On the morning of
September 11, 2001, at almost precisely the time when my wife and I
landed at the Barcelona airport, suicidal murderers flew hijacked
airliners into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in
Washington, and neither our country nor its citizens will ever be the
While millions all over the world watched television screens in
transfixed horror, people leaped to their deaths, bodies fluttered down like falling leaves,
and the twin towers sank into a cloud of smoke and dust. Almost three thousand people were
murdered before our eyes.
In the hours following the attacks, at the request of the editors of El Mundo I
wrote an article giving one American's reactions to the terrible events. Now, a year later,
El Mundo again has invited me to share my thoughts on how the attacks have affected
my life and those of my fellow Americans.
OUR SENSE OF SECURITY
From the windows of our home, the view includes lofty skyscrapersthe skyline of Boston.
Much of the time when I look at the tallest building, the Prudential Tower, I cannot
help but imagine how it would look with the great tail of a passenger airliner
disappearing into one of the upper stories.
Several weeks ago, a group of fighter planes flew over our house,
very low and very loud, and a moment later I heard a series of booming thuds.
Dear God, I thought. Convinced we were under attack, I telephoned the police department,
and the desk officer reassured me. "It's only a military exercise, near Boston University," he
All of our military forces are watchful and alert. There is
not a great deal that civilians can do to protect themselves against the future attacks
that will almost certainly occur somewhere in America. The anthrax scare, thought by law
enforcement authorities to be the work of a homegrown madman rather than a foreign attacker,
appears to have run its course. The government has tried, rather clumsily, to sharpen
civilian vigilance, but it sends conflicting messages. One day Washington tells people to
help the economy by going shopping and taking vacations and getting on with their lives,
and the next day exhorts us to be nervously watchful for anyone who looks like a subversive.
They have set up a bizarre warning system based on a series of colorsa "Green Day" supposedly
has the lowest risk of terrorist attack, rising through "Blue," "Yellow," and "Orange" days,
with a "Red" day having the greatest likelihood of attack. I have never met anyone who
has the slightest confidence or interest in this system or knows what color any day happens
to be. But no one is making jokes about the foolish system. Attacks are too
real a possibility to be a source of humor.
THE COST OF TERROR
Our economy is in a slow recovery. The September 11 attacks cost U.S. businesses hundreds
of billions of dollars and caused the largest single loss in the history of the insurance
industryalmost $40.2 billion in property, liability, life, and workers' compensation claims.
Several companies have compiled databases of public and private properties most likely to be
targets of future attacks, and many American corporations are buying insurance against acts
of terrorism, just as they have always insured against fire, theft, and severe weather.
The American stock market, already softened by a much-needed
correction following the collapse of overvalued technology stocks, took a second blow after 9/11.
Following boom years, American unemployment at this writing is at 5.9 percent and is
expected to reach 6.1 percent or higher by the end of the year.
While many young people have substituted graduate school for job search, a number of
former employees of corporations, unable to find work, have fashioned alternate ways to
support their families. "One cannot dismiss the emotional response to September 11, which
has led to a renewed 'life is too short' mentality," employment expert John Challenger
recently told Money Magazine. "Before September 11, many young would-be entrepreneurs
might have postponed their dreams...Now we are seeing [them] proceed with their dreams,
throwing caution to the wind." Every day I read about corporate executives who have
gone into teaching, opened restaurants, planted vineyards, become consultants. But
not everyone is resilient or fortunate enough to start his or her own business, and rising
unemployment is an unwelcome reality in America.
Airlines have suffered terribly since 9/11. Following the attacks,
they experienced immediate and terrible losses and laid off 130,000 employees. Despite
an after-tax benefit of $4 billion in federal assistance to the airline industry, this trend
continues. American Airlines terminated 7,000 workers last week. U.S. Airways
has declared bankruptcy, and it is rumored that United Airlines soon may follow.
Fearful passengers have discovered that they get along fine without flying. Recently my
literary agent came to Boston from New York, sitting on a train for four hours instead of
flying for less than an hour. Rail travel in America is not as comfortable as it is in
Europe, but he was quite happy, and there are large numbers of travelers like him.
I am willing to fly, but I am disturbed by the carelessness of security in American
airports. Three months ago my wife and I made another trip to Spain. In Boston we were
waved past the checkpoint without search or challenge, a benison that robbed me of confidence.
