We are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I vividly recall that Tuesday morning. I was teaching at a boarding school. I took my twin baby girls into the dining hall. Then, I went to meet with my advisory. My classroom was one of only a few with a television, and I would typically have the news playing in the background to help my students have some awareness of current events. That day we all saw the planes hit the World Trade Center and then the Pentagon. It was truly surreal. I spent the entire day processing the attack with students. We also addressed some scary moments, as some community members feared for family members in New York City. It was a day that forever changed the scope of American history. There have been many retrospective articles about 9/11. Now with the American exit from Afghanistan, our society debates the U.S. response and mistakes made. This weekend, I want to encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect on the lives lost, the heroism demonstrated by first responders that day, and the honorable service of American men and women in the Global War on Terror.
We will be struggling to understand this event for decades. I recommend the following resources:
The New York Times interactive story: This website features audio from the planes and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It begins with a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to be hijacked and the first to crash into the World Trade Center. It’s harrowing. The attendant’s name was Betty Ong. She had to call the reservation desk and then was transferred to operations, where she described the scene on the plane. Two other attendants had been stabbed, and there was some kind of chemical spray in the first class section of the plane. The audio then goes to the FAA and the military’s response to the crisis. Along the side of the screen is a map that shows the location of all four hijacked planes. When listening, one realizes just how no one could anticipate that terrorists would turn planes into flying bombs. You will also appreciate just how chaotic that morning was for U.S. officials.
9/11: This film by two French filmmakers, Jules and Gédéon Naudet, and New York firefighter James Hanlon takes you to the scene and the moments of the attack. In the summer of 2001, the Naudets were filming a documentary about a rookie fire fighter. They went weeks without a fire call or opportunity to collect dramatic footage. Then, on 9/11, the fire unit was called to inspect a gas line in lower Manhattan. As they are taking readings, the crew hears a plane overhead (something you would normally not hear from the street in NYC) and the filmmakers catch American Flight 11 crashing into the North Tower. Then, one of the brothers follows the firefighters into the World Trade Center. The film shows what it looked like from the inside. The filmmakers are respectful to the victims of 9/11 and do not show gratuitous violence or injuries. But it’s a traumatic film. You can see the stress and anxiety in the firefighters’ faces. You feel their loss for their brave colleagues. You get an understanding of their sense of duty as they fearlessly enter the building and hurry up 80 flights of stairs. (Note: this film has audio of people jumping from the towers and I would not recommend it for younger children.)
The Looming Tower: If you want to dig more deeply into the motives of Osama bin Laden and how 9/11 happened, read this book by Lawrence Wright. I have assigned this book to students for years. Wright traces the unlikely rise of the world’s most notorious terrorist. If you want a recap of his book, an off-Broadway play version of it is documented in a great Alex Gibney film called My Trip to Al- Qaeda. It can be found on Amazon and other streaming services. Watching it, you get an up close and personal look at bin Laden and the hijackers. You will gain a sense into their sinister and dark motives. It also shows how the U.S. response to 9/11 played into bin Laden’s ultimate goals.
For many reading this blog, I know 9/11 is a day you will always remember. For all of us, it also is a day we must never forget.