September 11

I commented on twitter earlier today that it doesn’t feel like the eve of September 11th. For the past eight years, as the date approached, I would keep thinking about the tragedy, I would count the days to the anniversary, I was acutely aware that it was upon us. Now, rather suddenly, it feels like another day. Time heals all wounds and maybe it’s finally done so to America’s darkest day. The media chatter seems considerably more restrained than in past years, and the cable news networks gave it relatively little play tonight, Joe Wilson’s outcry dominating the news.

It’s feeling distant, and the anniversary has become routine. But still, tonight I did what I do every year at this time: I listened to the NPR news report of that day, and I stop and think about how the world changed, how everything changed, how America stood for one brief shining moment as the most magnificent country in the world, and how we quickly squandered all the good will that a sympathetic world bestowed us.

Three years ago I wrote about my reactions to the NPR report and why I listen to it each year:

Every year on this date I listen to the same long radio broadcast, which evokes the curiosity and unfathomability of what happened. (It’s been playing in the background in my office the past hour.) At first, no one can put their arms around it, and on the hourly news at 9 a.m. they go ahead reading about ordinary things going on, not willing to admit yet that the whole world had changed, and everything else they were announcing would soon seem utterly meaningless. (”Today Libby Dole is expected to announce she will run for the US senate…”) And then, as more and more information becomes available, the implications of the day become clearer. It’s an interesting thing to listen to, hearing the reporters trying to think through the unthinkable. Listen to the strain and exhaustion in their voices as they try to figure out which reports are true or not. It’s not dramatic or sensational, which is what makes this broadcast so good. Keeping sane at a moment of insanity….

Saying that the date has finally become routine doesn’t mean it’s forgotten, which it will never be. But no date, no matter how dark, can retain its original impact, and with each year it comes closer to being “just another day.” And still, I listen to the news report, and I relive the night in Hong Kong when my friend called me with the news, and remember my own confusion and sense of a whole new phase in history taking shape. At the same time, I realize that the intensity of earlier years, the anxiety, the fears that the anniversary would precipitate more attacks – all of that has subsided, and nearly disappeared. In many ways, it now feels, almost, like just another day. Maybe that’s good. There comes a time to get over any tragedy, no matter how agonizing. Not to forget or downgrade the gravity of that event, but to stand up and move on, and accept that tragedy is part of life for every society, even America.

If you never heard the NPR report, I strongly recommend it. Bob Edwards’ voice will be with you for a long time, if not forever, even as September 11 continues each year to become a day almost like any other. Almost.

The Discussion: 30 Comments

不要无病呻吟。天下没有无缘无故的爱,也没有无缘无故的恨。 911是美国咎由自取,自作孽,不可活,这就是帝国主义,霸权主义的下场,最追人们战争的汪洋淹没。阿富汗是历来帝国主义的坟场,现在美国也不例外,黑巴马也没办法。

Do not moan when you are not sick. There’s no love without reason, and no hate without reason. 911 is America’s own fault, cannot blame anyone else. This is the result of being an hegemon, an empire – drowned in the sea of people’s war. Afghanistan is always the tomb of empires, and America is no exception.

September 11, 2009 @ 11:55 am | Comment

HongQi, keep it up. If you really want to get banned, you’re well on the way.

September 11, 2009 @ 11:58 am | Comment

The things that happened on September 11, 2001 have changed the world, similar to a new world order. We cannot undo it.

People must remember the past, must remember the people who lost their lives, must remember the people who’s lives were effected. Every time you go through an airport security check, you are reminded.

But memories, especially in our twitter world and twitter style news reporting, are short.

September 11, 2009 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

Every time you go through an airport security check, you are reminded.

Unfortunately, that experience reminds me of the government’s incompetence and its insistence on overkill after the fact.

Agree we need to remember. But time really does heal all wounds, especially, as you say, in the hyper-information age. It was impossible to keep up the level of grief ad infinitum.

September 11, 2009 @ 12:21 pm | Comment

It doesn’t feel like it because they decided to move it to September 15, to combine it with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. They are working of turning it into the official starting date of World War III and wanted to make sure that all the founding moments are aligned…

September 11, 2009 @ 1:06 pm | Comment

Richard, fully agree. What I meant was that we need to remember, but not live in it. We must learn from it.

Especially with all the “added security” in our daily lives, such as listening into peoples telephone calls, washing peoples faces with plenty of water etc etc. This is also the fall out from Sep 11, 2001

September 11, 2009 @ 1:07 pm | Comment

Dror, that is sacrilege!

