political convictions.
Our major issues on a day by day basis rarely rise above the level of fretful worry about the safety of restaurants that allow smoking, or whether or not a flower will be threatened by an oil well. These are serious issues to many Americans, and it is easy to see why such wet and weak concerns would lead others elsewhere in the world to hold us in contempt as a weak and decadent society that cannot defend itself against attack.
They see our men as feminine and our women as masculine and, to the fundamentalist mind, this signals a weakness in the blood and bone of the nation.They believe that they can attack such a society with a kind of impunity, or with the expectation of a careful and delicate response. They even note that our President is a man who communicates in a clumsy way, who is an “illegitimate” leader, and who does not have the support of many of the ruling elites of the country. They hold him to be easily frightened and stupid.
And perhaps he is many, if not all, of these things: clumsy, weak, illegitimate, frightened and stupid. Perhaps appearances are deceiving.
But it will not, in the long run, matter. And I pray it does not avail them. That is all only the television America.
But there is – and always has been – another America, and it is this America that I hope will emerge from this day, and remind all those who seek to harm us that we can be a nation that is as terrible as it seems foolish; that we are a country of deep resolve, capable of striking back in cold anger. Striking without compassion or regret; that we are, as the Japanese knew and were to discover, a sleeping giant. You wake us at your own risk. And once woken we will destroy you, and then rebuild you. The Japanese had their lesson and have learned. Germany had its lesson and has learned. Now it is the turn of a number of nations in the middle east.
We will first tend to our dead. Many funerals will take Place over the next month or so. At the same time we will also prepare for our vengence and I pray it will be terrible and without hesitation or compassion until all terrorists and all the villages, cities, and nations that support them are reduced to rubble.
This will be an America whose anger is not hidden beneath grief and the committment to save those not yet dead in the rubble of New York and Washington.
This is the America you see when you watch the head of the Fire Department of New York try to express his feelings at losing 300 men in one terrible moment.
This is the America of the thousands of rescue workers on the job tonight trying to dig through the rubble.
This is the America of terrible resolve that you can read on the face of the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he states the military is ready to do whatever is required of it. Whatever is required of it. I pray we require them to visit horror on our enemies that is a thousand fold worse than what we saw today.
You see, it doesn’ t really matter who is the President. It matters only that there is a President.
The President is only one man and in times like this he does not really have to lead. He has only to follow and get out of the way.
After that what takes place will be done by many, many others in the hundreds and thousands. These people will not be a group of lame celebrities with their puling little concerns whose lives are just roles on television. They will not be a host of sensitive new-age babblers whose fantasies of a perfect world blind them to the evil of this one and the need to tear it out root and branch.
These will be Americans with terrible tools and with even more terrible weapons, and the skill and the will to use them. They will be filled with a terrible intensity and, I hope, a deep sense of mission which will not be lightly put aside.
This mission should be clear to everyone who has some experience of the world and how the world operates — how reality operates. This mission should be nothing less than one that is willing to use whatever means necessary to target terrorism and to destroy it, wherever it exists. If this means the wholesale destruction of nations, so be it.
This mission should be to remind the world that while we are a nation committed to peace, we are a nation to be feared at war. We have the power to do this. We must use it without hindrance. If peace needs to be purchased with the sword, we should be ready to do this. We must become what we were during the Second World War-ruthless and unrelenting.
Those who think we are only what they see on our foolish television, need to have a hard and burning lesson on who we are when we decide to turn off the sit-coms and get real.
If we cannot do this, we will suffer this again and we will deserve it. The time to fill ourselves with the resolve to crush this monster is now and I pray we are up to the task.
Wed 12 Sep 01 07:30
[I wrote above that we must be ] capable of striking back in cold anger without compassion or regret
[A Well Denizen responds: Perhaps boswell [ my Well handle] has never spoken with any WWII vets who were active in (e.g.) the bombing of Dresden.
I respond: You have no sense of shame or patriotism or anything other than your limp, feeble and twisted sense of a perfectable world that vanished yesterday morning.
Do I have a sense of WWII vets who bombed Dresden and what they feel today? I am sure they feel bad about it. I am sure that they felt bad about it at the time.
“Feelings,” upon which so much of your useless world view rests have nothing to do with this.
Only by doing what has to be done to protect and preserve this nation will we be able to maintain a way of life on this earth that makes your ideas and feelings possible.
In my family, I have four uncles. Three served in World War II and of those three, one, the most handsome and dashing — I have the pictures — was a navigator on a Flying Fortress. He was lost over the North Atlantic in the closing days of the war against Germany. His name is carved into the stones of the monument to these men that stands at the foot of Manhattan. I haven ‘t been to it in some years, but when the smoke that I can see from this office clears and we are allowed to go there, I plan on making a visit. [I did.]
Another uncle, a younger one, was in Korea at Inchon. He never speaks of it, but once when I was young I found an envelope filled with black and white pictures that he took during his time in that battle and they were horrific.
So while I in truth do not know the feelings of the bombers of Dresden, I know something of the effect of war on families in this country and I do not take it lightly.
The French has a saying that translates as “Revenge is a meal we eat cold.” Cold is what it will be and all your smary small comments will not change that one whit.
Wed 12 Sep 01 08:05
To answer leroy, I am back at my absurd day-job. So far I m just about the only one here. Maybe eight people out of 200+.
