Noah Gordon was in Spain on 9/11/01 when the tragic events occurred at the World Trade Center in New York. At the request of the editors of El Mundo, the leading national newspaper of Spain, he wrote the following article giving the reaction of one American.
By Noah Gordon
Minutes after my plane landed at the Barcelona Airport on Tuesday a huge commercial aircraft knifed into the wall of the World Trade Center in New York City, like a medieval marksman’s arrow seeking and finding the vulnerable heart of my country.
Soon afterward, while we were beginning a joyful family reunion in my son’s home, a friend and neighbor hurried in to urge us to turn on the television, and we wept in disbelief to see the lives of thousands of people coming to a terrible end before our eyes.
When I was a boy sometimes we listened to a radio program called “You Are There,” in which the listener could imagine himself participating in an historic achievement or catastrophe. Tuesday we were there, even though none of us wished to be, for that is the magic and horror of our age of instant communication.
Certain images will remain with us forever.
The terrible predicament of the doomed people trapped in the the upper stories of the Trade Center’s tower, some of them leaning from the windows, frantically waving makeshift distress banners—towels, curtains, pieces of clothing?—so the world would understand their desperate need to be saved.
The jumpers who chose a quick end over the onslaught of the raging fire. The awful sight of a single falling body—whose?—drifting down the long, long facade of the building like a forlorn leaf fluttering to earth.
The spire of the World Trade Center tower slowly and majestically sinking, a great ship going down, as the building crumbled beneath it, carrying the trapped people to their deaths. It was eerily reminiscent of the light-hearted sequences run on television showing the demolition of urban buildings. This time no one could run the film in reverse to make the building whole again, or the people alive.
And a short time later—a strangely chilling and heartbreaking scene—the rejoicing by Palestinians joining in wild, exuberant celebration in the streets, waving their flags as if they had achieved a great victory; a woman ululating but not in mourning, a sharp, triumphant trill; the men raising fists in the air; the children aping their elders, their eyes full of happiness and pleasure. The following days there was a more sober scene, other Palestinian Arabs holding a sign, We share your pain.
I remember a similar moment in time. It was immediately after Japanese planes had bombed the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor. I was fifteen years old. Suddenly America was at war and I knew that civilization had turned a corner, that things had changed and would never again be the same. I was frightened about the future, but I had great faith in my country. I feel that way now.
AMERICA IN TURMOIL
Astoundingly, the terrible events of Tuesday appear to have had their genesis in Boston, just a few miles from my home. The editors of El Mundo have asked me to give an American’s reactions to the tragic Tuesday. Already, although I am far from home, I have shared reactions with family and friends in the United States.
An event which has taken so many lives and caused so many injuries inevitably engendered lots of situations in which individuals narrowly missed the grim fate that befell those who were less fortunate. We are blessed that our family and intimate friends have been spared.
Our niece, an engineer for the defense contractor Raytheon, was slated to fly from Boston on a subsequently highjacked flight but did not make the plane, electing to stay home and care for her children. Four of her colleagues did take the flight and died in the wall of the World Trade Center.
In New York City our brother-in-law’s nephew, who was employed in the Trade Center, was late for work on Tuesday. He left the subway, and as he was walking towards his office he became a witness to the horror show.
All over the United States, all over the world, friends and families are rejoicing for those who narrowly missed destruction.
And all over my country, all over the world, the survivors of the victims have entered the dark world of grief.
In Boston, Logan International Airport remains closed at this writing. A new security regulation forbids parking anywhere within 300 feet of airport terminals. The airport will not reopen until 2500 cars have been taken from a terminal parking garage. Fearing car bombs, the police are moving the vehicles one by one from the airport to Suffolk Downs Race Track, according to The Boston Globe. Anyone seeking to find and reclaim a vehicle from the racetrack may face a Herculean task.
The financial center, the government buildings, and the tallest towers of the city all were evacuated as possible targets.
Tall buildings are ubiquitous in modern America. Without thought or hesitation, one steps into the elevator. The silent doors close smoothly, the car rises swiftly and confidently into the sky. But what good does it do to have the skill to build toward the stars if we can’t bring people down from the upper stories when terrorists attack? Will this change our thoughts about architecture? And is it possible to build differently even if we should wish to do so? The reason for the success of the skyscraper is that land to build on has become prohibitively expensive and nonexistent in America’s crowded cities. Will more companies move to the countryside, where they can build low buildings with a larger imprint?
