11 September 2001
I think back on 1950s America, when we felt not only helpless because of endless nuclear-
weapon sword- rattling, but, as well, because we were afraid of our own government. We knew that people like the Dulles Brothers and J Edgar Hoover and the professional anti-Communists were not only running the show, but hinted that they were committed to snuffing out all life on the planet just to protect us from the Russians.
When the war in Kuwait came, I saw it from a distance, for a few minutes at a time, from tiny television sets that had been set out in the streets of Puerto Perdido. What I saw convinced me that I didn't want to know any more about it. I regret that I was here for this latest one.
I see no good coming out of it. Travel will be changed irrevocably: the jet which has given us so much pleasure (getting from here to there quickly) is now a different creature. Every time we enter an airplane, we will know that we are entering a potential bomb.
New commercial aircraft will be redesigned so that the pilots will have their own entrances, and we'll be cut off from them --- like those trucks that drive around with cages around the cargo so that no one can get to it, or taxi-cabs in New York.
The desire to construct tall buildings that have, for so many years, been murdering our street life will, at last, we would hope, taper off. My old friend Delphine was in a twenty-story building in Alaska during the 1964 earthquake. Even now she arranges things so she never has to go up more than a couple of floors in buildings. No one who watched television on the 11th of September --- much less anyone who was there --- will go into a tall building with the same equinamity.
Huge buildings are built large and ugly for financial reasons. Land is very expensive, so it's cheaper to grow up rather than out. Federal and state governments give handsome tax-incentives and depreciation write-offs to such structures, despite the fact that it has been proven that the larger a building the more cost per capita to the city not only in services and infrastructure but, as well, hidden costs of traffic flow and neighborhood ruination.
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A tall building is designed to protect our psyches from the fact that we are such a long distance from the ground. Halls and offices are carpeted, a pseudograss to disguise the fact that we are walking on cement, steel, and lots of thin air. Windows may add a decorative delusion, but as in all skyscrapers, they are never to be opened.
The people who worked in and visited the WTC for all these years never saw the ground below and those tiny people down there as something to which they were connected. They were dozens or hundreds or thousands of feet above life and what we call terra firma. The world outside the windows was equal to the pictures coming out of a Miramax 180-degree projector: large, idealized, unreachable. People who suffer from agraphobia do not suffer from fear of heights; they suffer from reality. It is even said that the architect who designed the WTC, Minoru Yamasaki, had a fear of heights himself.
It was only when the shell surrounding their imaginary space was blown away --- the staircases jammed or cut off, the elevators no longer working --- that the citizens of air city knew without a doubt that there was no way of reaching home, except violently. It is said that after the first few bodies toppled from the upper stories of the WTC, the television cameras pulled back. It was reality television that none of us were prepared to watch.
We will forever be haunted by the innocence of those people hanging on to the shattered portals of the building, sixty stories up, on a beautiful wind-swept day, waving white towels, waiting, waiting to be rescued. They had been told by the in-house speakers to stay put until help came. They were probably expecting that the helicopters would fly down to their tattered windows and save them. But with all those police and television and private helicopters in the Manhattan area --- and not a one was allowed to circle in during the last minutes to save those who would soon fall or be crushed under tons of cement.
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Some of us hardly ever listen to AM talk radio. The easy anger and vituperation of the likes of Rush always curled my hair, reminded me of recordings I heard from radio in Germany in 1933 and 1935 and 1938. So of what I heard the day after the bombings about rounding up and shooting the usual suspects did not surprise me.
What did surprise me was the common knowledge that the militant Taliban had been virtually created by the U.S. --- that we had funded, given arms to, and offered expert, explicit directions in terroristic techniques to the bin Ladens of the world. We had created a party of Muslim co-conspirators, drawn from all over the Muslim world --- men who maintained connections long after they departed from Afghanistan.
[In the Spring of 1999, RALPH reviewed Warriors of the Prophet: The Struggle for Islam by Mark Huband (Westview/Perseus). The book explains in detail how the CIA unified and funded the new terrorists. ---ED]
If the hijackers could wrap all their troubles in a ball, and aim to kill --- then the World Trade Center and the Pentagon would be obvious targets. Part of it is the Karmic Law of Bad Architecture. Truly ugly buildings create their own problems. A study in Hong Kong twenty years ago found that people who spend their lives in box-like apartments (simple, ugly, "modern" structures), and those who work in similar 90-degree angle industrial-type buildings --- have higher rates of anti-social behavior patterns, more psychosomatic problems, suffer more from random acts of rape, robbery, and violence than those who live in single-family homes or who work in buildings that are more aesthetic, serene, and low slung.
Security runs high in large complexes that are built in we used to call the "International" style. Bathrooms on each floor are always locked; there are security guards patrolling the halls and entryways and elevators. Twenty years ago I was in the World Trade Center trying to buy (I swear) some antique Chinese National Railway Sinking Fund Debenture Bonds from (I swear) Carl Marks and Co --- the biggest foreign bond-market maker in the country. When I got off the elevator at the 55th (or 65th, or 75th) floor, I walked through an area of heavy doors that reminded me of the large jail where I used to teach school.
The long halls were narrow and mustard colored and smelled of too much money and cleaning and not enough care. The narrow floor-to-ceiling window at the end of the runway seemed unnecessarily small; it certainly was meaningless. All the doors were dun-colored and had peep-holes. When I finally got buzzed into Marks Co, the clerks lurked about behind heavy glass partitions, counting endless certificates. I could hardly wait to get out of there.
From outside, the twin towers looked strangely puny. All decorative elements stopped at the fourth floor. The scale and the siting were executed as if the designer was trying valiantly not to make it too overpowering, which seemed a bit like dressing an elephant up in a tutu. The long, narrow portals reaching up --- seemingly forever --- reminded me of the vertical bars I had once known in jail.
Too many have commented that the repeated pictures of the planes blasting into the towers reminded them of disaster movies. I was more reminded of tape loops that I saw in a run-down pornographic movie theatre in San Francisco, what were vulgarly called "Cruisin' Loops." The action circled around endlessly, in slow motion, coming, finally, to the climax of explosion, then there was a sudden jerking back to the beginning again, and the coming around, slowly, again, into the descent, into the explosion. Although it was always the same shot, after the fiftieth or hundredth or two-hundredth time, it turned hypnotizing, each time a little different, a little more strange and unworldly.
Karlheintz Stockhausen was roundly condemned for saying that the bombing was "the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos." His words came out sounding more callous than they should have. Those of us who have followed Stockhausen and his peers know that for them the function of art has always been to skew reality. As such, his take on this terrorism was correct. Our reality has been profoundly changed by it. We will never see tall buildings, jets, and people with beards and cold eyes and Middle Eastern accents the same again.
Many of us were confused by the timing. We thought the big bang would come on December 31, 1999, exactly at midnight. We dreaded it so that we even invented a computer glitch to give us the appropriate fret-work. We were off by more than a year-
and-a- half because disasters are never kind enough to come exactly on schedule. And, because we'll always be too late, disasters, like history, are very unlikely to arrive exactly as we may imagine, as much as we may strive to prepare for their awful coming.--- C. Amantea