FrontPage Magazine | 9.11.07
By Alan W. Dowd

If it is hard for Americans to forget September 11, it seems just as hard for Americans to remember that terrible Tuesday.

After all, Americans have short memories and short attention spans. As Henry Ford put it, “We want to live in the present.” We look ahead and move ahead, always bustling, multitasking, racing forward, pursuing happiness. Even when America was still young, we suffered from this self-inflicted amnesia. “Everyone is in motion,” Tocqueville observed in the 1830s. We were then—and remain today—“so confused, so excited, so active.”

To be sure, looking forward is preferable to the alternative. Forward-looking societies like America exude optimism and energy and vitality. Backward-looking peoples, on the other hand, often convey the impression that their best days are past, that tomorrow is something to fear, that they are unable to move beyond—let alone rectify—old grievances and wrongs.

But there are times and there are events that must not be forgotten. There are moments and memories from which we should not distract or detach ourselves. September 11 is such a moment. Yet with each anniversary that peacefully passes, it becomes easier to forget—or perhaps better said, to not remember. We must guard against that subtle and sinister temptation. Perhaps reviewing the facts may serve as an antidote to the amnesia.

Thousands of our countrymen were murdered that day:

  • 2,823 people were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, their punishment for daring to work in the most pluralistic nation’s most pluralistic city. One-hundred-fifty-seven more were killed aboard the airplanes that felled the towers. The youngest victim was just two years old. And some of the secondary victims survived: more than 3,000 children lost at least one parent because of the attacks.
  • Only 289 bodies were found fully intact. In fact, so complete was the devastation and destruction that the New York City Department of Health had to issue 1,361 death certificates “for decedents whose remains had not been found.” Recovery teams, who wanted so much to instead be known as rescuers, unearthed 19,858 body parts.
  • The jihadists claimed 343 firemen, 37 Port Authority officers, and 23 NYPD officers on September 11. In a typical year, by way of comparison, 100 firefighters are killed in the line of duty—nationwide.
  • At the Pentagon, 125 were killed at their posts. The Army bore the brunt of the dead, losing 22 soldiers, 46 civilian employees and six contractors. The Navy lost 33 sailors and nine civilians. The Pentagon dead also included officials from the Defense Intelligence Agency and other sub-agencies of the Department of Defense. This was the US military’s punishment for defending Muslim Saudi Arabia, liberating Muslim Kuwait, rescuing Muslim Kurdistan and Muslim Bosnia, feeding Muslim Somalia, protecting Muslim Kosovo. Another 64 innocents were killed aboard Flight 77 when it slammed into our nation’s military headquarters. All told, 146 children lost at least one parent in the Pentagon attack.
  • It’s worth noting and remembering that Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) actually held its first antiwar rally on September 29, 2001—before U.S. forces began the liberation of Afghanistan, before the first terrorist was jailed at GITMO, before the war in Iraq, before the fires stopped smoldering in Manhattan, even before we had buried and mourned our dead.

Our country was maimed:

  • New York’s skyline was forever altered, the Pentagon’s western wall charred.
  • No less than 21 buildings were damaged in some way by the attacks on Manhattan. Fully 30,000 apartments were declared eligible for asbestos cleanup.
  • It took 261 days to remove the debris.
  • Manhattan lost 146,000 jobs; the U.S. lost 1.8 million jobs in the first year after the attacks; and one estimate concluded that by the end of 2003, the US had lost a half-trillion dollars in GDP. That’s roughly the size of the entire Dutch economy or half of the Canadian economy.

Our countrymen are still dying and still suffering:

  • Five years after the attacks that maimed Manhattan and scarred the Pentagon, the New Jersey coroner determined that NYPD detective James Zadroga died from “exposure to toxic fumes and dust.” Valiantly trying to rescue survivors and recover the dead, Zadroga spent 470 hours at Ground Zero. “Detective Zadroga was the 24th officer to die as a result of the World Trade Center attack,” as an official from a police endowment fund told the New York Post. “The original 23 died that day, but he died years later.”
  • According to research conducted by Mount Sinai Medical Center and published by the New York Times, nearly 70 percent of workers involved in cleanup operations in and around Ground Zero suffer from new or worsened respiratory problems. Among those who had no respiratory symptoms before September 11, 2001, 61 percent developed problems after working at Ground Zero. One-third had abnormal pulmonary function. These secondary victims suffer from pneumonia, sinusitis, laryngitis, vocal cord dysfunction, asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, muscle and skeletal problems, and what has come to be known as Word Trade Center Cough. All told, some 422,000 New Yorkers still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Other reports in The New York Times reveal that the incidence rate among New York firefighters of sarcoidosis, a lung diseases which causes inflammation and the lumping of cells, is five times higher today than in the decade-plus before the attacks.
  • Scientists have told Newsday that the fires at Ground Zero, which burned for 99 days—almost until Christmas—and reached temperatures of 1800 degrees, served as a “chemical factory” that actually created new compounds and spewed them into the air of New York and New Jersey. California-Davis scientist Thomas Cahill found that air samples taken at Ground Zero almost a month after the attacks were worse than those taken during the Kuwaiti oil fires after the first Gulf War.

