Another Loss Of Innocence
As I write this, the event, however it comes to be named, is still unfolding here in Manhattan. Indeed, the magnitude of the disaster makes it obvious that it will continue to unfold for years, as we as individuals and as members of society respond, each according to our needs, hopes, and fears.
Watching the faces of people on Fifth Avenue as the second tower collapsed, I was struck by the diversity of our reactions. Screams. Gasps. Swearing. Blank looks. None of us knows how this will ultimately affect us. Workers continued to rush food carts to mid-town lunch meetings as if anyone would care whether the catering arrived on time. Cabs continued to stream downtown as of 11 AM, but no cab driver could know who would need a ride. Flocks of tourists and locals argued with one another about what they saw, about whether they could get where they needed to go, and about whether the US should respond by attacking someone.
Times Square, where I went after hearing of the disaster, was packed with people watching the television screens above the Nasdaq Market Site. The news zipper seemed to be stuck on old news, zipping out the latest gossip on Michael Jordan, while behind, smoke and dust billowed from the downtown area. Thousands of people were milling in the street, while others weaved their way through the crowd as though it were any other day in mid-town Manhattan. At a tourist shop, a panoramic poster showing the Manhattan skyline faced the crowd. The most prominent part of that skyline was now gone.
A part of us is now gone as well. For people of our generation, this event will likely be a defining historical moment. Pearl Harbor has been mentioned, but it’s unclear whether any analogy is appropriate. New York’s heart has been ripped out and put to flames.
The only thing more shocking than the images on the screen is the thought that our way of life may be unalterably changed as a result of what happened here today. In the past, our society has responded ably to world wars and, during the Cold War, to the threat of global armageddon. How will we, how must we, respond to today’s event? Will America go to war? Will our jobs be secure? Will our civil liberties be safe? Perhaps these too are the wrong questions. We may find ourselves asking instead which of our liberties will be safe.
Perhaps the worst is behind us, perhaps this commentary is premature. Maybe it will be seen as a sign of the panic that gripped this city, where right now doomsday talk is on everyone’s lips.
But I know that from this day on, every New Yorker will know where he was this morning. And I know that right now many of us are afraid that even if we are not among those directly affected by the tragedy, our lives will be changed. It is possible that a golden age in our national life, in our world’s history, has just passed.
Two months ago, when I moved to this city, I celebrated my new home by going with tourists up to the observation deck of the south tower of the World Trade Center. It was a beautiful sunny day with perfect visibility. You could see out to JFK, and out to Sandy Hook, where the British fleet lay at anchor before the last successful attack on this city, in 1776. I watched the sun set on the Statue of Liberty, the shadow creeping up on her cap. Then I rode up to the 107th floor of the other building and splurged on a glass of wine at the tallest bar in the world. It was a wonderful and secure evening.
When I lived in Washington, DC, my friends and I often talked about terrorism. I always took the side of those who said we could not view ourselves as targets, that we shouldn’t go overboard in protecting our national symbols. After the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, some said it was the end of innocence. They said the same thing after Oklahoma City. What will we say now?
When Franklin Roosevelt spoke to Congress about Pearl Harbor, he expressed confidence that “we will win through to ultimate victory.” As we decide how to respond to what has happened, it will be important to remember our values and our humanity. These are the moments when we show who we are as individuals, and as a society.
Anders Hove ’96 is a member of The Tech’s Advisory Board.