My dad asked this morning if I was in Boston when 9/11 happened. “Yes” is the short answer.
Here’s the longer answer, some of which I sent him. It’s a little rage-ier, and my adrenaline is still up, so there might be typos. These are not complete thoughts, but bookmarks for footnotes of detail that periodically flood my brain.
Yep. I was in Boston. The equipment engineer who sat next to me told us all to find online news video ASAP. So I saw the first crash in the earliest video reruns & wondered why we hadn’t scrambled the air force to track down every off-flight-plan passenger flight, and ~15 minutes after I had that thought, the 2nd plane hit in NYC. 1 plane hit the pentagon. Enough time to have implemented *something*. One flight’s passengers got wind of what was up and thought “we might not be able to survive this, but we can stop them meeting their goal”, said “Let’s roll”, and crashed without killing more than themselves in the crash.
Taking passengers hostage wasn’t routine but it wasn’t so rare that there weren’t cultural scripts for it. People might not know that prior to Flight 93, standard policy was “let the hijackers do their thing, you’ll land in the wrong place, but we’ll deal with the detour once you’re down”. Finding out the other planes were crashed into populated buildings changed the stakes away from cooperation. It was heroic, changing that norm.
Keep in mind it was also a Tuesday. (Aside: Like the Challenger explosion, which I saw constant repeats of for 4 days because I was home sick that Tuesday & only had network TV.) Tuesday flights run lean of passengers. The hijackers picked a day with low passenger volume but flights going long to get minimum resistance & maximum jet fuel.
Back to scrambling the USAF. We didn’t do it.
Not saying they should have shot down passenger airlines but not getting “eyes on” with capability we’ve maintained since at least the 60s was inexcusable. We didn’t have leadership, & more critically, *we didn’t have plans in place that could be authorized down the chain of command* while Shrub read children books for 7 critical minutes. I learned later, from my mom’s friend whose husband was head of security for a major airline, that airlines at the time were on alert at the highest levels for some kind of threat. That’s too nebulous to act on, but the urgency was there, and there are only so many ways air travel can go wrong. There should have been standing orders for a half dozen scenarios prepped and ready to deploy. The US leadership at the time had no interest in governing, did not prepare, and refused to allow what I, a numpty civilian, knew were standard response options to be deployed. I woke up the next morning to fighter jets circling the city. It was both too late and pathetic - all non-mil flights had been grounded for a day & remained so for a week.
(Aside 2: One friend got stranded overseas for a couple weeks without their spouse. Another friend had recently married & picked a “cheap Tuesday” to leave for their honeymoon. Their bad luck they had a layover in the states on 9/11. Friend saw the writing on the wall early, got a rental car before they were all gone, and “shacked up in a bridal suite in WV with the best box of wine they could lay hands on”.)
Bush was fundamentally incapable as a president but the GOP installed him so Cheney & cronies could finish wrecking any progress gained by Clinton or Carter. Then they started their money grifting wars, which ironically, they used to decimate some of the US’s strongest military units. They farmed out CB/SeaBee work to contractors like KBF, which helped break lines of institutional knowledge while hiking Cheney’s investment portfolio, & used navy SEALs as show ponies which got huge numbers of them killed. Prior to that, being a SEAL was dangerous but not especially deadly because they were sent out covertly and were valued as assets that were hard to replace, not as disposable units for showing off. I will never understand why any of them have fondness for Republicans after that.
I have mixed feelings about invading Afghanistan, mostly negative, but it at least had tenuous links to OBL and it was a proxy war because we wouldn’t go after Saudi Arabia. But Iraq? That was a clown show from the jump. Shrub invaded Iraq to show up his Daddy, and the grifters steering him into it did it for profiteering. OBL & SH hated each other. They didn’t collaborate. Cheney burned an active spy, and made everyone Plame knew a target. They lied about WMD They lied and lied and lied and we killed a million Iraqis for Shrub’s bruised ego. How dare someone tell him “no”?
The GOP blacklisted several prominent Republicans for speaking out against the Iraq war. The one name I remember was Max Cleland but there were 5 or 6. I kept waiting for his fellow congress members to stand up and say “stop the slander, what you’re doing is not ok!”, but none did. Not Dems, not Reps, not Independents. No one. I didn’t record their names at the time because I kept waiting for the NYT to publish a story linking Cleland’s treatment and that of the professor & the think tank person, & the few others, to a pattern of behavior of the GOP trashing them because they spoke out against invading Iraq. That piece never showed up & in the years since, I’ve seen how the NYT carries water for fascists.
