The lessons of Sept. 11

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:10

    What happened 10 years ago this Sunday in New York City, in D.C. and on a field in Pennsylvania was a defining moment in American life. It also was, in many, many ways, very personal. We asked some of our readers, friends and neighbors if they would share those thoughts in short essays, under the theme of “The lessons of Sept. 11.” Here are some of those essays. In a moment September 11th, 2001. I remember too well. The morning was pristine. There was not a cloud in the sky. The air was crisp yet the sun was warm. The day felt glorious. I was walking the neighborhood with a friend, talking about the previous night’s school district meeting. We were new Warwick school board members. Suddenly all chaos broke and our world instantly changed. “A plane hit the Twin tower,” someone yelled. We ran cross lots to catch the news as I asked my buddy, “How can that happen??” We got to the house just in time to see the second plane hit. My question was instantly answered. No words were spoken. I fell to my knees as he ran out. The ticker tape writing scrolled across the TV screen for all New York City firemen and police to immediately report to duty. He was a NYC fire chief. In a moment, my girlfriend lost her brother-in-law. A hospital volunteer lost her son. Our district children lost parents and uncles. And that was the last time I saw my neighbor as he had been. For more than a year he lived, worked and labored in that senseless rubble. Having lost his mentor comrade and 80 close buddies, he was never the same. How could he be? How could anyone be? Yet American flags were seen everywhere throughout Warwick. 9-11 became a 9-1-1 help-to-heal call. Strangers were friendlier; people were openly concerned; broken families were supported; churches were crowded and neighbors were prayed for; newcomers fleeing the city were welcome. And our town in the valley “truly” showed it’s caring colors. Warwick, our precious home and community should never be taken for granted. It shall be cherished and loved. And, we should be forever thankful for those dedicated men and women who work 24/7 to keep us safe - in this Valley and beyond. Deb Holton-Smith lives in Warwick, NY The American movie We love movies, especially ones with a happy ending. That is why, ultimately, Osama had to die. In our Hollywood world the bad guys always get what they deserve; just ask the audience. The issue is that, much like in a Hollywood production, the film may end but not the franchise. The villain, like the mythological Hydra, shall grow two new heads for each one lost, and the plot, with little tweaks, will be recycled. Pass on the popcorn. Looking at the ten years that passed since the events of 9/11, what have we achieved? We’ve invaded Iraq; an act many claim was unnecessary and fueled much by a need for revenge. We uncovered no Weapons of Mass Destruction. We got entangled in Afghanistan. Many lives were lost, much money was spent, and yes - we eventually took out Osama. The bad guy got what he deserved. But did we? Don’t get me wrong - I believe we should absolutely eliminate our harm-seekers at the source. But what path we take to get there, is disputable. Acts stemming from revenge provide short-lived relief at a high price. In the greater scheme of things, it seems American interference in local events outside our country achieves little to limited positive long-lasting effects. On the contrary, quite often it causes locals to harbor even more hatred for us. So what is the moral of this movie? Big changes seem to happen regardless of our invasions, all in due course. The fall of the Berlin Wall and demise of communism, the termination of Apartheid in South Africa and the latest fall of dictatorships in the Middle East. History teaches us that in most cases, American intervention just enforces a justification for all that we stand against - be it Castro’s regime, North Vietnam or the creation of Bin-Laden as a weapon against the USSR, our shared enemy in the days of the Cold War. Sun Tzu’ ancient classic “The Art of War” states “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” It is a lesson we, as a nation, forget every couple of decades. Ronen Divon is a writer living in Monroe, NY The question remains I’m not sure I learned anything from Sept. 11 but I came away with a question about myself that I’ve never been able to answer. I wrote about 9/11 for years as a reporter for The Record of Hackensack. The stories were from every angle. For example, one year after the attack I interviewed a woman from Glen Rock who was six months pregnant and whose husband never came home from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. I wrote about life on Sept. 10 as well. When I wrote about the four planes that went down, I realized I could have been on board. Some passengers were flying on business. I’d done that. Some were headed for vacation with their families. I’d done that, too. Sept. 11 started as an ordinary day, turned to calamity, and ended, for me at least, with an impossible question: How would I have responded had I been on Flight 93, the United Airlines plane from Newark to San Francisco? What would I have done had I seen a hijacker holding a box cutter at a flight attendant’s throat? Or if someone barged into the cockpit? What would I have done when I knew the plane was making a U-turn and going downward with no announcement from the pilot? Would I have been frozen in my seat? Would I have understood this was serious beyond comprehension, that I’d never see my family, that soon I would be dead? I like to think I would have been with the courageous people aboard Flight 93 who, we later learned, tried to retake the plane from the killers. I like to think I would have had the courage to follow the indomitable Todd Beamer, the passenger whose last known words before springing into action were, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.” Would I have been ready? The question continues to haunt me. Jeff Page is a writer who lives in Warwick, NY 'Carefully taught’ School had barely started and we were engaging our students in character education. The Pine Island staff had developed a “Rainbow of Respect and Responsibility” representing seven qualities such as Courage, Respect, Fairness and Honesty. Each class was developing a skit to act out for the school to relate these big concepts to young minds. After all, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” As school started on September 11, the timing of the unfolding terrors was such that none of the students or staff knew of them; I decided not to tell the kids yet, lest we scare them. I asked volunteers coming in to honor this. We all agreed that it was a parent’s decision about how much horror they wanted their children exposed to. That meant my keeping up appearances of a normal day, even keeping the children inside to “practice” indoor recess activities on that beautiful day, because none of us knew what awaited us outside. Our emergency procedures of communication and transportation kicked in. By the end of the day, all students were safely in their parents’ care. That is, all but one of our students: A 7-year old whose firefighter father died in his efforts to save other children’s parents. Many things happened during the rest of the week. I received a call from the principal of a school in my Oklahoma home town—half a continent away. She said they “wanted to help — move concrete; anything. We raised some funds for you to use in any way that will help.” We started a college fund for the young girl—the one with the intense blue eyes like her father’s. Flags flew all across Warwick. So did anger. When somebody threw a rock through a local store window whose owner appeared Middle Eastern, it was a clarion call to me of the urgency in educating young children — “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught; to be afraid of … people whose skin is a different shade … before it’s too late; before you are 6 or 7 or 8; to hate all the people your relatives hate….” We also had many family support meetings, including the presentation of our character skits. I asked our local drama coach what she thought about the appropriateness of going ahead with this celebration. She said: “Years from now, when I reflect on this time and tragedy, I will remember being a part of something good.” Another Rainbow quality was “Responsibility.” My reflections on September 11 involve the many examples of individuals assuming responsibilities that “carefully taught” us all. Jane Hamburger Principal, retired Pine Island (NY) Elementary School 1989-2011