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Terrorism at Home

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Attacks stun the nation

ive a.m. and it’s deadline day for the paper. I’m sitting at my computer, scanning photos, logos, graphics. When my mother calls an hour later, I’m just finishing. “Honey, a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center,” she says, and I walk over to her house to see the news– I don’t have television at mine.

Shortly after I get there, a second plane flies into the second tower of the New York complex and it’s hard to imagine how this could be an accident. Faulty radar, maybe? As we watch, riveted, the images on CNN, we try to come up with an explanation that isn’t deliberate– we don’t want this to be something someone’s done on purpose. The news is less optimistic– there’s no way those planes hit those buildings by accident.

There are 50,000 people who work in the World Trade Center each day, 70,000 visitors. The numbers are staggering– in any one day, the entire population of Bonner and Sanders counties are housed within those two towers. How many were already there? How many can get out? I’ve been in the World Trade Center; been in the elevator going to the very top, where a mechanical voice tells you “you are now traveling at a speed of  30 miles an hour.” The elevators won’t be working now, and people won’t be going 30 miles an hour heading down all those stairs.

I take my children to school– unlike a lot of the rest of America, this doesn’t worry me. No matter what is going on, and we still don’t know, I’m pretty sure that Clark Fork is not a target. A plane crashes into the Pentagon and the Capitol building is evacuated. 24,000 people work in the Pentagon. CNN is now showing a split screen, devastation in two American cities. I look at my mother. “At least there aren’t huge spaceships sitting over each of them.” I’m joking, but spaceships probably wouldn’t have surprised me any more than what I was seeing. Maybe I should call my brother, suggest that he stay out of L.A. today.

The FAA shuts down all flights in the U.S., a first for our country. A brief piece of film footage of the destruction of the twin towers shows a body falling through the air. I begin to cry. People are leaping from the buildings. The south tower collapses.

I’m making changes to ads, beginning to lay out pages, with the radio turned up high. Whenever I take a break, I head over to my mother’s living room to see what’s going on now.

My baby sister, Chrissie, calls and tells me Chicago, for all intents and purposes, is shut down. The Sears Tower, Merchandise Mart, Marshall Fields, the Field Museum. She goes through a never-ending list. She sounds scared. “Come out here,” I say. “You can drive– there’s not a lot of big cities between us.” Undoubtedly people all over the country are doing just the same; reaching out to friends and family, wanting to pull them close and say a prayer of thanks that they’re still there to be pulled close.

A plane crashes in Pennsylvania. TV commentators are talking numbers. How many dead? What’s the potential? We want numbers, search for a place where we can wrap our minds around what’s been happening. In the buildings, people were at work, but with the planes– there’s bound to be babies on those planes, little children. My heart is breaking. Who would target little kids?

Those same TV commentators are also speculating on who did this. They’re calling it a “terrorist attack of amazing sophistication,” and call these people well-organized, say that what they’ve done is the “greatest act of terror ever seen.” It pisses me off. I can picture these terrorists, this group of unknown people sitting somewhere, glued to their TV sets as so many of the rest of America is, celebrating, reveling in what’s being said. “They need to be calling this the greatest act of cowardice ever seen,” I raged. “They need to be talking about how inadequate these monsters are.”

We don’t want this to be the act of inadequate, pathetic little cowards, however. We want to believe it takes a great deal of sophistication, of planning, to do something like this to Americans. We also want it to be “others”; radical Muslim fundamentalists are the preferred choice. The last thing we want to believe is that, like Oklahoma City, such an act could be perpetrated by one of our own.

Misty calls from Spokane. The telemarketing company she works for has shut down and sent everyone home. “They said we’re a major communications center and might be a target,” she tells me. A target. We’re not used to thinking of ourselves this way. It’s announced that the U.S. has closed our borders. “One of the girls I work with has an uncle working in the trade center,” Misty says. “He called to tell them he was late to work and not in the building when the planes hit. But he was calling from there and then the building collapsed. They’re waiting to hear from him again.”

We like to think we’re isolated here, but stories like this, and the hundreds that we’ll undoubtedly hear in the next few days, shows us we’re not. There are too many people involved in what’s happened today to believe that many of us will be untouched in the aftermath. Likely we will all know somebody, or know someone who knows somebody, that was a part of today’s events.

I talk to Carol Curtis on the phone and she tells me she’s emailing me her story for this issue. “You have to write about this,” she says. Write about this? Tens of thousands of people are going to be writing about this. We have nothing new to offer, no words that can make sense out of the senseless. Nevertheless, I know she’s right. Because writing about this isn’t about offering information, or offering words of wisdom. It’s only about acknowledgement. Death on such a scale cannot be allowed to happen unnoticed. Illogical death must not be ignored. New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani appears before the press. Asked for numbers of dead he offers the day’s most eloquent testimony, “… more than we can bear.”

 

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Landon Otis

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