It is 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning September 11, 2001. A day that will live in infamy.
Normally, yours truly is merrily tapping out the very latest on the Vermont political scene. We’d surely be writing about Howard Dean stepping down as governor while stepping up for a run for the White House. And how could we ignore Bernie Sanders’ moment of destiny — a rendezvous with an open governor’s seat?
But we just can’t get there right now. Everybody knows why. You understand, right? Frankly, it’s hard enough to peck out these words through the tears that erupt this morning in sudden bursts and drip from cheek to keyboard.
Ten minutes ago we noticed the flash bulletin atop the Washington Post home page — a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) in lower Manhattan. Quickly, we turn on the TV. One tower is afire. A moment later an “Instant Message” arrives on the desktop from a friend on Capitol Hill. “Can you believe it?” he asks.
Yes, we reply. We believe it. Faith is not the issue.
Moments later, a second jet airliner slams full-speed into the other tower. We watch, numbed by the images. And we realize that somewhere at this very moment, there is cheering and celebration. Fists are being raised in triumph. Toasts are being made to the memory of the hijackers who so bravely gave their lives as holy martyrs for the kamikaze cause of their almighty God. The end, after all, always justifies the means. Doesn’t it?
On the tape player in the kitchen, we hear a Leonard Cohen song playing: “The wars, they will be fought again. And the holy dove, she will be cut again.” And again. And again. Welcome to the new millennium.
9:30 a.m. We conduct an Internet search for the World Trade Center. The only page we can open is one describing the observation deck. It’s on the 110th floor. We learn the WTC was designed by Minoru Yamasaki.
“On a clear day, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view reaching more than 55 miles. On the open promenade at the top it can be a bit windy at times. But with no roof, the whole world seems to open up. Sort of like flying while remaining on the ground,” it reads.
Within the hour, both observation decks would be on the ground in tiny pieces. Fortunately, according to the information provided, the WTC observation decks don’t open to the public until 9:30 a.m.
10:31 a.m. It took the TV talking heads 90 minutes to accept and articulate that the images on the screen, unlike those in Hollywood blockbusters, were not just those of collapsed towering infernos, but of human slaughter on a grand scale. Peter Jennings on ABC was the first we heard imagining the “thousands” of casualties.
10:47 a.m. The fax machine kicks on. Gov. Howard Dean calls out the National Guard?
No. Not even close.
The nation may be frozen in a time warp of terror, fear and anger, but Vermont State Auditor Elizabeth Ready has a job to do, by Jeezum. The twin towers of the World Trade Center may have crumbled an hour earlier. The Pentagon may be a roaring blaze. But Vermont’s newly elected Democratic auditor wants the press to pay attention to her big news of the day.
Chainsaw Liz, a devout Sister of the Perpetual Political Campaign, announced via press release Tuesday that her office had found the state’s system for providing restitution to crime victims is sorely lacking.
Nice work, Chainsaw. Lousy timing.
11:23 a.m. The last 35 minutes have unraveled slowly. More like hours. More eyewitness, on-the-ground reports. More fear of bombs in schools and sewers. Americans from Burlington, Vermont, to Burlington, Iowa, wake up to a new reality. The planet’s true human condition has crossed the ocean and hit Uncle Sam, Old Glory and Lady Liberty right between the eyes.
What a terrifying moment for the loved ones of the victims.
My daughter works in the World Trade Center.
My husband was flying American 77 to L.A.
My sister works at the Pentagon.
My brother’s a New York firefighter.
Now they are indistinguishable from other loved ones who have preceded them:
My daughter was shot in Hebron.
My wife was shopping in Omagh.
My husband disappeared in Bosnia.
My father was beheaded in East Timor.
My parents were vaporized in Hiroshima.
On and on it goes. It never stops, it never slows. The dove is always cut again.
12:02 p.m. Nothing’s exploded for at least two hours. And they’ve stopped talking about the jet that crashed into or near Camp David, Maryland, the Presidential retreat. At the moment, the networks report four hijacked jet airliners down. Two into the World Trade Center. One into the Pentagon. One down outside ol Pittsburgh. No word on what that target might have been or what caused it to miss its intended target.
As this death-filled morning becomes afternoon, we still have in the back of our mind the anticipation of a second attack wave. Surely the “master of the universe” who designed this terrorist attack would have a second, even third wave planned. A nuclear bomb in a suitcase? Nerve gas? Biological toxins? Oklahoma City was just a cap pistol compared to what we’ve already seen today.
12:32 p.m. CBS anchor Dan Rather just got emotional over stating the obvious. “No one will ever see that skyline of New York again.”
Hey, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, right?
12:34 p.m. Where is the President? Peter Jennings announces a bulletin: President George W. Bush will be making a statement shortly from an Air Force base outside Shreveport, Louisiana. Jennings mentions how some Presidents rise to the occasion at times of national emergency better than others. We email Carolyn Roy, a former Vermont TV reporter now working at KSLA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Shreveport.