Will every flight have to carry armed guards? And will anyone ever enter a commercial aircraft again without a great uneasiness? I know I shall not. Is it possible to protect a plane from terrorists? When I was eighteen years old I entered the Army of the United States at the time of the Battle of the Bulge, when losses were huge and young boys were needed as cannon fodder, so I was very aware I might die, and I was afraid. Today, again there is a feeling of real risk involved in so simple an act as boarding a plane in order to visit loved ones or return home. I am an old man now; I have led a wonderful and fulfilling life and impending death holds absolutely no terrors for me, but I am afraid of leaving those who need me before it is absolutely necessary. And the thought of harm coming to people I love makes me fearful and furious.
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
If there is some vast eternal plan for the world I would like to point out as respectfully as possible to God that the blueprint has gotten terribly screwed up.
The world is still riven by ancient religious feuds. When one observes how many of our armed conflicts involve people of one religion fighting people of another religion, it becomes obvious that the Crusades never ended. For centuries the Church taught that Jews were evil Christ killers, and it has proven difficult to achieve real rapprochement between Christianity and Judaism. Certain fundamentalist Muslim countries consider the teaching of Christianity to be a crime. Since our political leaders do not seem able to make peace, perhaps it is time for a summit meeting of the world’s religious leaders. Maybe if they had to sit and look into one another’s eyes they might feel enough guilt to teach us all to work together like brothers.
Christians and Muslims are killing one another in Nigeria. Catholics and Protestants are still at each other’s throats in Ireland. Basques are blowing people up in Spain. In what used to be Yugoslavia neighbors who lived together in peace and harmony for decades couldn’t wait to begin slaughtering one another as soon as the restricting central government had failed. Factor in Afghanistan and several African nations, and the world presents a bloody picture.
In the Middle East, one people says “Shalom” and another people says “Salaam,” and neither has peace. Israelis and Palestinians utter the greetings like prayers and can’t stop killing one another.
Yasser Arafat says he is shocked…shocked…at the terrorism in the United States. Yet all through the long and terrible series of suicide bombings in Israel, never once has Arafat exhorted his people to stop. No matter who the terrorists at the World Trade Center turn out to be, their actions were predicated upon the suicide bombings that have eaten away at Israel’s people for so long.
Arafat’s weakness as a leader, coupled with Israel’s disastrous policy about settlements, has resulted in a stalemate of continued strike and counterstrike which neither side knows how to end. The Israelis cannot pull back from the settlements because that would indicate that they have been influenced by the terrorists. Yet they cannot defend the isolated settlements indefinitely. And it is less than certain that Arafat could guarantee an end to the terrorism even if he had the will to do so.
Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, has recently suggested a solution in which NATO would send troops to the region to guarantee an end to the violence on both sides. I think that would be an ideal solution. Even if it should come late, it would end a very bad interlude and open the Middle East to the eventual possibility of talks.
HOW BAD ARE “THE GIANT’S” WOUNDS?
The humbling of the world’s last superpower has dazzled headline writers, who have described the United States as if it were a Gulliver republic in a world of Lilliputian nations. I think the giant is stunned but scarcely reeling. Much has been made of the fact that the U.S. never has fought a modern war on its own soil. That is true; we have been fortunate, although we know what it is like to send too many American sons and daughters to die in other countries. Now a new kind of war has come to our soil, and our losses are tragic and numbing. But it is a mistake to count the giant out. I remember that after Pearl Harbor the American army was so unprepared it had to train with wooden rifles. Yet the great industrial machine, which quickly developed, was instrumental in helping to win World War II.
ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS; IT TOLLS FOR THEE.
We are in this together. Today, New York. Tomorrow, perhaps elsewhere. I am encouraged by the sincere messages of regret and support that have come from so many nations. If our intelligence services work together, I believe that soon we’ll know the identities of the people behind this assault. We must proceed with care and deliberation, but the civilized world will make certain that those who have murdered thousands of Americans will not go unpunished.