Twenty years ago, downtown Manhattan really saw how much life changed overnight the morning after 9/11.
Awakening to eerie silence and occasionally banning helicopters overhead was an antithesis of our lives in the Broadway experience. When I opened the window to look at the quiet arteries in the sky below, the smell struck me. It’s a pungent, burnt scent that I’ve never refined before or after. But it was only when we met fellow downtown people who were blocked (our blocks were blocked) that the “old” America was gone.
Fear, embarrassment, and scars were ubiquitous in their eyes and high-pitched voice, as Americans first did. It helps build the country and shows the courage and optimism that characterize the people.
My wife and I desperately arranged to return the frightened 4-year-old girl, whose scheduled play day with her daughter turned into a nervous overnight stay. The mother was in England and the father fled with his baby in New Jersey. I jumped into his collapsed neighborhood and boat.
Everyone tried to volunteer in the best possible way. However, my neighbor Kenny came home from the hospital. There were too few survivors to treat.
That terrifying fact has helped turn that optimism into a blind belief and despair of hope – if you allow oxymoron. So 24, 48, maybe 72 hours later – OK, there may be survivors. But by the first weekend, it was clear that there was nothing more.
So it’s obvious to all of us in Manhattan’s multicultural crucibles, except the Americans themselves. They were overwhelmed by horrific attacks on the soil of their hometown, stabbed by the pure front lines of enemies they didn’t really understand, and mercilessly more as they sought meaning in the wreckage of their lives. It became irrational. A good fight with Jingoism has come rapidly.
Under extreme stress conditions, fighting or flying instincts began and flying was not an option. This is also literally. Keeping in mind that it is difficult to generalize 300 million people and we lived in the most liberal square miles of the country, nevertheless, the instinct of fighting is far from their surface. I rarely have one.
It’s partly historic, how the country was stolen from Native Americans, and partly isolated. America is so vast and diverse that not only has it never left the country, but I was also amazed at the number of Americans who do not have a passport.
Ignorance about other parts of the world can be breathtaking, even among other educated people, as is the absolute belief in American exceptionalism. Its familiar, chilling chanting- “USA, USA, USA” -is a tribe like a football fan. It really reflects the fear and comfort of the unknown they found in their collective American dreams.
The belief shook after Vietnam, but the war took place in a distant land called “overseas.” This attack was at their doorstep. We are good Why does someone hate us? Who the hell is Al Qaeda?
The essence of Shakespeare’s tragedy is to see a mighty fall while the audience can see their better path. As an Englishman in Manhattan in 2001, I was a participant and an audience. And it was amazing how quickly fear became the dominant theme, but it was expressed.
The same is true today. Since then, we’ve been talking about ridiculous window dressings with imbalanced security measures. Focus and hostility to immigrants. The rise of populism and Donald Trump. A disastrous withdrawal from Kabul. Is this the way all empires end?
Look at Britain since Brexit. When your work is full and the supermarket shelves are empty, look at yourself. I still admire American optimism for enjoying and benefiting from their inherent friendliness and hospitality, but the motive behind what manifests itself as arrogance and anger is simple and obvious: it’s I’m afraid.