As the sun climbed into a cloudless blue sky the city went about its business as usual. At the Starbucks on Union the line of commuters waited for their mocha lattes. On the radio George Lapides was offering sports trivia. Joggers were jogging. The birds were singing. Life was good. Memphis was getting ready for another day, and a beautiful one it was.
It was Tuesday, our deadline day, and we were preparing a cover story on Memphis nightlife.
And then we started hearing the news, the horrible, unbelievable news that transfixed the country and that will probably forever change the way we see ourselves and our place in the world.
It began as an unfolding kaleidoscope of images, each more horrific and unbelievable than the last. First, we learned that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Was it terrorism or just a terrible accident, we wondered. Then 18 minutes later, another plane struck the other tower and the intentional nature of the attacks became more apparent. Before we could begin to let the enormity of these events sink in, we learned of yet another suicide-plane attack on the Pentagon. Then the towers collapsed, one after another, taking countless more lives; then another plane crashed near Pittsburgh. Rumors flew over the airwaves and around the office as reports came tumbling in from various sources. There were four planes, no, five. More attacks would come. The airports were closing ...
What the hell was happening?
The horror grew with each new revelation, with each numbing report of more death and destruction. Then came the queasy fear, the certain knowledge that America was no longer a safe haven, insulated from the messy but distant terrorism that plagues so much of the rest of the world. We seemed suddenly vulnerable, at the mercy of an evil too big to comprehend. Was there more to come?
We called friends and family, no matter where they were, seeking assurance that they were okay, seeking affirmation that they too had seen the news, had shared the nightmare. Our nightlife cover story seemed trivial now, pointless, a remnant of an easier, happier time, a time that suddenly seemed long ago and far away.
The terrorist suicide-plane attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania were a wake-up call for all of us. A "Pearl Harbor" moment for a new generation. Only this time there is no enemy country to invade, no clear way to fight back. The Japanese attack of 1941 was merciless and a surprise, but at least we knew where Tokyo was. This time it will do no good to mobilize our industries or stage a draft. The "enemy" is faceless, anonymous, and uses our own commercial airliners against us. Sophisticated missile defense systems and smart bombs are useless in the face of such actions.
Diplomacy seems equally futile. We are dealing with a foe whose soldiers find their greatest victories in suicide killings of civilians, whose hatred of America justifies any act, no matter how heinous. How we travel, how we live, how we view ourselves and our relations with the rest of the world are irrevocably altered.
As a weekly newspaper, the Flyer cannot offer breaking news in a situation such as this. That job is best left to television and the daily papers. We can, however, offer some perspective on the situation, some analysis of the events and their aftermath. And that's what we've attempted to do this week. The paper is a day later than normal, but events have transpired to make it so.
As I left downtown at day's end Tuesday, I couldn't help noticing the utter normalcy everywhere. Carpenters pounded nails on a new house; the trolley clattered by; runners jogged along the the Bluff Walk; the river ran as it always does, reflecting the setting sun. It all seemed the same as ever. But it wasn't. Not really.
-- Bruce VanWyngarden
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