11 September 2011

Ten years later

Ten years ago today, I was walking out of my morning class at NYU, cell phone in hand, a call to mom on my mind. I'd been in the city for about 2 weeks and had just started classes, so of course, like most college students, I was broke and needed money. Scowling down at my phone, I noticed it wouldn't connect, and I was mildly annoyed. Abruptly, I found myself face to face with a stricken, "older" woman who proclaimed, "Your phone won't work because we're being attacked by terrorists and we're all going to DIE!". (Note: In retrospect, she was probably all of about 40yrs old, but the world looks just a bit different at 18 than it does now at 28.)

I've met my share of unique individuals in the city, so at the time this woman's statement was amusing at best. I walked on, cursing my phone, when all of a sudden I looked around and realized that I was the only one not staring, dumbfounded, at the sky. You know in movies when the main character suddenly realizes something everyone else already knows....the slow motion realization...well, that was me. I had barely enough time to register that one of the Twin Towers was on fire when the second plane hit. At the time, I didn't even realize it was a plane; all I saw was the explosion, and I remember thinking:
1. Could that crazy woman have been right?
2. Where is my father?

CNN recently published a series of articles called Small Choices, describing some of the many "near misses" of 9/11. We've all heard those stories and many others. Possibly the most famous story was that of Howard Lutnick, head of Canter-Fitzgerald, who arrived late to work that day because he was taking his son to his first day of school, thus missing the fireball that blew through his office (that company lost ~75% of its WTC employees). One story that you won't hear on national news was that of my Dad.

At the time, my father worked for Credit Swiss First Boston. Though his office was on Madison Ave, it wasn't uncommon for him to be at WTC because CSFB had offices in Building 5. I never really paid much attention to his schedule, but that day I felt such a sense of dread as I gazed alternately between the burning towers and my dead cell phone. It took me ages to find a functioning pay phone, and when I did I couldn't reach my dad. I did get a hold of my mom, who told me dad was safe on Madison Ave, and that I should return to my apartment and stay out of the way. The line went dead.

But my dad was safe.

Unfortunately, someone else's dad wasn't. My dad was, in fact, due at the WTC that day at a tech conference to be held at Windows-of-the World. It was an exclusive and expensive invitation - normally something my dad would have jumped to attend. But this time he had more important things to do, and declined. The man who went in his stead was the only member of CSFB to perish. Ten years later, and I still think about him and his family.

Small choices, big consequences. Life, and death.

And here we are, ten years later: Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are dead, along with thousands of other men, women, and children on both sides in a war that can never be won. We've blamed the entirety of the Middle East for the work of a handful of fundamentalists acting of their own accord - and shame on us for being so narrow-minded. I maintain, just as I have for the last decade, that we never should have gone to war. Ten years ago today the world wept for us Americans. Today, most of the world does little more than scowl. We were the world's biggest superpower on that day, and we could have chosen not to retaliate. It would not, as some have claimed, shown weakness. Instead, it would have shown class, grace, and maturity. Not to mention, with all the money we've spent on "The War on Terror" in the last decade, we could have completely weaned ourselves off foreign oil and pioneered green energy. You can build a lot of windmills for a trillion dollars! We could have certainly done a lot more "damage" in the Middle East by simply declining to purchase their oil - and without the bloodshed! As China (who, probably, would likely have been more than willing to pick up where we left off), is quickly reminding the rest of the world, there is more than one way to conquer a country.

We've spent 10 years retaliating against innocent victims, claiming we are right because they fought back. And what scares me the most is that, lately, it seems to me that this war has become more a fight between Christianity and Islam than about towers and terror. Both sides are being pushed to further extremes, fostering hatred, misunderstanding, and intolerance. This can't possibly end well. When, in history, has a holy war EVER ended well?

And what did they even expect to accomplish? Do you feel safer? I certainly don't, and I shutter to contemplate what this is teaching our children.

Shame on us.

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