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The Day the World Changed

The day started with a shipment of my latest experiments from Germany. The high performance plastics (fluoropolymers) which were on the cutting edge of the technology, if everything turned out right, had to be separated from the latex solution they were made in, washed, and dried. It was a lot of labor but in the 3M lab we had to do our own workup after the fully setup lab across the Atlantic pushed through our requests.

In the middle of squeezing water out of the flaky solids with cheesecloth Steve Amos came in. “A plane hit a building in Manhattan. It’s on fire.” We talked about the news for a while even though we knew little. Steve’s dad was a pilot so I knew he had to talk for a bit.  He left after we chatted and I went back to work. When he came back in a short while later he had a more stern look.

“A second building was hit. They say we’re under attack.”

The image we cannot forget.

The image we cannot forget.

11 September 2001 has never had a real name attached to it. 9/11 seems to suffice for some reason, a neutral term that gives no credit or blame to anyone. It unfolded in a more gentle time when there was no internet feed, requiring us to watch the news or listen to the radio. News circulated at work in person because none of us were distracted by media constantly.

On that day Steve and I decided to go out for lunch largely because we knew a place where CNN would be on. It was the only good way to catch up on what was happening, something we wanted to do very badly. The rumors we were hearing were almost too bad to be believed, so something like the truth was needed. Teevee was the closest approximation we had.

While we were there it was announced that President GW Bush was heading to the Strategic Air Command bunker, not the White House. I turned to Steve and said, “I don’t know about you, but if World War III is about to start I’d like to be with my family.” I went to get my daughter at kindergarten and spent the rest of the day glued to the television as much as I could take it.

GW Bush heading into the SAC bunker on 9/11.

GW Bush heading into the SAC bunker on 9/11.

I never forgave Bush for that feeling deep in my guts, either.

We all knew that our world was changing. After all, a horror that we could only imagine before had just taken place in Manhattan. And in DC. And somewhere near my ancestral homeland in Pennsylvania. The skies were empty of noise, a quiet that dared us to take in the reality of a complete collapse of everything we knew.

That is what happened on that day. The week or so pause in every life was certainly the tipping point that took the economy into an official recession, one that I still believe will mark the start of a depression that is still with us today once historians are looking back on this world. We’re not out of the woods yet, and the new world we inhabit looks very different from the one we left behind.

The terrorists who were brilliantly able to turn our system on itself wanted to start a war between the West and Islam – and in many ways they have succeeded. Islamophobia suddenly became a huge part of our lives. The internet that seeped into people’s constant daily routine has been used more to fuel fear and hatred than to share knowledge and hope largely because the terrorists, to a disgusting extent, really did win.

They won so much because we demanded that they win. We couldn’t help ourselves.

Inderjit Singh Mukker was beaten badly just yesterday in Chicago by thugs calling him "bin Laden" and a "terrorist". He is Sikh.

Inderjit Singh Mukker was beaten badly just yesterday in Chicago by thugs calling him “bin Laden” and a “terrorist”. He is Sikh.

The information age of great interconnection rose alongside increasing spying and monitoring largely because of our fears. The grassroots efforts that grew with the ‘net have been highly paranoid and suspicious, often based on the presumption that “the establishment” of some kind is capable of creating all kinds of havoc that needs to be reported on.

The experience has been far from empowering – it’s been largely a bitch and whine session lasting fourteen years. Our sour mood is to blame for the way we use this power and the lack of skills in organizing – Hell, the complete resistance to the need for organizing and leadership as basic concepts.

Right now, there are signs that things are changing. Supporters of Sen Bernie Sanders, though I sometimes find them very annoying, are doing a good job of using the ‘net to organize. The election of 2016 is starting out in a very grassroots way all around with more than a year to organize and gather supporters. We may finally be realizing the promise of the difficult times we’ve been through.

But the world changed in many ways fourteen years ago, and nearly all of those ways were terrible. We have to change the world, but first we have to change our hearts. We have to get over the horror that still haunts us for very good reasons. We have to be better than it.

Looking back on 9/11 I can hardly recognize a thing. It’s almost as unbelievable now as it was then. What is even more frightening is that 10 September 2001 seems so distant it might as well be a dream. There is no way we can go back, of course, but the way ahead is only now starting to be look less horrific that it did on that terrible day.

Here’s to hope. Here’s to remembering without reliving, to honoring without vengeance, to understanding without succumbing.

6 thoughts on “The Day the World Changed

  1. Thanks, Erik. I easily recall thinking how beautiful it was that morning, as I left Brooklyn for my office in Midtown Manhattan. “What a great day to start replacing Giuliani” was in my head (I voted before leaving for work 😉 I also remember the eerie silence of the city by mid-afternoon, after all of the sirens had quieted. I walked from 50th Street & 3rd Avenue to near Penn Station (where my boyfriend at the time worked). I walked right down the middle of a ghostly 34th Street–no cars, no buses, not even a police car. People were congregating all around Penn Station, with nowhere to go–all Amtrak, LIRR, and NJ Transit service was suspended. There was mixed information on whether there was any subway service back to Brooklyn, so I took the A Train with my b.f. to Washington Heights (in the 190s in Manhattan) to watch the TV all night (the images repeating over and over).

    Obviously, returning to 9/10 would be amazing–although nothing would have changed. Alas–not to be too political on this–it would take returning to November of 2000 to have made any difference. While I suspect the answer is a quick “no,” I sometimes wonder if ANY of the 5-4 Bush v. Gore votes would have changed with hindsight. As partisan as she is (there were several stories of her reaction on Election night), I’d like to think there’s some shred of humanity left in Justice O’Connor that feels regret.

  2. I just received a message from Queen Elizabeth : keep calm and carry on.

    House of Saxe Coburg Gotha, the germanic royal family of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

  3. Things we should remember about 9/11:

    1) Blowback
    2) Iraq was the wrong war. Bush invaded to complete the work of his Daddy.
    3) There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
    4) The US created Saddam Hussein.
    5) Geoge W and Kissinger should be impeached.
    6) Rich corporations run the US. The Iraq war was fought for the military industrial complex.
    7) Bush didnt pay for the war.
    8) Alan Greenspan is a total political animal and he did not raise interest rates to pop the housing bubble.
    9) Greenspan let his Ayn Rand philosophy guide him.
    10) Bush is dum.
    11) So is quail.
    12) The Iraq war was fought for oil and Bush’s oil buddies.
    13) Reagan was dumb too.

  4. I’d like to report that Nature magazine says that God has been found to exist in all parts of the world. Notably the confidence interval is smaller in areas west of the Mississippi River.

    As the qualities being investigated are omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, perfect goodness, eternity and an unknown tolereance of evil.

    Also God reportedly enjoys science fiction.

  5. On the whole I think we would be better leaving it behind. That may sound bad but it was nothing but a kick in the nuts. Time to move on.

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