It was Wednesday night. The local baseballers were done for the day. I was tired of the computer, and if you pay attention you’ve seen that I lack smart phone diversion in my life. That noted, I landed in front of the television and chanced upon a National Geographic doc on Hulu. Titled “9/11: One Day In America,” the series joins scores of others before it that have sought to dissect and unearth the events of 9/11 with incrementally finer toothed combs, but the obstacle they all face is that this happened in 2001.
Twenty years ago.
A different technological era, and consequently, sociologically archaic. Our culture’s idiosyncrasies were alien to us now. Social evolution mimics technology; it is exponential. The leap of society, circa 2001, to society, circa 2021, outstrips the differences with the society of 1981, previously.
In episode 1, I watched the popular video footage of NYFD crews strategizing in the north tower’s lobby minutes after the first plane struck. The buzz of chaotic voices and shouts is punctuated by the random sound of metallic thuds from above. We learn these represent each time the body of a jumper (or faller) from the burning portion of the building strikes the ground. Despite the tragic falling deaths of so many from the towers that morning, it occurred to me nothing is seen of this despite the fact everyone was was running around “videotaping” everything that morning. Video cameras, not phones, were the medium and thus in fewer hands. The ubiquity of phone video has made voyeurs of us all and I suspect if 9/11 had happened today, we would witness all manner of horrific bodily destruction via social media. In 2001, with imaging not so readily available, there was a dearth of gore in the coverage a horrific event which should have offered nothing but.
The show begins as the filmmakers set up the foreboding chain of events immediately preceding the WTC attacks on that Tuesday morning. Through various random video people shot that morning, we witness the banal routine which built up toward the events that were to change the character of life permanently. The last moments of a pre-911 world trail past us.
During one series of recollections, NYFD Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer (whose area of command included the “tip” of Manhattan) and his crew were followed by a video camera as his company responded to a gas leak near the WTC about 8:30 that morning.
Fortuitously, the camera randomly caught American Airlines 11 crash into the 80th floor of the north tower and the ensuing fiery destruction that rained on the streets below. This is the only footage I know that exists of the first attack. The south tower’s attack, happening about 15 minutes later, was viewed more widely since the previous attack elicited a rapt attentiveness that was focused on the 100-story couplets like never before.
The enormity of that morning’s events never diminishes. Every time I watch the planes crash into the towers, a rush of adrenaline defies the age of the images.
And the enormity of time’s passing. How much have we lost in the 2 decades since? So much of what we had and knew and took for granted, pre-911, surrendered. Nothing was reclaimed, nor will it ever be. Since 2001, the American playing field has melded with the global playing field; national boundaries rendered amorphous by the internet and global commerce, privacy and self-determination trampled by fear.
Before 8:46am on September 11, 2001, we enjoyed a quasi-Utopian autonomy and didn’t appreciate it. Comfortable layers padding our complacent world as recently as 8:45am, one minute prior to global upheaval’s clarion call. At the precise moment, that quantum sliver of time before the plane struck, we lived on an alien temporal plane, a radically unrecognizable dimension than what we live in now. In that explosive moment of eruption, the familiar drone of this world’s soundtrack skipped a beat. All seeming linearity of our dependable timeline was catapulted into a multidimensional array of confusion.
The snowball of governmental and elitist infringement began its long roll and now, sitting in the shadows of a virus and weaponized fear, the parade has not let up and culmination threatens.
Do you remember what it was like?