Essential Reading On The Anniversary Of 9/11

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This post was originally published on September 11, 2016 and is being republished on the 18th anniversary of 9/11.

The tragedy of 9/11 will never fail to cast a shadow on the cultural consciousness of Americans. A singular day responsible for a life-altering paradigm shift, 9/11 undoubtedly reshaped the future of our country and the world. Fifteen years after the creation of the "Post 9/11 World" we now inhabit, we still struggle to make sense of such an event, and continue to see and feel the shockwaves and consequences it has given rise to.

Below, we've selected works that we believe best illuminate and unravel the vast implications of that day.


The Falling Man 

Do you remember this photograph? In the United States, people have taken pains to banish it from the record of September 11, 2001. The story behind it, though, and the search for the man pictured in it, are our most intimate connection to the horror of that day.

[Tom Junod — Esquire]

The Worst Day Of My Life Is Now New York's Hottest Tourist Attraction

By the time I finally reach the gift shop, the indignation I've been counting on just isn't there. I stare at the $39 hoodies and the rescue vests for dogs and the earrings and the scarves and the United We Stand wool blankets waiting for that rush and can't muster so much as a sigh. The events of the day have already been exploited and sold in ways previously incomprehensible, why get mad at a commemorative T-shirt now? This tchotchke store — this building, this experience — is nothing more than the logical endpoint for our most reliably commodifiable national tragedy. If you want to bring a coffee table book full of photos of cadaver dogs sniffing through smoking rubble back home to wherever you're from, hey, that's great. This is America, you can buy what you want; they hate our freedom to buy what we want. People will find moments of grace or enlightenment or even peace from coming here, I don't need to be one of them. I'll probably bring my son one day once I realize I won't have the words to explain. It can be of use. It's fine. I don't know.

[Steve Kandell — Buzzfeed]

The Real Heroes Are Dead

"Stop crying," he told her. "I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I've never been happier. You made my life."

[James Stewart — The New Yorker]

If You Want To Humble An Empire

If you want to humble an empire it makes sense to maim its cathedrals. They are symbols of its faith, and when they crumple and burn, it tells us we are not so powerful and we can't be safe. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, planted at the base of Manhattan island with the Statue of Liberty as their sentry, and the Pentagon, a squat, concrete fort on the banks of the Potomac, are the sanctuaries of money and power that our enemies may imagine define us. But that assumes our faith rests on what we can buy and build, and that has never been America's true God.

[Nancy Gibbs — TIME]

The 9/11 Eulogies — Words From Rudy Giuliani's Speechwriter

So if you're the mayor's speechwriter, what's your job? You're going to start thinking about how do you make this event mean something–not "make this mean," that's wrong–how do you find something redemptive out of this attack? How do you try and encapsulate those emotions? How do you capture a sense of perspective, comfort and resolve – something useful that can give people strength at that time. I realized later that I was incredibly lucky to have a job that allowed me to do something with all those emotions at the time–even though necessarily you compartmentalize those emotions in order to get the job done. We worked 15 to 18 hours a day, every day. I remember, my first day off was Thanksgiving.

[Henry Siegel/John Avlon — The Village Voice]

9/11: The View From The Midwest

Several other ladies from church are already over here, but I don't know if I exchanged greetings with anyone because I remember when I came in everybody was staring in transfixed horror at one of the very few pieces of video CBS never reran, which was a distant wide-angle shot of the North Tower and its top floors' exposed steel lattice in flames and of dots detaching from the building and moving through smoke down the screen, which then that jerky tightening of the shot revealed to be actual people in coats and ties and skirts with their shoes falling off as they fell, some hanging onto ledges or girders and then letting go, upside-down or writhing as they fell and one couple almost seeming (unverifiable) to be hugging each other as they fell all those stories and shrank back to dots as the camera then all of a sudden pulled back to the long view – I have no idea how long the clip took – after which Rather's mouth seemed to move for a second before any sound emerged, and everyone in the room sat back and looked at one another with expressions that seemed somehow both childlike and horribly old.

