“And how come we didn't do everything—everything—we could to prevent this one?”
t started off as an incredibly clear day across the eastern half of the country. I remember how intensely blue the sky was. The temperature was very mild. No strong breezes. All the makings of a perfect day.
“Then I heard someone say that a small plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I turned on the television to see the live coverage. Smoke was bellowing up from both towers then. The people on television were commenting that it wasn't an accident. They said the second plane that hit the towers was a large jumbo jet. The news channels kept showing the clip of it coming out of that clear sky before striking the undamaged tower. Then everything turned orange and black as a fireball shot out of the other side.
“One distraught woman was hurrying away from the scene as a cameraman followed her. She said people were falling out of the buildings onto the pavement.
“Then the live coverage continued of both buildings bellowing out all that smoke. The haze across New York City was getting thick. A large mass of people was trying to escape across one of the bridges. Helicopters were flying overhead. It didn't seem like I or anyone could do anything except watch both of the towers burn.
“A reporter in Washington said that an explosion was heard at the Pentagon. But they didn't have any confirmation. Some footage was shown of smoke rising above the trees.
“Then the tower that was burning from the middle visibly cracked. The camera in the helicopter showed the top half of it sliding downward, slowly at first before collapsing straight down on itself into a thick cloud of dust. Even more smoke started rising next to the remaining tower. Every channel was showing the live coverage of the attacks. Reporters said it was a terrorist organization called al-Qaida whose leader was Usama bin Laden. I never really heard of them before. Didn't know who they actually were. I knew we were at war.
“Large plumes of smoke were rising out of the Pentagon by then. Several groups of federal employers were shown evacuating the Capitol and other buildings nearby. They said they heard that another plane was coming their way.
“The last tower was still burning near its top. There was some kind of explosion that caused those upper floors to tilt toward one corner. Then they started dropping down into the building. The floors below shattered into pieces and huge pieces of them shot out as the top section crashed through them. When the cloud of debris cleared some, I could see that both towers were gone.
“A reporter said that about twenty-five thousand people worked in each tower. Some estimated that ten thousand were still inside when the buildings collapsed. The cameramen and reporters on the ground were showing the gray soot covering everything for miles around the Trade Center. Store fronts, sidewalks, rescue workers, and the people fleeing were all covered with it. Cameras in the helicopters were showing a great trail of smoke heading out over the water. The remains of the towers were smoldering. All tall buildings in America were being evacuated. All planes flying in American airspace were ordered to land immediately.
“Shortly afterwards, there was a report of a plane crash in Pennsylvania. The news people said it was one of the passenger jets we had lost contact with while it was still in the air. Someone said it was flying towards Washington.
“The live coverage continued into the late afternoon. A building next to the Twin Towers that was burning also collapsed. Into the night, people on television were telling us about al-Qaida and bin Laden, and the Taliban and Afghanistan.
“The news coverage was nonstop for about three days. No commercials. For nearly a week afterwards the coverage continued with some commercials. After about three weeks, the number of commercials returned to about normal.
“Nothing like this had ever happened to any country before. Our country's leaders were working on our response. We were going into Afghanistan to get al-Qaida if the Taliban—who was harboring them—didn't cooperate with us. We were going to work closely with the Northern Alliance there. We would fight the terrorists wherever they were and would capture or kill its leadership and members.”
“Were you scared?”
“I was. Yes.
“What scared me most was what might happen to you. We couldn't ever let this happen again. We had to stop not only those responsible for this attack but anyone like them who would wish us harm. They've been waiting for another chance to attack us—and we couldn't stand idly by and hope they would never get that chance. We had to make sure that no country that's sympathetic to the terrorists could help them out and increase their chances of attacking us again. We had to try whatever was necessary to prevent a second terrorist attack here.”
“So what happened? Why didn't we do everything that was necessary to keep the terrorists from hijacking and derailing those fast-moving freight trains inside downtown San Francisco and spilling all that toxic waste they were hauling? How come we weren't able to stop them from setting off a radiological bomb in the middle of Seattle the next day?”
“Because we hadn't done enough. We were too worried about what others would think if we took all the actions that we knew were necessary.
“So we scaled back those actions. Instead of moving forward against every possible terrorist threat, we retreated. We left the terrorists alone in the more sensitive places, letting them build back their strength undisturbed, because we weren't willing to risk going in after them and stopping them there before they got here. We sought to find diplomatic solutions with bloodthirsty cowards and mass murderers. Our resolve buckled before we could really buckle theirs. They proclaimed we had been weakened—that we were now unable to stop them from launching a second round of attacks.
“And they were right.”
“What are we going to do now?”
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