Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reflections on 9/11

Written on Saturday, September 15, 2001

I drove by the Pentagon today. I decided to go by a condo I saw advertised that is nearby. Luckily, the damage appears to be quite localized to the crash site. I drove down the parkway along the river and then onto the highway that runs past the Pentagon.

As I approached, I saw the building, standing as firm and imposing as always. I curved around and the next side of the five-sided building was perfectly fine, but there in the parking lot were countless trucks and trailers. I could see some smoke and smelled food being cooked for the rescuers. There was a McDonald's sign atop one tent.

Then, I came around the bend and saw the unmistakable black markings along the exterior from the fire and smoke. Now I could see the crash site, the middle of the building that was rubble.

I turned off onto my exit and got on Arlington Ridge Road, on the heights above D.C. On the far east end, there is a hairpin turn and at that end there is a park, what used to be Fort Albany -- a place on the heights where cannon and other guns were placed to protect the city from attack in the Civil War. Here were many people, looking across the highway to the damaged side of the Pentagon. None of them said much of anything. Everyone just staring grimly at the collapsed middle. A few taking pictures.

As I said, thankfully, the damage was fairly localized, so I gazed around the city. Being on the heights, I could see a few miles to the spires of the National Cathedral. I could see about six miles in another direction to the dome of the National Shrine at my school Catholic University. The Washington Monument of course loomed over everything.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful city. The one thing I could not see, try though I might, was the White House. Only two stories high, nestled in the trees, perhaps its lack of visibility saved it from being the place of destruction.

I had thought about going to a funeral mass for one of the victims this morning at St. Thomas More Cathedral here in Arlington, but my sleep was kind of restless last night and I woke up late. For the first time in the 12 years (so many!) that I've been here, I experienced a bit of personal apprehension for my safety.

I've always realized in the abstract that if we ever suffer a missile attack, all I'll ever know of it is a momentary bright flash and that's the last you'll hear of me, but its never really concerned me. Never once during the Gulf War was I concerned. But late last night, as I was on the computer, I heard this very loud BANG! and then all the power went out. It was a very unusual sound, but last week I would have simply figured someone crashed into a electrical pole or a transformer blew, but this isn't last week. It was a sound I hadn't heard before and, although there is nothing in this neighborhood worth attacking, I was a little jumpy after that. Just to be safe, I reported it to the police. Just in case.

So, we all have to be a little more vigilant now that we are at war. A buddy of mine from high school is in the reserves and I expect he'll be one of those called to active duty. Over in the District, the national guard has been deployed. Many street corners have humvees sitting there with soldiers on the sidewalks. I'm glad to see them. Not for my benefit, because except for being startled last night, I'm not too concerned about me getting it, but I do expect further attacks on us. This is war, not merely for some in uniform going to southeast Asia, but for all of us.

We all have our part to do and sacrifices to make. It’s entirely possible that we will not be able to all be together this Thanksgiving. I expect we will have positioned our troops and have launched our campaign by then. If so, expect the airports to be shut down again. Even if we have not launched our attack by then, expect the planes to be grounded. Our enemy is perfectly aware that Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year for air travel and would like nothing more than to kill some more of us.

If the planes are flying, as passengers, we'll need to stay alert during the flights and prevent that from happening. If hijacked, we need to emulate the heroes of the plane in Pennsylvania and retake the plane, no matter the cost. As for me, if I'm hijacked and we cannot regain control -- shoot us down. I'll not allow them to make a low-tech missile out of me.

At the same time, pray for true peace. Pray for my buddy as he gets activated and sent into battle. Pray for our enemy, that God grant them grace and wisdom to choose peace. Pray for us, that, as we destroy that enemy, that God grant us grace and strength to not hate those He commands us to love, that we kill not for vengeance, but to end the violence and the capacity and will of the enemy to make war on us, until the day we again may live in peace with these children of God.


Added September 11, 2010

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was at the Arlington Courthouse, waiting for cases to be called in both circuit court and general district court. During a break, I popped down to the clerk's office for something and, while I was there, the phone rang and the clerk answered it. After a moment or two, he told us that a plane had just crashed into the Pentagon, which is about two miles or so to the south.

We thought that that was odd, to say the least. National Airport is almost right next to the Pentagon, but still, how could a plane crash into it?

I next went up to circuit court, where there was still a break, but the judge was on the bench talking to the clerks and bailiffs, saying that "this is war." Still not comprehending (not knowing anything about New York), I went down to general district court to see if my case down there could be called.

A few moments after I entered the courtroom, I saw sheriff's deputies running up to the bench, saying something to the judge. The judge then announced that all the cases were being cancelled and that an evacuation of the building had been ordered for safety reasons. (Apparently this was when there was a plane approaching D.C. (Flight 93). The deputies and police were also needed for mass mobilization to the Pentagon and throughout the area.)

Once outside, I talked to one of the prosecutors who said that he had seen a very low-flying plane over in the direction of the Pentagon.

As I got into my car to drive home, there was a report on the radio of an attack at the State Department, but that was later determined to be false. There was also talk about an attack on the World Trade Center and something about a collapse or possible collapse. In my mind at the time, I was thinking that they meant some of the facing had come off or something like that.

When I got home (about a mile away) and turned on the TV, I don't remember when it was that I first saw that the WTC building or buildings had collapsed entirely. I don't have any recollection of "Oh my God," but I must have had a response of that type. I was definitely stunned enough to not really remember my reaction, considering that I believed at the time that 25-30,000 people had just died, maybe even as high as 50,000 (thank-you Lord for the WTC personnel and firefighters who were able to evacuate the towers so efficiently).

After sitting in front of the TV for a few hours, I walked out of the house and went over to Lee Highway, which leads directly to the District. There were long lines of crowds of people walking down the sidewalk, they were federal government workers evacuating D.C. on foot because the Metro (subway) had stopped running.

In the days that followed, heavily armed military personnel began to populate many of the street corners. We were happy to see them.

See also Why I Believe, or, How I Know that God Exists

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