Print This Post Print This Post

“It’s the Taliban. I’m absolutely sure, ” the Shamarpa said. Or Osama Bin Ladin,  who was harbored by the Taliban. Bin Ladin was obsessed with these towers and with destroying Americans and everything American. We went over the Triboro Bridge. A policeman waved everybody off the FDR drive and we descended into Harlem and could no longer see the towers, but at the end of the eastern avenues, there was a huge mushroom cloud of smoke. By now the second tower had been hit, by the second Boeing from Boston, United Airlines 175.
The three of us realized with a gutwrenching feeling that a major attack, a major act of aggression on the United States on the order of Pearl Harbor, a watershed historical event, was underway. As President Bush (Dubya no longer seems appropriate, considering what he now has to deal with) put it nine days later, in his address to Congress and the nation, “Great harm has been done to us, and we have suffered great loss.” A sentence with an almost biblical cadence, that almost seemed to have a veiled threat to it: and now you shall taste the wrath of Jehovah. I recognized from the phrase “patient justice” that the speechwriter must be the same one who came up with “compassionate conservatism” during Dubya’s campaign.
We got to my old friend’s apartment and turned on CNN and watched the twin towers collapse, one after the other, into the greatest heap of rubble in human history. 55,000 people worked in them. How many had already come to work, how many had gotten out, how many had been trapped and incinerated or blown up or crushed. It would be a long time before that was known. The whole of lower Manhattan was engulfed in smoke, but the statue of Liberty was still standing in the clear September air on its little island at the mouth of the Hudson. The symbol of everything that is good about America was intact. This had been a devastating “surgical hit,” as the military experts contracted by the networks described the little puffs of smoke far below that appeared on our screens during the Gulf War nine years ago, when we were bombing Baghdad, causing the staggering collateral damage to Iraqui civilians. It was this violation and desecration of the Muslim Holy Land, this loss of many of the faithful, that created Bin Laden.
I decided against going down to Penn Station and trying to make the 11:45 train to Albany. It was not a good idea to go anywhere until it was clear what was happening, until the attack was over. But I didn’t want to stay in the city any longer than I had to, so  I called Amtrak and reserved a seat for the 1:45. The booking agent assured me that the schedule was not going to be disrupted. At noon I started walked south down Lexington. I walked thirty blocks. The city was like a B disaster movie. The mushroom cloud was still billowing at the end the long, narrow, skycraper-lined canyon of Lexington Avenue. There was very little traffic. The streets were full of dazed people, commuters with loosened ties and attaché cases, New Yorkers whose elegance and vibrance I had admired a few hours ago. The sky was blotted out by smoke. Above it jet fighters—our Air Force– were crisscrossing the airspace frantically. Each time one screamed past overhead everyone in the street would stop and look up anxiously, shielding their eyes with their hands. This must have been what London was like during the blitz.