Attack on New York

Dispatch From Inside a Wounded City

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- Such things can't happen here. And then they do. And nothing ever again will be quite the same in America.


Looking south past the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center Towers burn before collapsing.
The obscenity of this morning -- a brave, sunlit, bright-blue, autumnal Sept. 11, when New York was supposed to nominate a front-runner in the mayoral race -- would turn the day into one of horror, shock, disbelief and, in the end, a day of national mourning.

I was in early, writing a column at my desk at 711 Third Avenue, hoping to get away to the Hamptons for one of those last golden days of summer, when my daughter Fiona called from the Museum of Natural History. A pal had told her the World Trade Center was on fire. Crain's New York Business Editor Greg David was chairing his normal Tuesday a.m. edit meeting and I broke in with the news.

My daughter Susan, crying, called from Westchester. Her son Nick, not quite 2, was crying because his mommy was crying. I was a big help. I told her not to keep watching television.

But how could she not? You don't need to be told how it escalated from there. A second plane. The Pentagon attack. The first tower collapse.

How many dead?
As I try to write something cogent, the second of the two towers collapses. How many people? How many city firefighters? I try to phone my brother, for 25 years a chaplain of the Fire Department. No circuits. Of course there are no circuits. A great city has been gravely injured and its citizens are crying out, reaching out. Or trying to. And now the Twin Towers are gone.

I think of the trademark buildings themselves, of a New York skyline that will never be the same. Imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower. San Francisco without the Golden Gate. Washington without its Monument.

At this point we don't know the perpetrators. And we try not to jump to conclusions. Remember Oklahoma City and how many of us were sure it was Middle East terrorists -- and not a downhome Midwesterner with a crewcut and a pickup truck full of fertilizer.

Crain building security
At 10:22 a.m. the Crain building PA announced no messengers or packages would be allowed into the building. "Because of the situation." Impossible to get anyone on the phone.

What has happened here this morning is an act of war. Trouble is, we don't know the enemy. And until we do ...

Wall Street shuts down. The bridges and tunnels into and out of Manhattan are closed for security reasons. I am told a plane has crashed in Pittsburgh. Hell, a plane crashes somewhere in the country every day. But on this day, nothing is routine, nothing normal, nothing based on the actuarial tables.

One hell of a plot
Considering the timing of the two plane attacks on the Towers, the interval between, the complexities of timing a hijack in Boston to coordinate with a plane taking over locally (we assume), this is one hell of a plot worked out in advance and in detail and by people who knew exactly what they were doing. And to hit at 9 a.m. when almost everyone would have just come in to work off the subways, the buses, newspapers under their arms, coffee in hand.

What bastards!

They weren't making a protest or mounting a demonstration or, in the end, knocking down a couple of buildings and killing a lot of innocent people. Whoever did this, and at 11 this morning I don't have a clue, they have declared war on this country.

It is a great and strong country, and it will survive today. As it prevailed following Pearl Harbor and that motorcade in Dallas. This city, too, will endure. On this very morning in a Manhattan office with its staff of civilians, there were tears, there was shock. Some of us knew people, had family, who worked downtown in the Towers. And people held on to one another and tried, not always very well, to get some work done. That they tried to work says something about us, tells us who and what and how Americans are. Bloodied, damaged, devastated, hurt, saddened; we are a tough people; this is a great city.

I hope they understand, whoever they are, those who conspired and did these awful, shameful things, that if it is at all feasible and within our power, once we do know their identity, their cause and their organization, and the individuals and/or states behind them, that we are coming after them, that a mighty reckoning will be made.

The terrible swift sword will be unleashed. For the terrorists, damn them! This is not the end. This is only the beginning.

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