In the midst of this bad news, we must remember that our countrymen fought back, even on that day. Forty-five people were killed aboard Flight 93, when its passengers mounted an effort to wrest control of the plane. By circumstance, their plane was doomed to play a part in history on September 11, 2001. But by choice, by their collective will, they would actually change history and spare their country yet another bloody, psychological trauma. It pays to recall, as United 93 director Paul Greengrass cogently observes, “They were the first people to inhabit the post-9/11 world.” They wrestled with all the emotions we came to know in the days and months that followed their sacrifice—confusion and disbelief, shock and anger, desperation and despair, fear and terror. Like us, they argued about what to do and what not to do, about risks and dangers. They considered other options. They prayed and cried and finally came to grips with the mission before them, the only option left—to fight the enemy, no matter the consequences.

This war did not begin on 9/11. In fact, it was being waged against an oblivious America as far back as the 1970s—in Tehran and Beirut, at Khobar Towers, in Kenya and Tanzania, in Yemen and, yes, in Manhattan. The World Trade Center bombing of 1993 was one of many warning shots. Today, this war continues “over there.” In fact, many of our defenders call the war on terror America’s “away game.” They understand that in the cold calculus of war, it is better for them to fight and die on foreign shores than for American citizens to die on our own. As of this writing, 4,174 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan; another 29,000 have been wounded.

And the war that began long before 9/11 goes on. Like the Cold War, it will be measured in decades. One of the most quoted litanies in the bible, the poetic third chapter of Ecclesiastes, reminds us that there is “a time for war.” This is one of those times. Some will be offended by that notion; others distressed; still others disgusted that someone in the 21st century would cling to such a dark view of mankind. My only defense is history, paved as it is with the good intentions of good men who tried to outlaw war or wish it away or contain it to some other place or replace it with sanctions and litigation.

Our country remains in the crosshairs of a ruthless, remorseless foe.By the unmerited grace of God, or by good fortune on our part or poor preparation on the enemy’s, or by the righteous wrath of the US armed forces, or some combination of these, we have dodged what we all feared in those days and weeks after the attacks on Manhattan and Washington—a debilitating series of 9/11s. In fact, polls taken immediately after the attacks show that 80 percent of us were bracing for more. In September 2002, The Washington Post reported that US officials were worried about “low-level…but deadly attacks” against the United States.

The military’s counterstrokes in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Philippines and Timbuktu and Somalia and Djibouti and uncounted other places have disrupted these attacks. Yet we have not dissuaded the enemy from trying to maim and murder us. In fact, just two months ago, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff concluded, grimly, “The intent to attack us remains as strong as it was on September 10, 2001.” Consider what we know the jihadists have attempted to date: They tried to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 in December 2001. In 2002, they planned to ram an airliner into a skyscraper in Los Angeles. That same year, Jose Padilla, plotted to use a radiological bomb against apartment buildings. In 2003, bin Laden’s men planned to carry out 9/11-style attacks along the East Coast. They plotted to disperse hydrogen-cyanide gas in the subways of New York City. The jihadists hatched a plan to blow up jet-fuel tanks and a fuel pipeline at John F. Kennedy International Airport. They were planning an assault on the US Army base at Ft. Dix in New Jersey, when the FBI nabbed them. And these are just the stateside plots.

In short, our enemies cannot be talked down or reasoned with or deterred. They can only be defeated. As Abu Musab Zarqawi howled before the US Air Force sent him to wherever mass-murderers go when justice catches up with them, “We fight today in Iraq, and tomorrow in the land of the two Holy Places, and after there the West.” Ayman Zawahiri has added, “The mujahedeen must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq.” We should mark and measure their words. After all, their leader once vowed to deploy “fast moving light forces that work under complete secrecy…to initiate a guerrilla warfare” against the “American enemy.” He explained that their “efforts should be concentrated on destroying, fighting and killing the enemy until, by the Grace of Allah, it is completely defeated.” Five years later, on September 11, 2001, we found out just how serious Osama bin Laden was.

“9/11 by the numbers,” New York Magazine, September 5, 2002; CDC, “Deaths in World Trade Center terrorist attacks—New York City, 2001,” September 11, 2002; Anthony DePalma, “Study links rescuers’ lung ailment to Trade Center collapse,” New York Times, May 8, 2007; “Sept. 11: For the record,” USAToday, September 10, 2002; Susan Schmidt and Dana Priest, “US fears low-level al Qaeda attacks,” Washington Post, September 9, 2002; Press Release from Rep. Carolyn Maloney, “9/11 Sick and Injured Seek Help from President and Congress,” February 1, 2005; Laurie Garrett, “Full effects of WTC pollution may never be known,” Newsday, May 3, 2005; Maria Newman, “Many 9/11 workers have lung issues, report says,” NY Times, September 5, 2006; Deroy Murdock, “Not Soon Enough,” National Review Online, April 20, 2006; CNN, “White House lists 10 foiled attacks,” February 15, 2006.