Although the events of September 11, 2001, took place in New York City, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, Penn., their repercussions were felt across the nation and around the world. This week, Dateline recognizes the 10th anniversary of this historic date with recollections and reflections from students, faculty, staff, and alumni, revealing a diversity of perspectives, beliefs, and hopes.
Dateline: What was your initial reaction to the events of 9/11?
Kaye Bragg, acting dean of the College of Business Administration and Public Policy: Great sadness for the souls lost and the suffering from this act.
Niya Doncheva, Presidential Scholar, communications/public relations: I was only 10 years old at the time and I was terrified. During that time, my mom was in L.A. and the rest of my family and I were still in Bulgaria. I was scared when I saw what happened on TV. We were relieved to hear from my mom the next day when she was able to call us.
Brenda Knepper (Class of ’09, M.A., arts and humanities), director, University Communications and Public Affairs: I couldn’t wrap my head around what was taking place. I remember visiting the World Trade Center in the early ’80s and taking a very long elevator ride up—it seemed like 60 or 70 floors—to visit a friend who worked for American Express in one of the towers. On 9/11, I felt incredible empathy knowing there were people attempting to get out of the buildings using only the stairs. When the towers fell completely to the ground, the scenes being shown on television were surreal. What was happening seemed impossible.
Jennifer Lopez, freshman, criminal justice administration: I was only in elementary school when this happened and I remember the whole class went silent when this was announced through the speakers. Despite our age, we understood a tragic event had occurred. My teacher’s face at that time seemed very worried, and when I got home that day I saw the footage of the demolished World Trade Center. I felt very sad to know that many people had died, yet I felt proud of the people who risked their lives to save others.
Todd Matsubara (Class of ’11, B.S., business administration): Watching this was surreal, as I had been to New York City for the first time only two years prior, and had been in sheer awe looking up at the two buildings towering next to each other. It was incomprehensible to me that they could simply crumble into themselves the way they did, but the thought that there were completely innocent people inside them was even more devastating to me.
After realizing that this was a planned attack with multiple locations being affected, I became quite angry that anyone would do such a thing to people whom they did not even know, and who had nothing to do with whatever their causes or beliefs were.
Cheryl McKnight, director, Center for Service Learning, Internships, and Civic Engagement: I did not know about it right away as I was in a cabin on a mountaintop in Virginia with no television or radio. I had to climb the top of the mountain to get phone reception and was stunned to hear about it. I did not see the film of the event until my return a week later, and I felt that I was the only person in the country who was not totally traumatized by seeing the [footage] over and over. On my return to work, one of the managers turned to me and told me he was scared. I spent a lot of time going around comforting people and telling them that it would be alright.
Sheela Pawar, acting assistant vice president, Academic Programs: My brother called me from Ohio and told me what happened. I turned on the television just in time to see the first tower fall. I was speechless.
John Lionel Pierce, graphic designer, University Communications and Public Affairs and lecturer, College of Arts and Humanities: Like many others, my first reaction to 9/11 was disbelief. It was hard to understand then and is still hard to understand now how other human beings no matter how provoked, could resort to this kind of violence on an innocent civilian population.
From the safety of another coast, I watched on television as courageous New York firemen marched up stairwells while those trapped in buildings tried to make their way down to safety. The thought of those on the upper floors unable to go up or down is hard to contemplate. The most poignant parts of that day for me were [watching] office workers jumping from the top floors of the towers to escape the fires raging within, and trying to imagine the carnage and utter hopelessness going on inside those buildings on those floors that would result in such a choice. The ultimate collapse of both buildings and the loss of so many lives are still hard to think about.
Melodee Wilcox, administrative support, performing, visual and digital arts department: I was in bed waiting for the second snooze alarm to go off. When they announced on 98.7-Star Radio that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers, my initial “still-not-awake-yet” reaction was “No surprise there, it was just a matter of time before someone flew too low.”
Everything else happened in a split second. Something inside told me to turn on the television, and then, everything changed.
Dateline: Did you have family or loved ones involved in events at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or United Airlines’ Flight 93?
Knepper: I learned a few years ago that a former classmate from high school died on 9/11. She worked at the Pentagon.
Gus Martin, associate vice president, Faculty Affairs, and author of “Essentials of Terrorism: Concepts and Controversies,” “Understanding Terrorism,” and “Terrorism and Homeland Security”: My cousin was in the first building when it was hit; he survived and escaped. Another relative died.
Pawar: My cousin’s wife worked in the next building. She had to walk home to New Jersey that day.
John Tarpey (Class of ’05, M.A., humanities), supervisory special agent, Homeland Security Investigations and reservist, U.S. Navy: On Sept. 11, I was serving with the Department of Homeland Security’s legacy agency, the U.S. Customs Service. Our headquarters in New York were destroyed at 6 World Trade Center. Fortunately, no agency employees were killed – they were able to evacuate. The damage there was almost impossible to describe. A massive crater replaced the once grand structure.
