I turned it on and went to my front window.. I live in the Jersey City Heights across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan and had a clear view of the Twin Towers from my apartment. I could see heavy black smoke billowing out of Building One. I went to see what they were saying on television just as the second aircraft hit Building Two. I could not believe what was happening.
I knew that the World Trade Center had long been a target for terrorist attack. I used to work for the Port Authority, who ran the WTC, and for 8 years was an officer for my Union local. During that time I spent many hours there in negotiations with Labor Relations and representing cafeteria and observation deck workers who were members of our Union.
In 1993, I was scheduled to be at the WTC for contract negotiations on the day it was bombed the first time. At the last minute, the local president reassigned me to another facility to represent an employee in a disciplinary hearing but the rest of our executive board was there when the explosion happened. They had to flee down almost 80 floors, along with thousands of others, to escape the destruction.
The perpetrators were captured, tried and convicted but it was understood that they was part of a larger network and that there was a good possibility that they would try to attack the Twin Towers again.
On 9-11-01 it happened and was much more horrible than anyone imagined. Over the hours, days and weeks after the attacks, people throughout the area, country and world rallied to rescue people, do relief work and help their fellow human beings in whatever way they could.
I have talked to friends and strangers who were there and told of leading office workers to safety, of couples holding hands and jumping to their deaths to escape the burning hell inside, of people on the ground being crushed by falling bodies, and of firemen, police, and emergency service workers repeatedly going back inside to lead people out only to have the buildings collapse on them. Even writing these words still brings me pain and tears.
As the minutes and hours rolled on, we learned that a third plane had slammed into the Pentagon and yet another aircraft crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers heroically attempted to fight back against the hijackers.
But what happened next has much to do with the dire state we find our nation in today. Everyone understood that in response to these attacks, action had to be taken to hold accountable those responsible and bring them to justice.
An air assault and ground invasion of Afghanistan followed within weeks and the Taliban regime was overthrown. In the fighting that followed, many of the main leaders of the Al-Qaeda organization that had planned, financed and organized these attacks were able to escape capture.
US troops have remained there since and are now caught in a growing insurgence against foreign occupation much like the resistance that developed in the 1980s against the Soviet military invasion of that country.
But the Bush administration had bigger plans. In a strategic paper titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”, the “Project for the New American Century” a right-wing think-tank, had argued for aggressively expanding American imperial influence abroad. One of the main obstacles they identified was the reluctance of the American people to re-militarize and advocated incremental escalation of their program unless there was “another Pearl Harbor”.
Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove and other top dogs in the Bush administration were architects of this “neo-con”(artist) thinking and now they had what they had dreamed about.
George W. Bush used the 9-11 attack to declare his “war on terror” that has since meant the illegal invasion of Iraq, support for and encouragement of Israeli aggression against Lebanon and long-suffering Palestine, people being “disappeared” and tortured in gross violation of the Geneva Conventions and basic human rights and increased imperial meddling and bullying throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe.
These military conflicts abroad have inevitably led to more suffering and loss of freedom here at home. Social uplift programs, including those to assist veterans, have been slashed and face new threats with each new federal budget. Jobs continue to disappear through “free trade agreements” and globalization while many elected representatives, both Democrat and Republican, treat civil liberties and rights like quaint relics of the past. When natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina strike the message from the White House is “the people be damned”.
This year marked the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and memorial services were held at Ground Zero, the Pennsylvania field and the Pentagon as well as many cities and towns throughout the nation. In NYC, family members of those lost read the 2997 names and held a solemn remembrance.
Bush used the occasion to address the nation and again justify “staying the course” in the Iraq quagmire.
At Ground Zero, a memorial to the dead has still not been built, and some big rollers and politicians have proposed designs that many family members oppose as trivializing the sacred memory of those lost on that day.
In the five years since then, hundreds if not thousands of the rescue workers who so selflessly risked their lives have become sick and some have already died from various respiratory illnesses caused by the toxic stew of asbestos and other hazardous materials which filled the air after the towers collapsed. At that time the city government and federal Environmental Protection Agency had assured the rescue workers that air quality was safe and appropriate protective gear was not issued.
Today many of these sick rescue workers are still struggling with a city and federal government that is stonewalling their claims and denying them the treatment and compensation they need. When we talk about what happened, we must insist that the living receive Justice just as surely as the dead
It reminds me of the treatment that Vietnam veterans who were poisoned by Agent Orange/dioxin received when we came home from Southeast Asia and what they are doing to Desert Storm and Iraq war vets today about Depleted Uranium and other chemical toxins the troops were exposed to.
Recently there has developed what is called the “9-11 Truth” movement. Many theories have been advanced about what happened. The federal 9-11 Commission left so many unanswered questions, that much like the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F Kennedy, speculation and conspiracy theories have found fertile soil in some people’s minds.
I think that all questions and possibilities need to be examined and also believe that we should not trust a government that has lied so many times in the past, but I also think that we need to focus our primary efforts on what is happening now and how the 9-11 attacks were used as a justification for unjustifiable war.
Over the five years since that day, I have worked with an organization called September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. I have met many strong, honest and caring people who will not allow the loss of their loved ones to be used as propaganda props for aggression abroad or repression at home.
As they and all the 9-11 families remember and mourn their losses, we join with them in solemn reflection on this crime committed against our people.
But we must also reflect on why these terrorists would attack us, what policies our government is pursuing that have so antagonized people in the Muslim world, who benefits from these policies, and what we can do to get our country on track as part of a world community that promotes human rights, justice, peace and freedom.
This is the legacy of 9/11/01 I am committed to. If Americans understand this and do something about it, we may be able to fundamentally change course and prevent worse disasters from happening. If not, I fear to think of what will happen in the future.
This article was written for publication in the upcoming issue of the VVAW
national publication. The Veteran, which will be out in November 2006