[David Foster Wallace — Rolling Stone]

How Rogue Techies Armed The Predator, Almost Stopped 9/11, And Accidentally Invented Remote War

The tiny team of engineers and operators behind the program, who rarely speak publicly about their roles as the architects of remote warfare, worked under intense pressure, almost entirely free from the scrutiny of Pentagon acquisitions officers. In a series of breakthrough hacks, they hot-wired together the lethal, remotely piloted Predator over the course of just a few months in 2000 and 2001, in a mad dash to meet the heinous design challenges of a single job: to kill Osama bin Laden before he could commit an act of terror greater than al Qaeda's bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

The lethal Predator wasn't a production vehicle. It was a hot rod, built for one all-out race against the clock. Of course, in those months before September 11, 2001, none of its designers knew the nature of the clock they were racing against. And most Americans have no idea quite how close they came to beating it.

[Arthur Holland Michel — WIRED]

9/11 White House Emails Capture History Through Modern Lens

8:56 a.m. "Turn on CNN."
— Tucker Eskew, director of the White House media affairs office, emails three colleagues.

9:09 a.m. "9:30 Budget Meeting Cancelled."
— Tracey Schmitt, a White House aide, notifies various colleagues.

9:11 a.m. "WH/Congressional Conference Call Cancelled."
— Ms. Schmitt alerts another group of colleagues.

9:20 a.m. "Today is Pearl Harbor."
— Mary Matalin, the counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney, receives this from David Horowitz, a conservative writer.

9:23 a.m. "Strength to You."
— Joshua B. Bolten, a deputy chief of staff, receives this from Dan Price, a colleague.

[Peter Baker — The New York Times]

Fixed Opinions, Or The Hinge Of History

There was much about this return to New York that I had not expected. I had expected to find the annihilating economy of the event—the way in which it had concentrated the complicated arrangements and misarrangements of the last century into a single irreducible image—being explored, made legible. On the contrary, I found that what had happened was being processed, obscured, systematically leached of history and so of meaning, finally rendered less readable than it had seemed on the morning it happened. As if overnight, the irreconcilable event had been made manageable, reduced to the sentimental, to protective talismans, totems, garlands of garlic, repeated pieties that would come to seem in some ways as destructive as the event itself. We now had "the loved ones," we had "the families," we had "the heroes."

[Joan Didion — New York Review of Books]

A Cloud Of Smoke

The so-called Zadroga Act, which Pataki signed in August, 2006, provided generous benefits to the families of city workers who died of 9/11-related illnesses. Tyler Ann became one of the first recipients. But there were other complications to come. In order for Zadroga's name to be added to the official victims' list—and, ultimately, engraved on the National September 11 Memorial—his status as a casualty of 9/11 had to be verified. In the summer of 2007, copies of Zadroga's autopsy report and medical history (and, later, slides of tissue taken from his lungs) were sent to the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, Dr. Charles Hirsch. In October, he returned his verdict. Calling his assessment "markedly different" from Breton's, Hirsch disputed the claim that the talc and the cellulose found in Zadroga's lungs came from Ground Zero. Instead, he said, the embedded material was pharmaceutical debris produced by injecting a solution of crushed prescription pills.

[Jennifer Khan — New Yorker]

The Rarely Noticed Casualties of 9/11

There are supposed to be two supervisors at the checkpoint for gates 11 to 21, but the other is off searching for wheelchairs. Gore does not like to be alone, overseeing the dozen screeners.
The phone rings again. Before she can answer, a gray-haired woman with a rolling bag tugs her arm.

"It's all your fault!'' the woman shrieks. "You people!''

"Ma'am, please, what are you talking about?'' Gore says, breaking free to answer the phone.

On the line, her duty manager says a plane has been hijacked, maybe from one of their gates. Gore gasps. Her head is swimming, wondering whether they missed something.

[Eric Moskowitz — The Boston Globe]

If there's a piece you think we missed, please let us know on Twitter.

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