Written on September 16, 2001
By Doug Berger
A big black smoking hole in one of the World Trade Center towers was the first scene I saw at 8:55 am on Tuesday September 11, 2001. Thick black smoke poured into the air. The reporters said a plane had crashed into the tower. At 9:03 am I witnessed, live on TV, a second jet come into view and plow into the other tower with a resultant explosion as thousands of pounds of fuel ignited.
“What the f***?” I remember saying while the commentators on the morning show were asking if they just saw what they just saw. They reran the video and yes it was a second jet crashing into the other tower.
As news people scrambled to get the story I scrambled to understand what had just happened. Both towers, symbols of New York, were on fire. I felt for the people in the tower, on the planes, and on the ground. What happened? Why did it happen? I did know that it was not an accident. Then President Bush made a statement while on a visit to Florida before getting ready to head back to Washington DC.
At 9:40 am reports came in that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington. The news showed video of the black smoke rolling up from the building. Now I was num. I really didn’t know what was going on or what to do. The news reported that all airports in New York and Washington were now closed.
Less than an hour later I saw, live on TV, first one then the other tower collapsing to the ground. All 1,000 feet of steel, glass, and cement cascaded to the ground. Another report came in of another passenger jet crashing in Pennsylvania. Now I was sick.
In a little more than an hour we lost more people in a series of connected events than had been lost in similar tragic events of the past.
I was scared at the possibility that more was to come and searched out someone to talk to so I called my mom. I told her I was fine and she said she was O.K. She is a travel agent and she was really busy at the time since the FAA had shut down all the air traffic in the country.
I stayed glue to my TV for the rest of the day only sleeping when my mind and body just gave out.
It has been a 5 days since September 11 and I am still nervous. On Friday I was downtown getting my paycheck and heard a jet flying low and looked up hoping it wasn’t another attack.
Also on Friday our President called for a National Day of Prayer, as if only believers need to gather with others for solace. Instead I met with a friend in a local park for a Toast of Remembrance to the victims as church bells rang in town.
Later in the day I got mad when I heard Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, evangelical Christian leaders, claim that because of abortionists, gays, pagan, and secularists making God mad, God removed some kind of protective cloak He supposedly put around the US since its founding 200 plus years ago. They said we all need to do is get back to God.
I was mad because they were blaming people like me for the causing the attack and that people like them seem to use these tragic events as way of making more money.
I said to myself that any God who would allow over 5,000 people to die at one time is really not worth following. If we accept what Falwell and Robertson said as true then we must also accept that the Islamic extremists who planned and executed the attack had God’s blessing. They went to Heaven according to their beliefs. I was even mad when Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy Graham, who I thought was more moderate than Robertson et al., said on two networks that we all need to find Jesus and go back to Him.
I am mad by these kind of comments because they fail to include non-believers and because this tragic event was a political statement mixed with religion. This event is a prime example of the dangers of mixing religion and politics and I felt the comments were leading us down the same road the terrorists used to justify their attack. If we did what Falwell, Robertson, and Graham suggested we would be no better than the terrorists.
To be frank, the religion of the victims and the terrorists would not have caused or prevented the event. It was a political statement and the only thing that mattered was the nationality of the victims and the symbols of the targets. This happened in the US, using US airline planes, and attacking the symbols of the US and the US Government. The terrorists seemed to have been members of a group that hates the US Government and its policies in the region of their homeland.
Through these days I wondered what it all means and after some reflection I believe that I can’t give up my Humanist principles because I am angry and sad or that I am nervous and uncertain about the future. It would be extremely easy to discard my Humanism and go to church and start praying to God again. But would that protect me or my fellow citizens from future harm. I know it won’t. Religion isn’t just part of the problem. We have cultural and economic intolerance. It seems people find many reasons to kill or harm other people simply because they are not like them or they feel they have been harmed in some way. Inequality breeds the intolerance and can lead to violence as we saw on September 11th. Some people become so desperate that they act out in a nasty violent way. They have nothing to lose.
What happened on Tuesday September 11th is not much different than all the other days we live. We don’t know if we will live anymore than we know if we will die. We could step off a curb and get killed by a bus or we could be the victim of a murder. An asteroid could plow into the earth tomorrow. Someone who works out everyday dies while someone who is a couch potato lives to be 100. Going to church or praying, or not, will not have any effect on those events.
We need to live the life we have the best we can with the knowledge that the day could be our last. It is O.K. to feel sad or uncertain or any other of the emotions I know we are all feeling right now, but we know we must move on. We can’t let these events paralyze us.
What about the future?
Our elected leadership, along with a large group of citizens, are talking revenge. I know I considered it myself hours after the event. It is a natural knee-jerk reaction. In this country, that encourages revenge for criminals by using capital punishment, it didn’t surprise me that the only response seems to be revenge.
I would much rather see justice. We have one of the greatest legal systems in the world and our civilization is based on laws created by the members of society. We need to find all those who helped support and finance these attacks and bring them to justice. The terrorists in the attack died and their supporters want to die too, so killing them through military action is exactly what they want. To give them what they want would be to give into their religious beliefs.
The President has said we are at war. I ask a war with whom. War is declared through legal means. That has not happened yet and I am afraid Bush is saying the words to look tough and to justify the use of military force. His words sound eerily like those used my the extremists who have been attacking US targets for years.
I am resigned to the fact that there will be revenge using military force. I also know that if Osama bin Laden is implicated, he will not surrender quietly nor will other terrorists who may be implicated. They want to die. Martyrs are seen as heroes even if they brought about their own death from their own actions.
I also believe that Tuesday’s events didn’t have to happen. From better security at our airports to addressing the reasons people like bin Laden believe terrorism is a good way to make a point, there were human solutions available before Tuesday. We must continue to work on these solutions even in this current climate of terrorism and revenge.
The events of Tuesday September 11th prove to me that Humanism really is the better way to go. I only wish others will get the message.
*Update 09/11/11* Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda and master mind of the September 11th terror attacks was found and killed on May 2nd 2011 in Pakistan. Pretty much all the leaders responsible for the attacks have been killed or captured. It still doesn’t change my thoughts in this essay.