On the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, I always want to look back and remind myself of what this country has been through, and to strengthen me for what is still to come. Here is a column I wrote in the Daily Inter Lake to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks. It is included in my book “Why We Needed Trump: Bush’s Global Failure: Half Right.” As I tell elsewhere in that book, it was 9/11, and the nation’s ambivalent reaction to being attacked by Islamic fundamentalists, which led me to “Walk Away” from the Democratic Party. It is important to share the story of 9/11 with our children and grandchildren, and not to sweep it under the rug.
A hard day to forget, but do we remember?
September 10, 2006
By Frank Miele
I was awake with the children on a morning not too different from this. The details may be faulty, but the feelings linger — the dread, the hopelessness, the anguish.
As I recall it, I had gotten downstairs a little before 7 a.m. in my effort to get the day started on a reasonable schedule. I was settling the children in to have breakfast, and then get them to their school and day care on time, and I turned the television on as usual to keep them entertained while I muddled through the chores.
Fortunately, the TV was set to NBC from the night before, not the Disney Channel, so I knew right away that something was wrong. My recollection is that the “Today” show was on, and it wasn’t yet 7 o’clock. I felt puzzled — thought that perhaps I had overslept, and got a bit disoriented. The “Today” show should not have been on yet.
Then I heard the tone of voice of Matt Lauer and his co-hosts, and I stopped what I was doing long enough to see the pictures — inexplicable pictures of flames shooting out of the side of one of the World Trade Center towers.
My first thought was, “My God, those crazy terrorists really did it!” But then Lauer (or whoever it was) was saying there were reports that a small plane of some kind had hit the tower, and perhaps it had been off course for some reason.
But all you had to do was look at the pictures to know that wasn’t true. It was a beautiful fall day in New York, marred only by the black smoke billowing out of what I would later learn was the North Tower. There was no way anyone had accidentally hit that tower on that clear crisp day.
I thought about the time I had gone to New York with my friend Mike, and we had traveled up the elevator in World Trade Center 2 to the observation deck on the 110th floor of the South Tower. It was amazing how long the elevator ride lasted, and even standing back from the edge I felt a little queasy being so high above the skyline of Manhattan. Five years ago, when people starting jumping out of the top floors of both towers, I cried to think about the fear that had driven them to such desperation. It was unimaginable, but so was everything on that day.
I began to wail out loud, and my children grew frightened, for me, for themselves. They understood even less than I did, just 6 and 2 years old at the time. So I hugged them and told them some bad people had flown a plane into the building and that a lot of people were going to die. There was no way to hide it. I knew what was going to happen immediately. The gaping hole in the side of the building would weaken the structure considerably, and the fire burning inside would eat away at the girders and beams until they were so weak they could not sustain the millions of pounds of concrete above them.
It was just a matter of time. As soon as that building started to buckle, it was all going to come down, and there had to be thousands of people inside. Thousands of victims.
Lauer was still talking, and whoever else was with him that day, and they were trying to make it seem ordinary somehow, but it wasn’t. It was the most un-ordinary thing I have ever seen, like waking up and finding yourself in a painting by Salvador Dali. There was no place for fireballs in skyscrapers in New York, and no room for planes drilling into them either.
I was trying to think about how to wake up my wife and tell her what had happened, but I was stuck to the TV. I needed to see it for myself, the whole damn thing. I couldn’t move. It was what Joseph Conrad calls the fascination of the abomination. I couldn’t believe Lauer couldn’t (or wouldn’t) bring himself to say it — THEY did this! Those damn crazy Islamic terrorists! What the hell is wrong with them! What part of human is missing in them?
But then everything took a turn for the worse, and Lauer got it — along with everybody else. The still lingering innocence of that insanely surreal day was shattered once and for all when something, some plane, some death thing, hit the South Tower, and flame exploded out the other side. Oh my God, for a minute, they got it. They understood that we were under attack, and that people were dying. People were dead, instantly if they were lucky, or almost instantly when the fireball rose up through the tower, or waiting to be dead, if they were unlucky enough to be trapped on those upper floors. Damn it.
“Damn it,” I told the kids. “Those crazy bastards. They really did it.”
And then I went to wake up my wife, who is now no longer my wife but who on that day was the only person I could count on, and who I didn’t want to hurt too bad, but who I knew could not be allowed to sleep any longer while those people were burning alive, as if it were just another day.
“Honey, I’ve got bad news.”
How do you begin to tell someone this story? “Something horrible has happened. Somebody flew a plane into the World Trade Center, and they thought it was maybe just an accident, but now somebody just hit the other tower, and it’s bad. It’s those crazy Islamic bastards. They’ve gone and done it now. Oh God, baby, they’re all gonna die, all those people.”