September 11, 2009 @ 1:12 pm | Comment

The devil made me do it! You can delete the comment if you feel it’s too much.

September 11, 2009 @ 4:27 pm | Comment

When I first read HongQi’s comment my gut reaction was to be a bit sickened. As an American we certainly feel a lot more emotional about the event than those in other countries, so obviously its easy to be a bit more knee jerk about it, but I cannot totally write off what was said. The CIA created the beast, and when the beast finished serving our purpose, we left it to fend for itself out in the cold. Its no surprise that it decided to bite us. But I guess what really bothers me is the lack of empathy for those that died who had nothing to do with the folly of hegemons.

For some reason, that comment kinda reminded me of what Sharon Stone said with regards to the Sichuan earthquake. She seemed to think it was karma over Tibet. I didn’t need to be Chinese to be completely offended by such an ignorant comment. 70,000 people lost their lives that day and her lack of empathy for those people will always make me look at her with a sickened feeling.

How dare anyone use the loss of innocent lives as a pulpit to make a political statement and infer that they had it coming to them.

September 11, 2009 @ 5:00 pm | Comment

Hey Richard,
thanks for this. I live 10 blocks from ground zero and have many many memories, I spent 8 months feeding the workers and first responders. I will be going to a memorial tonight.
Still raw feeling…..

September 11, 2009 @ 7:44 pm | Comment

I was born and raised in New York. I was living in California at the time. Went to New York that Thanksgiving to be with my family that year. With the love of my life at the time. It was less than two months since. The day after we arrived we walked, we walked and walked, all the way downtown to the site. As we passed City Hall, we could smell it. We approached the site, which had not been completely fenced off. Flowers, pictures, on the fences, on the ground, on the corners, in what windows were left. We looked in. The enormity of the site was stunning. That jagged piece of exoskeleton was still standing akilter.

It was still smoldering in places. It was still smoldering in places. And still it is as ever it will be, for me.

September 11, 2009 @ 9:44 pm | Comment


Perhaps I would not agree with HongQi of the way he is saying it, but there are people who do have grievances with the American government and that’s goes with the price that goes with it. 9/11 is a sensitive subject here in the US and HongQi’s response is certainly not appropriate.

Well, since you are going to the Sichuan earthquake last year because it is a sensitive subject in China. Yet there are 2 American filmmakers complained that they are not allowed to have visa to China after making a documentary about the earthquake. Perhaps they don’t want to say anything about it because these Americans are pouring salt into a wound.

Going back to 9/11 would you think it would be appropriate that some Chinese filmmakers who made a documentary of how WTC 7 went down? Or worse, how 9/11 can be prevented itself? Perhaps it is insensitive, but if we are not sensitive about other people tragedies, why should they be sensitive toward ours?

September 12, 2009 @ 2:46 am | Comment


“Perhaps it is insensitive, but if we are not sensitive about other people tragedies, why should they be sensitive toward ours?”

Well said and I couldn’t agree more. Thats why I wish both HongQi and Sharon Stone had taken this into consideration before making inflammatory comments. How would I feel about the filmmakers? I don’t think I would have a problem with it, I think we owe it to our fellowman to consider all viewpoints if they explore how 9/11 could have been prevented.

September 12, 2009 @ 3:40 am | Comment

Pug, are you one of those who buys the conspiracy theories about WTC 7? Let us know.

HongQi’s response was worse than inappropriate, it was offensive and impermissible. And he knows it. That’s why it’s gone. I wouldn’t put it in the same category as Sharon Stone’s comment at all. Sharon Stone was dumb and extremely politically incorrect. HQ was trying to be evil and to see what kind of outrage he could generate.

September 12, 2009 @ 4:22 am | Comment

“I wouldn’t put it in the same category as Sharon Stone’s comment at all.”

Agree to disagree. Both comments lacked empathy for the victims. That was the point I was trying to convey. Granted, the thought of an earthquake seeking retribution is ridiculous, but that really wasn’t the angle I was going for.

I personally would have liked to have seen HongQi’s response, but I’ll assume it was ugly enough to warrant censorship.

September 12, 2009 @ 4:57 am | Comment

Stone was insensitive. She was not being intentionally malicious, just dumb.

I don’t delete comments lightly. And I always give the commenter a second chance. And usually a third chance. But if they are here to get a rise out of people and throw threads off-track, I have no problem deleting away. Comments are a courtesy and, while 99.9 percent of the comments appear, there is no guarantee that I’ll provide a soapbox to whoever wants to post here. Although I usually do.

September 12, 2009 @ 5:05 am | Comment

“Stone was insensitive. She was not being intentionally malicious, just dumb.”

