Bosnia, New York

Eric Rosenfield

The World Trade Center collapsed outside my window.

It's now 11:00 at night, and from my apartment in Brooklyn you can see clear across the water to the smoke that still billows gray against the black of the night sky. It would be all too easy to make a metaphorical parallel between the monstrous amount of smoke I've seen pouring out of lower Manhattan today and the pall that has fallen over the city, so I'll resist the urge, but it's been the smoke that has been most noticeable and unnerving from where I am, smoke so high you have to crane your neck to see it all, even though it comes from several miles away.

At 10 am today, the radio woke me up, and I heard Howard Stern say something about the World Trade Center and how there was "no point in him being on right now" like he was about to go off the air. I immediately went over to my window where I saw a single tower of the Trade Center standing across the water, engulfed in the biggest plume of smoke I'd ever seen.

I rushed outside my room where my roommate, Morgan, was staring aghast at the television. He looked up at me in disbelief.

"I think I just saw one of the twin towers collapse," he said.

A half an hour later we were looking out the window as the second tower came tumbling to the Earth.

"When I saw the first tower go down," said Morgan, a lifelong New Yorker, "I thought, for a moment, that everything else was going to go down with it. The whole city. I mean, how could the World Trade Center collapse?"

The smoke bloomed, and the television looked like a mirror of what was happening out the window right next to it, as if they were shooting the news footage directly from our apartment. I had a hard time telling the difference: window, television, window, television; it was probably the most surreal moment of my life.

In the progressive montage of scenes that the television showed us, we saw a flight attendant rush out of an airport lobby crying "We work for a target!", Mayor Guilianni talking about how while they were evacuating him from City Hall, right around the corner from the Trade Center, he saw people jumping out of the windows of the building, and footage of part of the financial district reduced to a cemetery of brown ash and metal. In the coming hours there were eyewitness accounts of a man on fire emerging from an elevator, human bodies plowed into concrete, and the explosion reducing people to sloshy human puddles.

"It's like Israel," said Morgan. Then later, "It's like Bosnia." And later still, "It's like the movie Independence Day. They just showed this line of burnt out cars and busses, completely hollowed out and charred, just like in Independence Day."

This kind of thing isn't supposed to happen here.

"Do you have any idea how much firepower it takes to bring down buildings that size?" I asked.

Just a month before, the power company had destroyed two gasoline towers in nearby Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Beforehand, the local news stations had made a big point of displaying the amount of explosives spread throughout the base of the large, hollow structures in order to bring them down.

Morgan and I both called our mothers, who live in town. "They had us all give blood," said my mother, a doctor at a local hospital, "and they're going to start bringing victims here. We're all getting ready."

We were told by the TV that the best thing we could do was give blood, so we left for the nearest hospital. On the way, even here in the borough of Brooklyn, we saw screaming cop cars and ambulances, an army reserve truck, and otherwise normal-looking people wearing filtered face masks on the street. The city was in chaos, and the whole while the ever present smoke cloud streamed across the horizon from Manhattan, looming, ominous and frightening. "The smoke cloud is veering southeast," said the news radio, "into Brooklyn."

At the hospital we were told that we couldn't give blood today (no reason expressly given, though Morgan hazarded that all the medical personal had been sent into Manhattan), and that we'd have to either come back the next morning or call a number we were given on a sheet of paper.

At home I called the number and was told that they weren't accepting any more blood donations, but they took my number and told me that they would call me when they were. They just didn't have enough people to collect blood, even though there's a blood shortage.

Mere months ago I used to work on Water street, not five blocks from the Trade Center buildings. This is the first time I've been really glad that they fired me; I can't imagine having been trapped down there, and I wonder about my former co-workers. And I was the one who talked my roommate out of us moving into a building in that area, because I desperately didn't want to live in the financial district.

I have never been in a war zone, but today New York sure felt like what would I imagine a war zone feels like. They're evacuating everything below Canal street. Three buildings have collapsed, two more are in danger of falling, many more are on fire. and the entire area is engulfed in a layer of soot and debris. The unyielding smoke is rolling through Brooklyn just south of us, and the neighborhood of the financial district is a total wasteland.

Of course, most of this information is from the American lifeline of television. All I can see firsthand out my window right now is the continuing smoke (and smoke and smoke and smoke) and the regular stream of police, ambulances and even one caravan of trucks towing construction and rescue vehicles, motoring down the otherwise empty Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Every few minutes I have to say to myself, "They destroyed the World Trade Center" to reaffirm that this really happened. If you had told me yesterday that terrorists were going to be able to demolish those buildings, I wouldn't have believed you. And I'm not sure you can really appreciate how astounding that is unless you have — sorry, had — stood beneath those buildings where you actually had to tilt your head back a full ninety degrees so that it hurts your neck, just to see the top.

At a local deli worker, clearly of draftable age, told me that he "hope we bomb dem. It's about time we bomb dem." And for the first time in my life it was a sentiment I agreed with. I’ve always toed the line that war was only justified if someone attacked American soil. And now someone has attacked American soil on a level not seen since Pearl Harbor, and an attack with perhaps as much significance as the British burning down the White House in 1812. Insanity.

The most Americans ever killed in one day was during the Civil War, and that was just over 20,000. It looks like this will dwarf that, and make Oklahoma City look like a minor incident. It's hard to imagine; the death toll is pretty assuredly greater then that on D-Day. And while we don't know who did it, something very American deep inside me hopes that when we find out, and we will find out, that we blow dem up real good.

"I hope it's the Palestinians," said an Israeli girl at a local cafe, "I mean, I'm sorry it happened, but I hope it's the Palestinians because then it wouldn't just be the Israelis against them, but the Americans too and that would be great."

If we can prove the Bin Laden is responsible, as most people seem to think he is, and if Afghanistan continues to harbor him, then there is little doubt that we will go to war with Afghanistan. Other than that, not much is clear. A lot of people are dead. The Mayor doesn't want anyone going into Manhattan tomorrow who doesn't have to. The city is shaken, the financial district is shut down, and everybody is calling and emailing everybody else to make sure everybody is okay. Not everybody is okay.

George W. Bush was right when he went on television and said, “There is a quiet, unyielding anger in America today." At least, there is in this apartment — a quiet, unyielding anger mixed with shock, disbelief, and horror.

If we can prove the Bin Laden is responsible, as most people seem to think he is, and if Afghanistan continues to harbor him, then there is little doubt that we will go to war with Afghanistan. Other than that, not much is clear. A lot of people are dead. The Mayor doesn't want anyone going into Manhattan tomorrow who doesn't have to. The city is shaken, the financial district is shut down, and everybody is calling and emailing everybody else to make sure everybody is okay. Not everybody is okay.

They destroyed the World Trade Center.

They destroyed the World Trade Center.

 

This piece was originally published in YanktheChain.com (http://www.yankthechain.com).

The author's web site: http://www.ericrosenfield.com 


Submit your comments on this commentary to our MoxieTalk discussion group by clicking here!   You can also send your comments directly to the author using the form below.

You can do both by typing your response below, submitting it and then copying it, going to MoxieTalk, and pasting it into the form there for posting a message.

Please include your e-mail address if you would like the author to be able to write you back.  

[FrontPage Save Results Component]


Copyright 2001 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved