September 2001 Notebook
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Saturday, September 15, 2001

My sister-in-law Janet finally calls in. The news is terrible. Her son's wife, Lucy Fishman, is missing, presumed dead. She was a secretary, worked on Floor 104 of the south WTC tower. It had been two years since I'd seen her, and at that time she worked for a different company, downtown but not WTC. They came out to see us in NJ shortly before we moved to KS. I made dinner -- mostly Italian, trying to negotiate my way past some known picky eaters (and failing completely), but Lucy was enjoyed everything. We talked computers: she talked of Microsoft software failing so frequently that she described Dr. Watson as her "best boyfriend."

For me, this put a face on the tragedy. My first considered reaction on 9/11 was to recall Malcolm X's "chickens come home to roost" quip: the lesson that years of racist violence sown comes back, not in kind but in new and resourceful ways. But the subtext, that the original violence explains the ensuing violence, misplaces the key point, which is that the cycle of violence has to be broken. We cannot allow anything that came before to justify the WTC attack, nor can we allow the WTC attack to justify further attacks on innocent people. The bottom line here is that there is no way that someone like Lucy can be held accountable for any aspect of US or US-backed violence in the Islamic world. Nor should she be cause for further violence.

I recall Wendell Berry's essay on the Iraq war, Peaceableness Toward Enemies, where he argues that the only way to have peace is to become peaceable. Those of us who survived Sept. 11 have survived a wake-up call: we need to look at our lives, and work all the harder to make right.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

In Brooklyn, chez Liz Fink, on fateful day. Liz was to fly to CA that morning; Laura to KS that afternoon. Liz left early for airport. I got up around 9AM, saw white smoke out of south window, was pleased to see that yesterday's rain clouds had parted. Liz came back, told us that a suicide bomber had attacked the WTC. We look out window and could see, I think, one tower burning: smoke black from tower, but white as it wafted over Brooklyn.

We turn TV on; now both towers are burning. We watch TV, hear of up to eight hijackings, watch the towers fall, the Pentagon burn. "America Under Attack" was emblazoned on TV, an instant reduction that only fueled the growing war talk. I spent much of the morning thumbing through a photo book called Century -- a graphic reminder of how grisly the 20th century had been, of what modern war really looked like, on scales both large and small. With so much history in front of me, it was easy to imagine scenes of real war, and identify why today is different.

Imagine, for instance, being in Sarajevo, surrounded by hills and the persistent threat of mortars. Imagine being in London during the Blitz. What's different today is that once you escape the WTC area, you're safe. We see people strolling across Grand Army Plaza: no panic, just a long walk home. One can imagine far worse: a small, dirty nuclear bomb tucked into a small truck in a downtown traffic jam would have caused a panic evacuation of all Brooklyn. New York never seemed so vulnerable. But even a hijacked nuclear bomb would fall short of war these days.

Later we see a grainy broadcast from Kabul, a rocket flare and explosion. Speculation was that America was striking back -- temporarily forgetting that Afghanistan already had more war than it would ever need. I commented that if indeed the US attacked Afghanistan, it would mark the second time that Afghanistan destroys an empire. (Writing these lines on 10/28/2001, I stand by that analysis.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2001

Packing for trip to New York. Looks like I'll mostly be off-line again. (Next live entry: Oct. 27, 2001.)

Saturday, September 01, 2001

Movie: Sexy Beast. Two months after its first flush of hype, this movie comes to Wichita. I counted maybe six people in the theater -- second matinee on the first Saturday, not an auspicious beginning. But as it turns out, the movie is a crock: the same retired crook makes last big score script as The Score (and, or so I hear, Swordfish), except all around cruder and dumber. Ben Kingsley's turn as a sadistic thug is almost funny. B-


Aug 2001 Oct 2001