Right, maybe, and right.

And HongQi

Right, wrong, and maybe??

I dunno. Seems this could go either way. I’ll concede.

September 12, 2009 @ 5:24 am | Comment

@Richard, Hopfrog,

Actually I was trying to say that in May, 12th earthquake, the Western Media was largely pointing fingers at the government for shotty construction instead of respecting the victims. That’s what I find it disgusting. The Chinese Media could’ve raised questions about WTC 7 or other stories like I pointed above blaming the government that they could’ve prevented 9/11 but they chose not to out of respect. Instead I rather say nothing out of the respect of the victims.

September 12, 2009 @ 5:28 am | Comment


Hmmm, its tricky man. I see your point, I do, but by pointing out ways in which such catastrophic damage can be reduced or prevented in the future I think is a good thing no matter what country it comes from. Likewise, if a good documentary by Chinese filmmakers can teach us how to avoid another 9/11… by all means.. I want it to be made!

September 12, 2009 @ 5:33 am | Comment

pug, I wouldn’t equate stories about shoddy construction of the collapsed schools = a matter of fact – with nutball conspiracy theories about 911. I think the media have every right to raise questions about the construction, and it is not at all disrespectful to the victims of the quake to do so. To the contrary. Agree, we need to respect the victims of tragedy. But your argument is very apples-oranges.

September 12, 2009 @ 5:33 am | Comment


You know while I agree with what you are saying, I think we also got to make the very difficult effort to try and see things from their perspective. What is the West trying to imply? That China doesn’t care enough about its children to build decent schools?

In all honesty, no one could have predicted the strength of that earthquake. I’m not an engineer, I don’t really know how shoddily built those buildings were. I know the Chinese bulding codes aren’t as stringent as ours, but I can see where it would seem unfair to be attacked for this while the country is still grieving. Should the resorts in Thailand be faulted for not building beach resorts strong enough to withstand a Tsunami? I feel I get what they are saying. I don’t agree with all of it, but I get it.

September 12, 2009 @ 5:47 am | Comment

The charges came from the children’s parents, who as you probably know were stifled when they tried to get answers. The charges did not come from the Western media. Obviously the party didn’t want children to die. But they did allow sub-standard construction, while their own buildings were built strictly to code. If buildings were shown to have been built defectively causing people to needlessly die when the tsunami struck, you’re damn straight I would be in favor of questions being raised, as it would amount to murder if the bad construction had been the result of bribes and corruption. Those families would have every right to be outraged and the media would have every right to demand answers. This happened in Turkey a decade or so ago, when thousands died needlessly because buildings passed inspections that the inspectors knew were unsafe. The furor was enormous, as it should have been. That shouldn’t diminish or interfere with grief for the victims. The outrage comes from respect for the victims, not contempt for them. This is why, when we Americans learned of Richard Clark’s report, Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US, there was such an uproar. Someone fucked up and they had to be called to account. That was not done in contempt for the victims of 911. Exactly the opposite. If resorts in Thailand screwed up, they should be called for it (though I never heard of any such charges, and it was not really possible to plan in advance for the once-in-millennium tsunami).

By the way, you can see HongQi’s first comment here. I know a troll when I see one.

September 12, 2009 @ 6:34 am | Comment

There are two quotes that date back to the Vietnam War that came immediately to mind:

…I have stopped reaching to check for wounds, I’m reaching to lace my own shoes.” by poet Walter Mcdonald People died horrible deaths, and worldwide, everyone’s lives were altered in a thousand ways forever. For days after the incident most people waited for feeling to return. People, far removed from the political, religious or conspiratorial are still dazed that their lives could mean so little and are now daily aware on some post-traumatic level that others are willing to violently destroy one another for whatever reason. And it is average citizens, of every culture, still looking up in fear from everyday tasks because there are people like HongQi who seem alexithymic–without the ability to recognize or relate to human emotions. It is via serial killers and those on death row that have discovered this terrifying dark mutation of the human psyche.

“We [who were not there] planned our lives around it anyway.” by writer David Lehman
I remember our town being paralyzed, and I remember following through on a pre-paid trip to Vegas only a few days after the massacre. Vegas was empty. The perimeter of the New York New York Casino was a wall of flowers, photographs and heart-wrenching notes full of grief and consolation. Some hand scrawled missives were left there by friends and families of victims murdered in PA, NY and DC.

It was a dark day for humanity that is sadly part of our collective consciousness for eternity. Thanks for reminding us of 9-11 and helping us to frame it a the human tragedy it was.

September 12, 2009 @ 11:53 am | Comment

Richard, I AGREE with you, and feel you nailed it correctly in so many ways with comment 22. I will say I think you missed my point, or more likely I didn’t explain it well enough, with regards to the Tsunami. There isn’t a building code in the world that could have stood up to the Tsunami. “it was not really possible to plan in advance for the once-in-millennium tsunami”… exactly. What could you demand? It would be like a survivor at Hiroshima demanding that a contractor be held responsible for the destruction that an atomic bomb caused because he cut corners on the drywall.

I personally feel terrible for those parents and can understand their outrage. The thread derailed into foreign documentarians making a film about the quake and I was trying to see things from a different perspective. Not mine, mind you. I suppose I failed, let me take one last crack at it.

The California earthquake in ’92 registered 7.5 on the Richter scale and caused incredible devastation to California’s buildings and highways. With the exception of Japan, I don’t think you’ll find much stricter building codes than California’s. Codes designed specifically for earthquakes. The Sichuan earthquake was a full magnitude higher at 8.5 If California wasn’t immune to devastation at 7.5, what grounds do western documentarians stand on to criticize China for falling victim to such devastation?

I think one of the problems I keep seeing on expat boards is an automatic defensive reaction to Chinese Nationals that don’t see things the same way we do in the west. Yes, there are a lot of trolls, but there are also times when I have seen legitimate arguments dismissed because it is assumed to be trolling, mainly because the thought process is so different from ours in the west. If we can’t at least try and see things from the perspective of those we disagree with, how can we ever expect them to see things from ours?

September 12, 2009 @ 12:41 pm | Comment

Ion, thanks for the thoughtful comment.

If California wasn’t immune to devastation at 7.5, what grounds do western documentarians stand on to criticize China for falling victim to such devastation?

I think we’re somehow talking past each other. To me, using your example, the scenario is this simple:

If the Californian citizens’ homes were demolished, crumpled like pieces of paper, while across the street the homes of government officials stood tall and unaffected, and if those citizens themselves raised a huge outcry against those officials who, they claim, took bribes from inspectors and construction companies that allowed the homes to be made shoddily, resulting in the deaths of their children – then I can certainly see a film company from any country making a documentary about it if they so choose, especially if the California officials tried to stifle all protest and prohibit media coverage. In this case, I believe most of the citizens would be grateful for the coverage, not resentful. Their own government refused to give them a voice. The film company is doing that. (And I actually know of situations similar to this, like the Tiananmen Mothers, where the victims are denied an opportunity to state their case and are very grateful to media outside of China for giving them a voice.)

Per your last point: I never call someone a troll because they have a different opinion. Only if I think they are trying to derail threads, call people names (and HongQi said something obscene and terribly nasty to commenter Ecodelta) or create trouble just for the fun of it. This site is all about trying to see things from multiple perspectives, which is why so man people on both sides get bothered by it – because I do try to see it from both sides, and won’t commit to either side (“pro” vs. “anti” China).

September 13, 2009 @ 4:25 am | Comment

Well I agree, I think we are in a pissing match that we are both tiring of.

“homes were demolished, crumpled like pieces of paper, while across the street the homes of government officials stood tall and unaffected”

I’ll take your word for it that this is the case. But is the code the same for residential homes and public buildings? Its not here in the states.

We clearly aren’t on the same page. I am not attacking you for labeling HongQi a troll or calling you out for censorship. Just as nobody here in American is allowed to falsely yell “Fire” in a theater, no one should be allowed to spew a litany of obscenities and vulgar commentary in the name of free speech in a comment thread. I feel you do an admirable job on this site, welcome differing opinions more than others, and I respectfully disagree with you on many points over the course of this thread. A rarity I might add.

September 13, 2009 @ 5:12 am | Comment

Ugh, amendment. I misread your statement. You said homes of government officials and not the buildings of government officials. Disregard that section, wish we could edit.

September 13, 2009 @ 5:18 am | Comment

It’s okay. I think we’ve said enough about the earthquake and know where the other stands. 🙂

And it’s fine to disagree with me – that’s why I have comments. There are very few absolutes, and just about everything is up for argument and interpretation.

September 13, 2009 @ 5:31 am | Comment

“I think we’ve said enough about the earthquake”.. agreed.

“and know where the other stands.”… I hope so.

September 13, 2009 @ 5:38 am | Comment

I’m listening to the NPR report you linked up to now. Very strange, indeed.

I always go back to YouTube on September 11th every year for remembrance. You can string together CNN’s coverage over several different videos.

Such a horrible day.

September 13, 2009 @ 6:48 am | Comment

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