Long story short, severely disabled war vet Cleland was a belived Georgia senator By the time Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, & Rove got done blackballing him, he couldn’t get a job in his hometown for 10 years, & they replaced him with Saxby Chambliss. It took them less than a dozen examples - all successfully blackballed with no pushback - to get compliance.
Then they astroturfed the Teabaggers via Fox entertainment network calling itself News, but Fox is a whole genre of wrong to delve into some other time. (Then had to scramble to rebrand Teabaggers as the Tea Party, which the media helped them do. Check Urban Dictionary if you need to.) The GOP has voted in lockstep against Democrats ever since. One senator, a few other prominent people, and seeing that not one other legislator spoke up to say the blackballing was out of order was all it took for them to get their Lockstep. It wasn’t until Trump was so egregiously déclassé in his failson nepotism (includes daughter & SIL) that the lock step started to falter.
Yet even now our news media is letting the GOP target trans people, ban books, remove rights to bodily autonomy, and the Dems are barely able, and almost reluctant, to stem the arterial bleed leading us to fascism. The world is objectively worse because America reacted to 9/11 attacks wrongly in the moment & evilly & discriminatorily in the subsequent years. We managed to squeak in gay marriage & smartphones, and regain a toehold in solar energy, but every other aspect of the US dominant culture is fundamentally moving backwards and it was kickstarted by 9/11. We did it to ourselves against my personal will.
We targeted Muslims & random brown people & equated those, and Islam, with “terrorists”. Despite the largest threat to United States’s citizens safety being lack of health care for all, and armed, entitled cis white men who don’t like being told no, we focused all our efforts on killing & policing Black & brown people. We’ve enacted ridiculous security theater for air travel, like taking off shoes to walk thru everyone else’s foot fungus, as if cell phones, laptops, or any other ubiquitous electronics couldn’t be used to trigger an explosive remotely 🙄. We’ve stolen & thrown away rivers of shampoo and toothpaste. We don’t let people bring on water! - despite dehydration leading to angry passengers who are more likely to get belligerent, and sick, than fully hydrated ones. These pesky rules make it easy to detain any traveler at will, but also means the screenings are less likely to catch a true threat. Meanwhile we lose millions of person-hours of labor every single day because every passenger must spend extra time packing to be in compliance, spend extra time at the airport to ensure they get thru the security line, which could take 5 or 55 minutes or more. And it’s less safe because we must stand in close proximity to hundreds of other people, multiple times, to go anywhere. (sarcasm alert) I’m particularly a fan of the Ft. Myers airport where the security line is a wide skyway, under which they drive the fuel trucks. People enough for 3 flights packed cheek to jowl, getting hangry, over a driveway for fuel trucks. What could possibly be unsafe about this security line?
Dad also texted that a neighbor who, after 9/11, was called to service for the National Guard & sent to Iraq, mentioned that the NYC “Ground Zero” Museum is closing (or might close?) for lack of funding. Miwed feeling there too. Assuming their point is to highlight the people killed & injured, the people who helped, and be a time capsule of the era, it should remain to counter the jingoism the day inspired.
I went to the 9/11 museum site in 2019 but did not pay to go in. I know what happened & I think the deaths were horrific but don’t justify the fallout. Plus, I cannot take in that kind of pain. It’s excruciating. I’ve learned whatever lessons I will. I don’t personally know anyone who died in the towers but I have friends who do. Closest to me was one friend who checked in that day while walking home across the Brooklyn bridge, who has subsequently enrolled their kids in the Moderna clinical trials for young kids. I think that is more positive an act for society than most of the post 9/11 fallout.
But probably the museum is in trouble because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and 2 administrations failing to quell it that led to low museum visitation, along with it being about an event 21 years ago, about a tiny fraction of people killed violently compared to over a million Iraqis dead violently from our war, and a million Americans dead from covid, & seeing no commensurate level of response to 1M dead.
That we take off our shoes and protective gear and assistive devices and allow ourselves to get mugged to get on planes but won’t wear masks on public transit or fund good HVAC in classrooms is a level of disproportion that shows we choose what and who we care about, and post 9/11, it’s increasingly billionaires’ quarterly profits, not the health of the nation, or the world. The US has long been a global bully, and nasty to Black folks here, but we at least pretended to be a model of better things on an improvement trajectory That trajectory is more imperiled now than it was before 9/11. We have about 2 months to figure out if American will spend the next 21 years being a failed state that we have to claw back from fascism, or if we’re going to treat marginalized citizens as fully human and get on a progressive trajectory without a second civil war.
I, uh, may have been holding that rant in for a while.