|September 11, 2001…17 Years Later
by Andy Joppa
“Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”
Flight 93, Todd Beamer
You’ve probably been exposed to many 9/11 retrospectives. What follows is my “looking back”, followed by a challenge to a mythology that extended from that horrifying event.
There are two public moments that caused me to become desolate with grief. I was certainly not unique in those responses. As a young man, the assassination of JFK had an overwhelming impact. I still believe that his loss, on November 22, 1963, was the most significant turning point in this nation’s past. But…I am over that moment…it has faded into being little more than a part of history. The other event, of course, was September 11, 2001. 9/11 remains vivid in my memory and, more importantly, in the very ongoing nature of our nation. No… I am not over 9/11…and never will be. We each retain an intense memory of that day. I will describe mine, not because my experience was so exceptional, but because it is all I can offer on this very unhappy anniversary.
For 63 years I was a New Yorker. Much of my heart, and definition of self, still resides in The Empire State. I was born in Yonkers, just out of the Bronx, attended Lehman College and did PhD work at Baruch. I taught for 30 years at my school’s Bronx and Manhattan campuses. I was teaching in Manhattan when the 9/11 tragedy occurred. The classes resumed the following Tuesday with the World Trade Center rubble still smoldering and shrouding the city for months in the horrific smell of human carnage. The operations center was a block away at the Javits Convention Center; it was going full-bore 24/7.
My son worked for Mayor Giuliani and was part of the NYC recovery team operating from a barge in the Hudson River. His original office was on Rector Street…about two blocks from the Towers. Aircraft wheels dropped at their front entrance. He typically stopped for coffee in the WTC as he came to work…BUT…not that morning. He had just been promoted in the Labor Law office and was still in Brooklyn. I didn’t know that at the time…and waiting for his call to find out he was OK, seemed to take a lifetime.
The Friday after 9/11, my wife and I went out to The Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown for dinner. While there, a young woman came out from one of the stores and spontaneously started singing, America the Beautiful. It seemed like only seconds before hundreds gathered and joined her in that emotional rendition. As we left the Mall, a firetruck went by for a local issue. My wife and I broke down in tears with the memory of the death of 343 firemen still being overwhelming…343 firemen!
In New York, the death of a single firemen was a tragedy….343 could not be processed by my brain. It still can’t. The stories that followed of these firefighters…and police…rushing up the stairs of the still standing tower, as others were fleeing downward to safety, is one of the great acts of heroism in this nation’s history. They were in the building, trying to save lives, when it too…came down. My assistant at Mercy College had grown up with a NYC fireman who was one of those fine-looking young men featured in their annual calendar. His photo hung in our office…he was one of those lost when the buildings collapsed.
September 11, 2001 was a tragedy that few nations…or cities…could survive. New York City did that…with strength, dignity and remembrance and reverence for those who were lost. Even today, having been a Florida resident for 13 years, many that now hear my voice ask, “You’re a New Yorker…aren’t you?” I proudly answer…yes…of course.
The last thing I want to do, therefore, is to turn 9/11 (especially on 9/11) into a political statement. Yet…I also experienced the aftermath of that event in other ways that deserve to be understood. It has long been stated that we were unified as a nation, as a people, when the sun came up on September 12, 2001. Were we?
There is no doubt that we were unified in our grief…but the underlying interpretation of the causes of 9/11 showed a basic disunity that has continued till today. I attended a large community meeting of academics and students, approximately three weeks after the attack. It would not be hyperbole to offer that I was the only one in attendance who actively defended America. All other input dealt with…” what had America done to cause this to take place”? Why would these “young men” take such drastic action unless they were provoked by our indiscretions? What should we have done differently so they would not have felt this action was such a “necessity.”
Other than myself…no comments were offered as absolute condemnations of this assault on our nation…an assault on all humanity; with scores of nations coming together for peaceful exchange at the WTC. Any attempt to define these acts as being provoked by an essential commitment to Islamic jihad were rejected out of hand…a discussion not even being possible.
Almost immediately media comments were made suggesting that President Bush had failed in not preventing these attacks. While there was not a shred of proof that this was true, this president, in office less than 8 months, was blamed by many in the MSM. Coupled with this were the absurd conspiracy theories that our government had launched the attack itself to create a provocation to attack Islamic countries. Within these “theories,” if it wasn’t our government, it was Israel. The lie being perpetrated that no Jewish WTC employees went to work on 9/11. These absurd concepts are still believed by many even today.
Were we unified? Other than that moment of grief…not in the least. The multiple terrorist attacks on us in the 90’s, including the attempt to bring down the Towers in 1993, meant nothing to those who compulsively felt the need to blame America for anything that’s wrong…anywhere. There is no doubt that same mentality still exists today. In effect, 9/11 taught us very little…except one thing…regardless of anything to the contrary…always apologize to Islam for our response to Muslim terrorism.
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