My high school classmate and Air Force Academy graduate LeRoy Homer was the co-pilot of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Several Port Authority Police Officers at JFK Airport where I [now] work were killed in the attacks. President Bush would later hold up the badge of Police Officer George Howard while addressing a joint session of Congress. That photo has always been special, and it hangs in my office as a reminder of the sacrifices made by so many that day.
Wilcox: Dr. (Frances) Steiner’s (emeritus professor of music) daughter, Sarah, lives in New York. As soon as I got to work I called her to see if she was okay. She was, but shaken. Luckily, she was nowhere near the site. The husband of an old friend was working in the Pentagon that day on the opposite end of the building – I didn’t find that out until later. He wasn’t harmed.
Dateline: How will you observe September 11?
Bragg: I will continue my mediation and make an offering for world peace through tolerance.
Doncheva: At home with friends and family.
Knepper: September 11 falls on Sunday this year; I’m sure there will be a special observance and message about the events at the church service I’ll be attending.
Lopez: 9/11 is the day to remember the lives of innocent people who were beloved by their families. It is the day to reflect about all the violence that is occurring these days and for all of us to remember the World Trade Center. On this and every other day of our lives, we respect the honorable people who did the most they could to rescue each other. That was a kind act of love and compassion we want to [commemorate] in our society. This is a very sad day indeed, yet this is the day where every American shows their pride [in] the American flag.
Martin: My personal observation will be to wear a flag pin. As a coincidence, my wife and I will be on a flight returning from the East Coast.
Tarpey: I will be spending 9/11 with my military reserve unit in California. My thoughts and prayers are always with all the military personnel who were killed or injured in overseas operations subsequent to 9/11. The valor and bravery of these people is inspirational.
The hundreds of memorial services for NYC police and firefighters in the weeks after 9/11 were very sad. Their families and the families of all those killed and injured on 9/11 paid a very big price. The neighborhood in Nassau County, NY where I reside is full of street signs memorializing [the] victims, a constant reminder of the events of that day.
Wilcox: In prayer, flying the flag, and wearing red, white, and blue. I will also be volunteering as usual at Grateful Hearts Storehouse in Los Alamitos, where I put together hygiene kits for the homeless.
Dateline: What changes did 9/11 effect upon American thought, culture, and society?
Bragg: Americans gained an understanding of the public violence many other European, Asian, and African nations have experienced for decades. The event brought America into the world sample of [problems] related to security.
Doncheva: I feel that 9/11 weakened America and made travelers scared to leave the country often. The [stringent] airport security regulations have lowered the terrorist attacks and made officials feel a lot more confident in our national safety.
Martin: It moved us into an era of security consciousness which other countries have had for some time, but it was new for us.
McKnight: We seem to have become more polarized on issues.
Dateline: Do you think our efforts to prevent acts of terrorism from happening again have raised our awareness of the differences between those practicing the Muslim faith and the extremists? And have the effects been positive or negative?
Bragg: I believe we remain ignorant of the Muslim faith and culture. 9/11 was a political statement for a group of terrorists. You could find effects that are positive and negative. A positive effect is the rise of inter-denominational activities and inter-cultural discussions. The negative [effect] is born from fear and promotes stereotypes of individuals.
Doncheva: I think that the effects have been mostly negative because people are quick to jump to conclusions when they meet a foreigner that doesn’t look like a native of the U.S. Many other nationalities are being confused [with] and discriminated against because of their similarities with Muslims.
Knepper: Personally, my awareness has been raised in a positive way. I recently participated in a study group focused on a book about the Muslim faith, so I could better understand the history, theology, and culture. It was very helpful, in particular, to gain a better understanding of the Islamic terminology used in news coverage.
Matsubara: Unfortunately the heightened security and awareness have created unnecessary suspicion and fear of Middle Easterners and Muslims, [not unlike] WWII and the Japanese American imprisonment scenario. While I agree that certain profiling may be an integral part of narrowing down possible leads for investigation, our civil rights also come heavily into play. It is a very delicate balancing act [before] an increasingly aware and informed public.
McKnight: I feel that we have become more aware of the Muslim faith both positively and negatively. I try to remind people that is was not the religion that did this, but extremists, much like the extremists in California who called for the mass extinction of California Indians in the 1850s. I certainly would not blame that on those of the Christian faith.
I like to quote Dr. Sophia Momand, the physician in Student Health who gives medical care to the homeless twice a month: “I would like for people to understand that Islam is about service, not terrorism.”
Pawar: For some people, yes. There has been an increase in the number of interfaith and intercultural events across the country. These events have been sponsored by churches, synagogues and mosques; community centers; universities, etc., including a lectures series that I put on with Dr. Hamoud Salhi last fall.
At the same time, there is still an incredible amount of ignorance about Islam. Just last year, a preacher in Florida proposed burning the Qu’ran. I doubt that he had read it. The very word Islam means “to be at peace” through submission to the will of God. That desire for inner peace is not unique to Islam, but is a human desire. The Muslim faith is one of the most profound attempts in human civilization to articulate and achieve that desire.