And then I was crying again. Not for the last time that day, and not for the last time in this life when I think about what happened to 3,000 souls on that day. And it just kept getting worse. The Pentagon was hit. A plane crashed in Pennsylvania, maybe on its way to the White House. Heroes were made that day, and heroes were killed. When the first tower came down, I got on my knees and prayed: “Dear Jesus, oh dear Jesus, please God, help those people, help their souls” because I knew that was all that was left to help.
And meanwhile life went on. I had to go to work, to tell the story, to cry secretly in my office at the Inter Lake, where we put out the only special edition in at least the last 38 years since President Kennedy was assassinated. That day, we in the newsroom were the same as everyone else in the country. Throughout the day, we shuffled like robots, went to the television set again and again, like supplicants in search of grace and understanding. But there was no grace. There was no understanding.
By that time, both the towers were down, and there was no hope either.
Survivors? How could there be? Answers? How could there be?
I knew that we were at war, and I thought about my 6-year-old son, and I wondered what would become of him. This would be a long war. He might die in that war, but I thought about those people who died in the towers and I knew there were worse ways to die than fighting a war to protect your country and your way of life.
But meanwhile, he had to go to first grade. He had to get his shoes on, and eat his breakfast and go to school. He had a long way to go before he needed to worry about war. But the rest of us would worry right away. We had to try to make sense of what had happened. We had to determine once and for all that we would never again be attacked in such a way, and we needed to tell the world that we would not be quiet victims. We had to unite, and stand united, and prevail. We had to, or we would die.
I remember the words: United we stand! Never forget!
But that was then. That was five years ago. And five years later, we are starting to think that forever is a pretty long time. We are starting to think maybe we should get back to life as normal. As if there were a normal to get back to.
People are tired of war. I understand that. They wish it would all end. An understandable emotion. Perhaps they’ve even begun to forget that which we said we would never forget. Dear God, I wish it were not so. I wish there were some way to bring back the grief, and the anger. I wish we had not skipped to acceptance quite so easily, as if Matt Lauer had been right all along, and it really was just an ordinary thing.
It was NOT ordinary. It was not acceptable.
But today, we act like nothing ever really happened. Most of us will commemorate 9/11 on the fifth anniversary tomorrow, because it is expected, and because we remember that once it meant something to us, but we don’t seem to know what it means. We don’t seem to have learned its lessons yet.
We act as if it was a fluke — as if the Islamic terrorists have somehow learned their lesson, and will never do anything so stupid again. Or that they have repented, and will be our friends if we just shake their hands and make nice.
Make nice? Good God, what is wrong with us?
I never imagined five years ago when I watched nearly 3,000 people being incinerated and pulverized that their lives would mean so little to those who came after them. But it may be true. It is hard to believe that their sacrifice has been forgotten so quickly, but that may be the case. We don’t debate how to defeat our enemy anymore, but whether we even have an enemy, and if so, why he doesn’t like us much. What did we do wrong?
Last week, I watched one of those endless cable TV debates about what is the matter with George Bush, and I was shocked to learn from one of those commentators that Bush was backing a lost cause — that Americans won’t take the threat of Islamofascism seriously until there is “another Pearl Harbor.”
Another Pearl Harbor? We need another Pearl Harbor to wake us up to Islamofascism? Another Pearl Harbor? What in God’s name do we need another Pearl Harbor for when we have September 11?
What we don’t need — what we shouldn’t need! what all decency proclaims against! — is another September 11. But we will have it, someday, because we demand it, and it may wake us up, or it may not. Sometimes the slumber of lethargy is too hard to wake from.
But I am just a voice crying in the wilderness, and the wilderness is growing thicker, and the light of civilization is growing dimmer.
Another Pearl Harbor?
No, we don’t need another Pearl Harbor. What we need is another MacArthur, or another Eisenhower, or another FDR. We need another Churchill to stand strong with us, and declare with those stalwart words of his that ring through the halls of time from one war to another: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never… — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never give in…”
Frank Miele writes from Kalispell, Montana. To read more of my columns about the Dishonest Media, the Deep Swamp, the failed presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Trump’s war to restore American greatness, read my “Why We Needed Trump” trilogy. Part 1 is subtitled “Bush’s Global Failure: Half Right.” Part 2 is “Obama’s Fundamental Transformation: Far Left.” Part 3 is “Trump’s American Vision: Just Right.” My new book is “The Media Matrix: What If Everything You Know Is Fake.” They are all available at Amazon in paperback or Kindle editions. Also visit Heartland Diary on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1FmrOF2TF-njRznqoU4yjA