Thursday, September 11, 2008

Some Notes On Hindsight

Yes, hindsight affords 20-20 vision, or close to it. But in terms of historical events, even seven years doesn't begin to bring into focus the magnitude of how September 11, 2001 changed the world.

And so I love that on each anniversary, MSNBC winds back the tape and replays in real time, The Today Show as it aired that fateful day. So somone like me--hardly a scholar--can watch and observe once again--this time with full knowledge of what was to come--and appreciate the way the anchors narrated the story for us all.

As always, I'm struck at once by the initial naivete. A small plane has hit one of the World Trade Center Buildings. An accident. Surely an accident. Yet, one can plainly see that the skies above Manhattan that day are crystal clear and cloudless. Whether it's hindsight or design, in watching the tape, I now sense an underlying caution in Matt and Katy's voices. Even as they question eyewitnesses, it's almost like they're pleading for the callers to report the plane as having been a small, private aircraft. Like their own belief systems will not allow them to accept the alternative.

The second plane hits, and the tape offers a reporter suggesting possible problems with air traffic control. I've always wondered if she now cringes at having been caught uttering what was obviously an outlandish proposition.

Again, the crystal clear skies.

Matt and Katy now refer to an "attack on the Twin Towers" and Andrea Mitchell first mentions the name Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, the towers continue to burn. In hindsight, it's hard to believe I never dreamed they'd go down. How could they not? But at the time I remember thinking that the NYFD had one helluva fire to put out. Well, two. But it didn't occur to me that those fires could only be extinguished in one inevitable way.

If you watch the tape, the collapse of the first tower is almost a non-event. Tom Brokaw is discussing something entirely separate (maybe the Pentagon attack? I've forgotten), and it's Matt Lauer who's paying attention. He asks for the tape to be "re-racked" and you get a sense that he's trying (albeit calmly, without undue alarm) to make Tom and Katie realize that something awful has just happened. At first he says only that a chunk of the building appears to have fallen away. And yet, as you watch the replay, how can you not conclude that the entire building has imploded? Is it hindsight at work again?

Talk turns to reports of hijackings. I think it's Brokaw who hypothesizes that perhaps the pilots have been made to fly into the buildings. In a phone conversation with Blogreader Joe that morning, I recall suggesting the terrorists themselves could have done the piloting. Little did I know.


Of the three anchors, it's Matt Lauer who keeps returning us to the reality of the human toll. He's the one who keeps reminding us of how many people worked in the buildings, of how many responders were likely caught in the collapse as well.

Alas, like that morning seven years ago, I switch off the TV and drive to work--for me, a day just like any other day.

Trinity Church, near Ground Zero, taken January 2002

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