Sunday, September 11, 2011

On The Anniversary of Sept. 11th 2001 and The Rise Of Online Writers

This week I received an invitation from Michael Silence of the Knoxville News Sentinel for some thoughts about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, about how that event influenced those of us writers who have created and maintained blogs over the years.

I of course had a story - so many Americans and others around the world do. And I tend to write rather long essays, which Mike kindly excerpted and included in today's KNS newspaper along with some online heavyweights from East Tennessee, R. Neal at KnoxViews, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, and the creator of SayUncle - all very prolific, noted writers and bloggers. Mike's roundup of what we had to say can be read here - But my comment was from much longer response, which had to be cut due to size limitations and all, so I wanted to give readers all the context for my part of this tale, one still being told ten years on.

Here is my full response to his Mike's question (and I have to rib Michael at little here, as he has always been a very supportive reader of my blog and often links to me and quotes things I write for the KNS, but today he wrote that I blog from Green County and I don't, I live in Hamblen County, plus Green needs another "e" at the end of it, and my blog's full name is "Cup of Joe Powell" - Mike has confused me a few times with other Joe's on the internet, but he has to wade through tons of material daily, so I am just happy he points folks to my direction.):

I was actually the host of a radio talk show in Morristown the morning of the attack - the show, which I called "Cup of Joe Powell" on WMTN-AM, ended at its usual time, at 9 am.

In fact I was eager that day to air an interview I had made with a friend. I had called him on Sept. 10th and recorded a conversation with him via the phone as he sat in the stands at Wrigley Field, watching his beloved Cubs play. It was a great piece and it played just as the first plane crashed into the North Tower, though I could not see the studio's TV from my chair and knew nothing of the attack.

Just as the show ended, a staff worker came in the studio and said with a deathly pale face "Something horrible is happening in Manhattan"

I walked into the room where the TV was on, and we all watched in horror the repeated video footage of that first passenger plane slamming into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Stunned and confused, we saw suddenly another passenger plane curve out of the sky and crash into the South Tower and the giant fire ball that followed. An eerie quiet swallowed all our words.

I remember someone saying "This was no accident".

We stood transfixed, watching the news reports attempting to explain what was happening. A newsman said all air flights were immediately grounded.

Within about 30 minutes or so, a report came across that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

As my work was done for the day, I raced home, thinking I would find safety and some comfort there - but there was none, as the television kept rolling that footage and the aftermath. As I listened to an ABC radio station on the way home in my car, I heard that one of the towers had collapsed. The thought chilled me beyond definition.

Later that evening, the terrifying thought struck me - I would have to talk about this horror on my show in the morning. What could I possibly say? It seemed no words would offer solace to a single listener. That Sept 12th morning is still a blur in my memory, and I have never gone back to listen to the tape I made. The one memory I have is that I played the almost mournful instrumental version of "Star-Spangled Banner" by Bela Fleck often during that show.

One of the main reasons I began my blog and continue to blog day after day is my unshakable belief that American voices can and do make real differences in our world - I try and stay away from the endless strident denouncing of our world, preferring instead to present questions, and sometimes some add humor of all kinds.

I don't want my country to be defined by terrorism, which in my mind gives power to those who seek destruction.

In September of 2005, writer Bill Moyers offered an essay which I quoted on my blog on Sept 11, 2005 - it reads in part:

"But it is never only the number of dead by which terrorists measure their work. It is also the number of the living— the survivors— taken hostage to fear. Their mission was to invade our psyche; get inside our heads—deprive us of trust, faith, and peace of mind: keep us from ever again believing in a safe, just, and peaceful world, and from working to bring that world to pass. The writer Terry Tempest Williams has said "the human heart is the first home of democracy." Fill that heart with fear and people will give up the
risks of democracy for the assurances of security; fill that heart with fear and you can shake the house to its foundations.

Yes, we are vulnerable to terrorists, but only a shaken faith in ourselves can do us in."

POSTSCRIPT: It must be noted that the staggering loss of so many lives on that September morning is so large, as was the phenomenal efforts of rescue and survival, and all of the humanity which experienced suffering defies any one memorial or anniversary observances.

But one person I would like to highlight is Minoru Yamasaki, the architect who designed the Twin Towers. His life is uniquely American.

Born in 1912 in Seattle, a second generation Japanese American, his early years were spent in the poverty of a slum, but he pushed himself, and worked his way up from very humble origins to become one of the 20th Century's most acclaimed architects and designers. After high school, we worked at an Alaskan salmon cannery to pay his college tuition at the University of Washington, then later at New York University and earned a position with the firm of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, the firm which designed the Empire State Building.

In 1941, he and his parents and family were almost sent to a Japanese internment camp during World War 2, but his employers worked hard on his behalf to insure Yamasaki remained free. He once spoke in an interview that neither poverty nor suspicion would deter his view of the world, saying that he would "
not to let that be the pattern into which my life would fall." Awards for his work grew throughout the 1960s, and certainly it was his design of those towers which marked the American landscape as very few designers have done. He passed away from cancer in 1986, and his creations can be found in America and beyond.

On the day of the opening ceremony for the Twin Towers in 1973, he spoke about just what the project meant to him, and how he hoped the world would view it --

“The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace … a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and, through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.”

With sheer idealism and optimism in my part, my hope is that despite the efforts of a few murderous madmen, that location in Manhattan will utterly defeat all the negativity and stand instead on the values Minoru Yamasaki held highest.

1 comment:

  1. Truly the best post I have read regarding reflecting on 9/11.