Where Was I On 9/11?

The September 11 attacks happened during my senior year at Colgate. This is a short reflection written a few weeks later for another student who was collecting (anonymous) where-was-I pieces for a project.

My anthropology field methods class got out at a quarter to ten on the morning of September 11. As we were leaving the seminar room on the fourth floor of Alumni, Prof. Edwards met us and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. My reaction at the time was a mild "uh-oh," and I assumed it must have been an accident. Prof. Davis said something to me about my Fulbright fellowship proposal, and I assured her I would work on it as soon as I checked the news to see what the deal was with the WTC.

As I walked down the stairs of Alumni, I could hear students coming out of classes whispering about the plane crash. When I reached the second floor, I started to hear mentions of the attack on the Pentagon.

When the US went to war with Yugoslavia, I was astounded to discover that a significant portion of the Colgate student body had no knowledge of this -- some had never even heard of Kosovo. So I allowed myself a bit of optimism that the conversations I overheard on my walk to the Coop, then home, meant that people would actually be aware of a major news story. I wonder now if "the Colgate bubble" may have made the attack have an even stronger impact on students -- the shock of the bubble finally breaking.

I woke my roommate up by listening to an online video of President Bush's speech in Florida (washingtonpost.com was, luckily, one of the few major news sites not crippled by the increased traffic). He thought I had found a program that could read things in Bush's voice, and the speech was some sort of joke. When I assured him it wasn't, we rushed downstairs.

At this point I was thinking how lucky it was that the planes hit the towers high up, because a lower impact could have destabilized the entire structure and made it fall. I said as much just minutes before we saw the first tower fall.

All day I wondered whether I was in denial about the situation, if perhaps I would break down at some point when I really grasped the magnitude of what had happened. I remember joking that the BBC was going to get jealous of NBC and CNN's ratings, and hire some terrorists to crash into the Tower of London. Once the attacks were pinned on Osama bin Laden, we joked that his next plot would be to build a whole bunch of coal-fired power plants to accelerate global warming, since Afghanistan is high up in the mountains and wouldn't be hurt by sea level rise. My focus the whole time was not so much on what had happened -- I took that as given. My worries were for the future. What kind of backlash against Arab and Muslim Americans would we see? Would this escalate into World War III? Could we trust Bush to make the right decisions?

I never did break down. Perhaps part of what allowed me to remain unemotional was that the tragedy didn't affect me personally. Nobody I knew well was in the WTC or the Pentagon, and so far as I know none of my good friends have lost anyone close to them in the tragedy. Which makes me wonder whether I have the right to speak about these events at all.

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