I don ‘t know quite why I am here, but then, in truth, I’ m never sure why I am ever here, other than that my personal life obligations require me to be here. That may have to change. [It did.]
At any rate, I woke up and could only take about five minutes of the endlessly repeated images of disaster, and having, literally nothing better to do, decided to try and come in.
I first walked to the Promenade to see where the Towers had been. The vile smoke blooming across the river was still there as it has always been, probably as it always will be in my mind where I will see it first as that moment when the first tower went down carrying thousands to a death I cannot imagine.
Still there. And the faint smell lingers too. And there were small clumps of people standing around, one couple even posing for a picture against the new skyline.
Then I walked through streets in the Heights that barely had any people on them. Usually full and bustling even on holiday weekends. Now just some elderly people moving slowly and a few clots of Jehovahs Witnesses in their cleaned and pressed clothing going down to put out what I am sure will be a special ” We told you so” issue of The Watchtower.
Clark Street subway station is shut down with a few police directing people to the Jay street station. Buy a New York Post because I’ ve read the Times. Walk to Jay Street in the heart of the Brooklyn government center across streets with few pedestrians and no traffic except for police, fire, and security vehicles cruising aimlessly about or parked at the curb.
Security in front of the courts and the city offices lounging in the bright sunshine of this second day of Indian Summer weather.
Down into the Jay Station and a very sparsely occupied A train. We set off on a slow, very slow, trip into Manhattan. Several people are reading bibles but most of the 15 or so people are just staring into space and looking vaguely alarmed whenever the train halts between stations — which is often.
I spend this time reading the New York Post which has, inside, a picture of the exterior of one of the towers just before it collapsed. In this picuture I can count around 24 people poking their heads out of the windows or actually on the outside of what has to be the nintieth floor of the towers. All of them, ALL OF THEM, about to ride this building down into oblivion and you know that THEY ALL KNOW THIS.
Next to this is a picture of the side of the Tower and a large empty space on the left which is thin air. In this space, close to the tower you can see five to seven people falling with nothing but space above and below them, falling straight down into doom rather than be burned alive.
Finally, the train pulls into 23rd Street and halts. After a minute or so you can hear the announcer telling us that we will be held in the station for some time because of a police investigation in Penn Station, my destination.
I get out and go up to the street to walk the rest of the way.
And I walk into a Manhattan I have never seen in the almost 30 years that I ‘ve been here. Streets almost utterly clear of traffic for as far uptown or downtown as you can see on 8th Ave. Nearly the same thing on 7th.
A smattering of pedestrians that grows somewhat thicker as you approach Penn Station. A nail salon open but with nobody getting their nails done that I can see.
Extortionate parking lots that are usually jammed with cars almost empty and with nobody there to collect the money.
On the street parking? Oh, we ve got it now.
Everywhere the hush. Everywhere. Like a ghost town with real ghosts now walking among us. People just standing around, people talking softly on cell phones, and people talking to themselves. On every corner small groups walking slowly into the street or ambling along the sidewalks as if nothing they normally do on Wednesdays in New York City is really all that important after all.
Wed 12 Sep 01 13:07
On blood and the giving of it in New York. It is important to do this, but no longer because of the need. It is pretty clear at this point in the evening of day 2 in New York that the city has more than enough blood to cover for this present emergency.
Still, people should give because it is something than they can give. That is the need it fills. As for blood for the wounded and the suffering, there is now a sufficient quantity. Why? Because there are not as many wounded as first feared. There are just mostly the dead.
With the exception of a few miracles that I hope will happen over the next few days, there will not be large numbers of injured beyond those who are already receiving treatment.
We are now starting to see the bodies emerge and they will continue in a ghastly parade of orange body bags for weeks now. Soon, tomorrow and over the weekend, the funerals and the memorials will begin. And they will go on and on and on. We will have, if we are fortunate 10,000 funerals in this city in the coming weeks.
Let me say that again: Ten thousand funerals.
Try, right now, to close your eyes and visualize this number of funeral ceremonies of every type and description and religion. You cannot do it because the enormity of it is too much for the human mind and soul. But we will have them, one by one and in groups. And here is another fact that comes along behind this number: We do not have enough land for 10,000 graves.
We do not have enough crematoriums. Many will go unburied for weeks. Many will be burned because that will be the only choice.
Many will have to be moved by train, plane, or van to some other place in the state, country, or the world.
And we will bury a thousand, and then another thousand, and another. And still the orange body bags will come up out of the pile and the pit one by one by one and lie in rows.
And this will go on for weeks if not months.
Think about what this will be like. Just stop and try to really see it.
And then think this: No matter what many may feel now about the wisdom, or the goodness, or the morality of retribution, there will come a time during this parade of our dead when this country, already uniting in a way I cannot remember in my 55 years, will have even a greater sea-change of spirit and rage. Many of those who do not really feel this now, for whatever enlightened or unenlightened reason, will feel this change and become part of it.
There will be those who do not, a smaller and smaller part of us as the days go by, and they will in the end be left behind.
But by far the most of us will be changed by this, even if now we are not.
Ten thousand funerals. We cannot imagine it, and yet we will live it. And I hope that each one of us can bear witness to as many as we can bear. It is the least of our duties.
[First published in real time on The Well, as it unfolded, September 11. And to be republished on this day as long as I shall live. Never forget. Never forgive.]