Only at the Frankfurt airport, where we changed planes, was everythingbaggage, wallets, shoes,
clothing, and bodiesthoroughly, painstakingly searched. I was delighted by the delay. Since
last September, the more my fellow passengers and I are searched, the better I feel in the
In the days and weeks following the attacks, the United States became a vast garden of
red, white, and blue. It seemed to me that everyone in Boston displayed three or four
American flags. There were flags affixed to almost every automobile, flags decorated businesses
and town streets and porches, flags were draped on walls. People were shocked, frightened,
angryand I loved their unity. The first effect was almost overwhelming. All of America had
chosen to show its cohesiveness in the face of attack by displaying the American flag.
And then I
began to like the display less.
I'm very grateful to America, which offered a haven and lives of freedom and safety to
my grandparents and to my father, who came from Russia. When I was a young soldier, each
evening it was special and meaningful to salute while the flag was lowered during the slow,
solemn bugle call of Retreat. The American flag has represented wonderful things to
me. Still, being surrounded by countless American flags day after day, spoiled
something for me. Even the most important symbols are trivialized when they become
ubiquitous and are seen en masse.
There is strength in mass patriotism, and there are dangers.
Since all the terrorists on 9/11 were Arabs, Arab-Americans became immediate objects of
suspicion and some have been treated unfairly. Some of us remember how shoddily
Japanese-Americans were treated during World War II. How does a country search
for hidden terrorists in its population and still remain fair to the vast majority of
Arab-Americans? Certain security measures have infringed the civil and constitutional
rights of all American citizens. There is a growing awareness that we face a major
challenge to provide for everyone's security and protection while selfishly guarding the
freedoms that have made America a synonym for democracy.
Most Americans continue to feel strongly patriotic, but gradually most of the
flags have been put away. Last week I went to see the Boston Red Sox play in
Fenway Park, where a single flag has always had an honored place. In a pre-game
tradition as old as baseball, before the game everyone stood while a vocalist sang
"The Star-Spangled Banner," our national anthem. With a salty breeze blowing in
from Boston Harbor, in the stadium the flag waved and snapped, handsome in the bright
My baseball team won the game last week, but my political teamthe Democratic Partylost
the last presidential election. In some countries, that might have given me a choice between
joining the Republican Party or seeking out a revolutionary organization. In the United
States it just meant that for the next four years I would be a member of the loyal opposition.
As a citizen of a democracy, I can safely express respectful dissent about how my government
acts, diplomatically and militarily. I can say that I would prefer to see the United States
participate in the International Criminal Court, and sign the Kyoto Global Climate Accord,
and practice fuel conservation instead of drilling for oil in wilderness areas, secure in
the knowledge that the American Constitution endows me with freedom of speech even though
my political party is not in power.
At this moment, some countries which have long been friends
of the U.S. have had critical things to say about American foreign policy. I believe that
both American citizens and international friends can benefit the United States greatly by
offering constructive criticism to our government. When our friends in Spain and other
countries of good will disagree with my government I would hope that your advice is made
in a spirit of friendly opposition. Your good will and friendship are critically
important to the people of the United States. For many of us, this is a difficult time.
We value peace, and we need safety.
It's clear that peace in the Middle East is vital to any hopes of stability in the
world. Peace won't come until the United Nations, NATO, or the United States sends troops
to the Middle East to make certain that Arab suicide bombers stop killing Jews and that
Jewish settlers abandon the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The longer both sides
kill each other, the harder it will be for them ever to live as neighbors.
There has always been a certain amount of resentment of
American power in the world, but it is sad to contemplate that the terrorist attacks of 9/11
were made out of such venomous hatred of my country.
What happened on September 11, 2001, was an evil event that will live forever
within many people. Some survivors still dream they are trapped in the burning
buildings. Rescue workers cannot forget the jumpers. A woman who fled down 103 flights
of vibrating stairs in her bruised bare feet, holding her sandals with spike heels,
now will wear nothing but flat shoes that allow her to run. A man listed among the
dead has just been discovered in a psychiatric hospital, where he has been since the
attack. Hundreds still suffer from their injuries.
And they are the fortunate ones. More than 2,800 persons
died in the World Trade Center. Another 125 died at the Pentagon, not counting the more
than 60 passengers, crew and hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which was
flown into the building.
In the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine, writer Samuel Freedman
reminds us of a Jewish mourning ritual. "At the one-year anniversary of a
loved one's death, it is expected that you resume your former life and, at the
same time, mark the grave with a headstone." In New York, authorities are having
difficulty deciding what kind of monument to raise as a memorial to the victims at
the World Trade Center site. Perhaps the most fitting memorial would be for each
of us to work ceaselessly to bring peace to a world too long battered and
bled by the insanity of war.