1:15 p.m. The TV networks have just aired a video of President Bush from Shreveport. He may not have gotten the most votes. He may not inspire confidence. But he’s the only President we have. He looks stressed out and nervous. The ex-National Guard fighter pilot who bravely defended Texas airspace from the Viet Cong calls the perpetrators of the day’s massive terrorist scheme “faceless cowards.”
Dubya promises the “full resources of the federal government” are being called into action. “Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.”
Somehow, we imagine the folks responsible for these cowardly acts are in seventh heaven right now. The FBI can’t even find Chandra Levy; how are they going to find the September 11 terrorists who brought down the twin towers of American capitalism?
1:27 p.m. “The only place in the country where we can find federal buildings open is in Vermont,” announces Peter Jennings. That independent streak just keeps shining through, eh?
1:35 p.m. Dubya may be in hiding at an undisclosed location, but Sen. Joe Biden is on TV, standing arms crossed in front of the Capitol, calling for calm. About time someone did, eh?
“Terrorism only wins,” says the Delaware senator, “when they alter our civil liberties or shut down our institutions.”
Never thought much of Joe Biden until this moment.
And then in reference to the terrorist violence Americans only see on their television sets, he added, “We’ve come face to face with the new reality.”
2:10 p.m. Another fax comes into “Inside Track’ headquarters. It’s a press release announcing “National 9-1-1 Day is recognized in Vermont.” Vermont has been recognized as having the best statewide enhanced 9-1-1 program in the nation. There had been a press conference scheduled for Tuesday morning.
What a coincidence, eh?
2:15 p.m. Carolyn Roy emails us back from Shreveport, Louisiana.
“It’s just CRAZY!!!!,” she writes. Her station’s satellite truck was used as the pool truck for the press traveling with President Bush.
“What a terrible day,” writes Carolyn. “But also an incredible day. In fact ‘incredible’ couldn’t be a more perfect word.”
2:17 p.m. British Prime Minister Tony Blair goes before the TV cameras in London. Unlike Dubya, Mr. Blair appears calm, confident and determined.
“Their barbarism will stand as their shame for all eternity,” said Blair of the anonymous perpetrators. “This mass terrorism is the new evil in our world.”
Mr. Blair spoke with eloquence and backbone.
“This is not a battle between the United States of America and terrorism,” noted Blair, “but between the free and democratic world and terrorism. We in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy and we, like them, will not rest until this evil is driven from our world.”
Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Hail Britannia!
Where the hell’s our President? His absence from the world’s stage is making me nervous.
2:25 p.m. On NBC, Tom Brokaw has now firmly taken the anchor reins from Katie Couric. He’s been positioned with a picaresque background of the invoking scene of the morning's mass murder.
Over on CBS, Dan Rather remains his usual melodramatic self. Carefully he paces his speech pattern for dramatic effect. His eyes moistened earlier as he recited a part of a Civil War poem. Soap Opera Dan.
On ABC, Peter Jennings continues to be one cool cucumber. The Canadian-born Jennings was at the controls early, and he’s been consistently calm and collected. No panic. We appreciate that. Thanks, Pedro.
2:33 p.m. New York Gov. George Pataki and New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani face the media. It was “an attack on freedom and our way of life,” says Pataki.
“One of the most heinous acts in world history,” adds Giuliani.
They look composed and call for calm. They assure everyone that New Yorkers would pull together and meet this challenge. The subways, notes Mayor Rudi, are still working. It’s good news on the baddest news day in memory.
2:53 p.m. On CBS, Dan Rather gives a Texas pep talk for George W. Bush.
“He’s the commander in chief. He’s in charge,” says Dan, with an air of Longhorn patriotism. Rather defends Dubya from criticism of the lengthening Presidential absence. Unfortunately, Dan doesn’t know where the President is, either.
2:58 p.m. Locally, ABC 22 breaks in with anchorman Eric Greene announcing most of University Mall is about to close. A prayer service is planned at the Unitarian Church at the top of Church Street for 7 p.m. Gov. Dean, he says, told reporter Keith Baldi, “It’s war!”
3:00 p.m. ABC reports the President has landed at an Air Force base in Nebraska. He’s on the run in his own country? But the President is not a running back, he’s our quarterback. Does anyone know where Bill Clinton is right now?
3:03 p.m. Ch. 5 breaks in with twin anchors Stephanie Gorin and Thom Hallock. They show a tape of Ho-Ho making “Pearl Harbor” references. Gov. Dean calls for blood donations and asks people to get off the telephones.
3:18 p.m. Still no information on the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. “This is a dark day in this country,” says Brokaw. Prominent people went down on the hijacked planes, he says, but no names have as yet been officially released. Bush, it’s announced, will have a teleconference with the National Security Council this afternoon.
3:45 p.m. The president’s spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, is on camera announcing Bush is in Omaha.”No one should doubt our country’s resolve,” she says before departing quickly without taking questions.
Following Hughes’ statement, Jennings accurately and politely remarks, “There’s not a whole lot of news in there.”
4:30 p.m. Deadline time for Seven Days. Still no Bush sightings. To say we’re not concerned is an understatement.
Weeks of funerals lie ahead. Stories of heart-warming human heroism will emerge. Calls for revenge will ring louder and louder. More blood will flow.
What can we learn from this?