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Day of Infamy, II

Essay by Martha Quillen

Attack on America – October 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

10:30 a.m. Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Tomorrow is our deadline day. So we merely need to put together eight or ten more pages, finish the calendar, tweak that one last minute story, add a few Tracks, proof-read everything, and we’re through!

I’ve written a good letter from the editor, one that’s amusing, provocative and informative — if I say so myself, except…

The news this morning is astonishing, astounding. Everything that mattered yesterday and last week and last month seems to have slid into the background, and now my letter seems too amusing, too tongue-in-cheek, and perhaps downright irrelevant. At this point, it’s hard to tell.

Will things slowly return to normal? Or is this the beginning of a whole new era?

The Pentagon’s been attacked. The World Trade Center towers have collapsed. At this moment, four commercial jets have been destroyed. One flew into the Pentagon, two into the World Trade Center, one crashed in Pennsylvania.

Our daughter Columbine called an hour or so ago. She’s been doing temp work in Denver and was supposed to be working at the IRS this morning, but they sent her home.

Columbine’s boyfriend, Robert, has a brother who works in the Pentagon where he’s some kind of communications expert. So Robert is worried, but for now he has to wait.

From what I’ve heard, at this point getting through to either Washington D.C. or New York by phone is nearly impossible.

— So right now, lots of people are waiting.

Four planes are down and they’ve posted telephone numbers for the families of passengers aboard those flights.

And all of the airports in the entire country and in Canada have been closed.

Ed and I have an intern this month, Annie Hays, who took a friend to DIA this morning. Right now, we don’t know where Annie is, but we presume she’s on her way back to Salida. Her friend, however, is stuck at DIA.

There was a message on our machine when we got back from the post office this morning saying Annie’s friend is still at the airport. Columbine said she’d be glad to pick up Annie’s friend somewhere (although we assume that Columbine can’t drive into DIA), but Annie isn’t back yet, and we don’t know the girl’s last name.

It’s such a small problem, considering, but I feel for Emily. We met her when she came to see Annie, and she seems like a really nice kid. I suspect this isn’t turning into her dream vacation.

Abby called a few minutes ago. She’s on vacation in Yellowstone, and didn’t know what to do. Someone stopped her when she was hiking this morning and asked if she’d heard the news. She hadn’t. “The country’s being attacked,” the man said. “You’ll probably want to go home.”

Abby didn’t believe him — until later, when she started seeing almost hysterical campers sitting in their parking lots, crying. Abby thought there was something comforting about being out in the woods right now, but it was weird, too, to be so far from home.

12:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Annie is back and Emily has been rescued. Emily was sent to a community center in Aurora, and a friend of hers from Colorado College is picking her up.

I keep getting drawn to the television, where the World Trade Center towers keep collapsing again and again. Tony Blair was just on, pledging his support to the United States. All planes in Great Britain have been grounded.

A reporter in New York pointed out the irony of the date, 9-11. The stock exchange has been closed; the Mexican border sealed. Now, they’ve pulled mobile hospital units into the World Trade Center area, and it’s assumed that thousands have been killed in New York City.

1:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 11, 2001

I don’t envy the television reporters. Much of what they have to say right now is pure speculation. Who did this? How will the United States respond? Should our intelligence agencies have known?

In the weeks to come, I’m sure we’ll all feel that some news reporters and stations have been insensitive, voyeuristic, sensationalistic…. Yet we’ll watch, regardless.

What else can we do? What else can they do? The reporters haven’t had much time to think, let alone line up sensible stories.

Currently, senators and congressmen are starting to relate their messages on television. (And we just got a fax from Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver. It’s a news release, expressing her sympathy toward the families of the victims, and her confidence in the spirit of the United States.) For the most part the official statements being broadcast are predictably patriotic — and as schmaltzy as Hallmark cards. Those are the comments I like, however. They’re the statements that seemed called for at this time.

But there are already characters going on television saying that they weren’t at all surprised by this; they knew it would happen. Apparently, they’d been telling everyone that we should do something; we should have boosted security; we should… What? what should we do?

Ed’s concerned that the terrorists have already won a major victory — that civil liberties will be suspended, that just flying on a plane might present a major security gauntlet in the coming months or even years, that more phones will be tapped, more civilians investigated.

This morning, author Tom Clancy was interviewed on television. That seemed a little strange, but on the other hand, who has thought more about this sort of thing than Clancy?

Clancy was worried about civilian overreaction. His sympathies and concern went out to Arab-Americans; his fear was that Arabs might become a target of an overzealous response.

Now, just a few hours later, it has been announced that Arabs in the United States who dress in traditional costume should stay out of public places, and security is being supplemented at mosques all over the country.

2:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 11, 2001

This event is being compared to Pearl Harbor, and that seems apt enough. Pearl Harbor was actually one of the first things Ed and I thought of when we heard about the attacks this morning.

But this is very different. At this point, it’s not clear what the U.S. should do. Should we institute a draft? Should we mobilize? Should we declare war? Against whom? Right now, we can’t even be sure who did this. And what will we do when we find out? How do you go to war with terrorists?

At this point, the most basic things are still wholly unknown. Is it over? Will it be safe to fly tomorrow? Or the day after tomorrow? Or ever again? Can the President move back into the White House? If we are very lucky, and there are no more attacks — how long will our state of emergency last? How long should it last?

There are still days of rescue ahead; debris to sift through; victims to bury.

In Salida, everyone seems glued to their televisions and radios. At the bank, people are gathered around a TV in a back room; at Safeway news is being piped over the PA system.

We just got an e-mail from George Sibley. His daughter lives in New York and he’s been trying to call, but all he’s gotten is a recorded message that says: “Due to the tornado in the area you are calling, your call cannot be completed….”

If only that message were true. If this devastation was caused by a tornado, something natural, something we’ve faced before….

10:00 p.m. Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Robert’s brother is found. As it turns out, his office had been moved to another government building some time back, but it had apparently never seemed important enough to mention. And several other people have also called in to say they’re fine: Abby’s roommate from college, the children of some of my friends. Actually, I didn’t even know any of those people were in New York City. Thank goodness, I didn’t know.

Two hundred and fifty firefighters have apparently been killed trying to reach victims in the World Trade Towers, and seventy-eight police officers are missing.

This has been a day out of a bad movie: planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers; people diving from the upper floors; people covered with muck, bleeding, coughing and vomiting in the streets; people running down the street — with dust billowing up behind them — looking for all the world like extras fleeing from the monster in a Godzilla movie.

I wish I could think of something appropriately lachrymose to say, but all I can think of is hackneyed movie lines: Scarlet O’Hara intoning, “Tomorrow is another day”; Tiny Tim piping, “God bless us everyone.”

How can we retaliate? What will this do to our economy?

To me it seems too soon to know or even care. It’s time to investigate, to take stock, to rescue our injured, and bury our dead, and to honor those who have given their lives today trying to save others. ยค