I just finished a book ("The Looming Tower", see it in my list to the right) that tells the story of how the terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center came about. We've learned a lot in the seven years since those attacks, but this book fills many gaps. It outlines the origins of the radicalism that developed in the Middle East, describes how it became associated with fundamentalist Islam, and details the actors and events that led to the rise of al Qaeda.
The book is well-researched, especially given that facts are still hard to come by, that some (notably the CIA) are unwilling to talk about what happened, and that those who are willing to talk are far from unbiased or free of an agenda.
I was working for CGNet in 2001, and the contract with one of our largest customers, the Ford Foundation, was coming up for renewal. I was making plans to fly to New York on a red-eye Sunday, September 9th, since I had already made plans to celebrate my son's birthday over dinner earlier that evening. I figured I would meet with Ford on the 10th and fly home--probably out of Newark--early on the 11th. It turned out that the trip was postponed. Not exactly a "but for the grace of God" moment, but close enough.
So on Tuesday the 11th I flipped on the television as I got to making coffee and getting the house up and going to work and school. The station happened to be on BBC America, and gradually I began to focus on the developing news story. Incredibly, there was a plume of smoke coming from one of the World Trade Center towers. I watched, transfixed, as another plane hit the second Tower. When the first Tower collapsed, I turned off the set. I couldn't bear to watch, knowing there was nothing I could do in that moment to help those affected. I also knew that the images would be disturbing for my kids and I didn't want to subject them to that. I went through that myself, waking up one morning to the blaring of the radio describing Bobby Kennedy's assassination, and didn't want to repeat the experience.
I remember, later, someone at the Ford Foundation saying that the employees were being encouraged to attend funerals for those who were killed, because there were so many funerals that people couldn't attend them all and those who died deserved to be celebrated and remembered.
I went to New York some time later, to meet with the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. I noted the heavy military presence outside the Israeli embassy, which is across the street from the Ford Foundation.
I saw a policeman as I was walking to find lunch. I wanted to salute him, shake his hand, tell him how sorry I was for what happened. Mostly, I wanted to give him a hug. But I also knew that at that point in time everyone was suspicious until shown otherwise, and you most of all wanted to communicate to others that you didn't pose a threat. The cop eyed me, we nodded, and walked past one another.
Reading this book brought those memories back. It was a fascinating tale. I just wish I didn't know how it ended.