Pierce: The Iraqi war that followed—which seemed to make sense at the time, makes less sense in retrospect—did seem to have the perhaps unintended consequence of focusing terrorist’s energy on U.S. troops in that country and the Middle East in general, rather than focusing their attacks on us on our own soil. Good for us, not so good for Iraqis.
Wilcox: I think the military issue could have been handled a little differently. 9/11 did to Muslims what extremists in any area do: give the honest ones a bad name.
Dateline: Do you think there has been a collective loss of innocence about our national security and about how other nations see the United States?
Bragg: Americans are more realistic in understanding that security is not just about the military but [that it] also involves civilians.
Doncheva: I am not sure about that, but if I had to answer, I would say yes. How can a world power retain respect from its allies if that world power does not have its nation’s support to send troops to war?
Knepper: Absolutely. As a nation, we feel more vulnerable. During the recent earthquake on the East Coast, my sister-in-law, who has never experienced an earthquake, said she first thought that her suburban Washington, D.C. area was being bombed. That may not have been her first reaction, if the events of 9/11 hadn’t taken place.
Martin: I don’t know if it is a loss of innocence so much as an awakening. The [outside] world can and has affected how we live our everyday lives.
Pawar: On one hand, our society does not seem to have suffered a great loss trust in our fellow human beings. We continue to fly on airplanes, take public transportation, congregate in large arenas, etc. However we have become more wary. On Convocation Day, Toby Bushee and I were walking across campus and came upon an abandoned backpack. We both immediately and without consulting each other assumed that it might contain a bomb. While Toby was calling Campus Safety, a student came up and took it away. Before 9/11, an abandoned backpack was an abandoned backpack, not a potential bomb.
Dateline: How has 9/11 affected your personal perspective of being an American?
Bragg: I have to call attention to injustice and reach out to help another who is different and may be persecuted or bullied. Each voice can make a difference.
Knepper: It has helped to broaden my perspective. We have to become a more globally conscious society if we want to transform the quality of life for everyone on the planet. Recently, I was reading about “Euro economics,” attempting to understand how the current economic crisis is affecting countries other than ours. It takes an extra effort to continue to expand my awareness beyond my own personal concerns and immediate space and culture.
McKnight: I feel that we need to be more responsible as citizens, understand that we live in a global community, and yes, that we are our brother’s—and sister’s—keeper. If everyone understood that, there would be no wars or poverty.
Pawar: It hasn’t. I was aware of the history of U.S. policy in the Mideast and was not surprised by terrorist attacks on US soil, though I admit that I did not expect the magnitude of what happened on 9/11.
The events of that day remind us of what we are capable of, both good and ill. I think that the best we can take away from 9/11 is a renewed sense of the very real possibility of human evil and a resolve to fight against that possibility at every chance. To do this, we must stop thinking in terms of Muslims and Christians, terrorists and peaceful folk, and realize that the we are all in this together. If nothing else, the events of 9/11 were human events. I think the deeper question is how 9/11 has affected my perspective of being a human being.
Pierce: As far as the net effect of the attack on 9/11 and the anxiety and fear we all felt at the time, I think we all underestimated the resilience of the American people and our ability to absorb that shock. Those who lost friends and family members or experienced the horror of 9/11 first-hand obviously had a different experience than the rest of us, but the attacks did not have the cataclysmic effect on this country as a whole that its perpetrators desired and expected.
Today, despite the lagging economy and inconveniences at airports, the day-to-day lives of most of us remain pretty much unaffected. The attacks failed in their goal. The terrorists also underestimated the American people.
Tarpey: Although very painful, 9/11 has demonstrated how our nation can come together in a time of crisis.
Wilcox: The Long Beach landmark, Liquorland, is right up the street from me. It has had several owners throughout the years and currently they are of Middle Eastern [descent]. I shop there regularly for lottery tickets and Mountain Dew and we have a nice nodding relationship.
On Sept. 12 or 13, I ventured in, not even knowing if they would be open or what sort of a reception I would receive. The door was open and I peered in. Sam, the proprietor, saw me from the counter peered out. I walked in, smiled and said, “Well, I still have to get my tickets, right?”
Sam laughed and I bought whatever little things I bought that day. I didn’t want them to think that I thought they were the enemy. He was just as apprehensive as I was that day, but our smiles were genuine. We did my transaction and I told him “See you later,” with the same returned to me. It was a small moment, but an important one. The words didn’t have to be said out loud.
I held nothing against them, and I wasn’t going to boycott their store. We still lived and worked in the same neighborhood, side by side. Although it is not a perfect world, we need to realize that the random acts of dangerous and radical zealots do not and should not ever reflect the whole of any one group of people, faith, or culture.
This is still America and last time I checked, America still stands.
– Reported by Joanie Harmon