LC Story: Story
On September 11, 2001, I was a public school Librarian at Bath County High School, a small, rural school in Hot Springs, Virginia. At the time I learned of the events, Mrs. Noreen Mitchell had just brought her second period eighth grade English class to the library to research Greek mythology. The time was probably a little after nine in the morning. The Art teacher, Mr. Bill Lindsey, came into the library to say that a plane had struck the World Trade Center and one of the towers was on fire. The Pentagon had been struck, too, by that point. I had a small audio-visual room with a TV and cable, and so we went into the room and turned on CNN. Soon, other teachers began showing up in the library, and Mrs. Mitchell was having a difficult time keeping her students on task. Finally, she gave up, and we all crowded into this tiny room while others stood in the doorway and looked over people's shoulders. Teachers began coming to the library to ask if they could bring their whole classes to the library to watch. Finally, I connected the cable to the closed-circuit televisions provided by Channel One so that every class could watch the news in their own rooms. I remember that as events unfolded, a paranoia began to take hold, not just in my school but on TV and among news anchors and commentators. There were reports of other planes still in the air. The President's location was unknown for a lengthy period of time. There was a report that a plane was headed for the Capitol, or perhaps the White House. All the kids were wondering if school would be released early and perhaps cancelled the next day. Once it became common knowledge that the events of that day were acts of terrorism, immediately the adults in the school began to talk of war, though against whom no one could say. School remained in session, though no learning took place outside the context of what was happening in New York and Washington. Much of the day, Mr. Lindsey and I watched the news together and talked. I was only about 28 at the time; Mr. Lindsey was in his fifties, so he had a more experienced and liberal mind than myself. I was gung ho and ready to go to war; I was fearful and excited. He was sad and afraid. That night, my wife and I went home (she was a French teacher in the same school where I worked) and listened to NPR. We did not have cable TV at home. Around nine, the President addressed the nation. We listened to it with a mixed feeling of fear and excitement. Nothing feels as exhilerating and as terrible as living in a great moment of history.
LC Story: Memory
My most vivid memory of the day is how the Internet went down due to the sudden surge in traffic. Google simply posted a message directing people to major news sites, but these sites were either unavailable or not updated for long periods of time. The inability to get information on-line contributed to a sense that we were in the beginning stages of some kind of apocalypse. The overwhelming feeling of that day was of uncertainty and fear of the future.
LC Story: Affects
As for myself personally, previous to September 11, I expected to live out my existence in rural Appalachian Virginia. My wife and I had just had our first child in April 2001, and we were looking for a home to buy. By January 2002, we were both actively seeking new jobs and by extension, a different life for ourselves. I briefly looked into joining the Marine corps. and going to Officer Candidate School. I went so far as to talk to a local recruiter, as well as my brother-in-law, who was also a recruiter for the Marines. I had scheduled an appointment to take the entrance exam when I finally decided that joining the military at my age and my stage in life would be too difficult for my family. My wife didn't want me to do it, but was willing to support me; however, I decided it was too much to ask of her. Instead, I began to look for work elsewhere, as did my wife. She eventually found a job teaching French in a High School in nearby Lexington, Virginia. It took a little longer for me to find work, but by July, I was offered and accepted a position with the Library of Congress as part of the Digital Conversion group. I feel like 9/11 directly precipitated these changes in our life. I don't know why, but after 9/11 we both felt that we could not go on as before. We were not fully satisfied with our then-current jobs, but we were resigned to working in that school for the rest of our working lives because it was comfortable and we had the rare benefit of being able to work together on the same schedule. 9/11 caused us to reevaluate who we were and where we were going, and because of that, we decided that we needed more. We were not going to resign ourselves to a work environment we really didn't like, in a part of the country so remote that we had to drive forty minutes over a mountain just to reach a solitary Wal-Mart in a dead-end mill town (Covington, Virginia). I did not join the Marines, but I moved on to better things, and my wife and I are happier now. On a national level, my assessment of how 9/11 has changed the country has drifted from the conservative position I took for some time after 9/11. I think that fifty years from now, historians will say that the terrorists won a surreptitious victory on September 11, 2001. At the time, the President and others told us that we would not accede to the terrorists demands and desires. We were told that the terrorists wanted us to be afraid, that the terrorists wanted us to alter our lives, take away our own freedoms, react hastily and violently. And yet, we have reacted to 9/11 exactly as the terrorists desired and exactly as President Bush told us we would not react. Our freedoms have been curtailed via the Patriot Act. Our fear of terrorism is demonstrable in the fact that going through airport security is tougher than ever for everyone from toddlers to grandmothers, and precisely because it is non-discriminatory, most people feel that the increased security does not really protect us. General Tommy Franks and others have suggested that another terrorist attack, especially if it involves chemicals or biological agents or radiological weapons, would result in the rollback of the U.S. Constitution and the imposition of martial law. We have engaged in a dubious Middle East war in Iraq. And finally, in at least one case we directly acceded to one of the demands of Osama bin Laden: we have withdrawn troops from Saudi Arabia. True, we've withdrawn troops from Saudi in order to move them into Iraq, but nonetheless we have given bin Laden at least one of the things he has demanded of us. Two years after 9/11, I still remember the feelings of that day, the mixture of horror, sadness, fear, anger, and excitement. Yet two years later, I also feel sobered and less inclined to accept the belief that this war can be won via traditional military means. Perhaps establishing a peaceful, democratic Iraq will indeed defuse much of the hatred directed toward America from the Islamic radicals. From the close-up vantage point of 2003, it is difficult to see how that will happen. The Islamic fundamentalists have a cause for which to fight and a common, clearly identifiable enemy in America. Contrarily, most Americans have to think really, really hard to justify such wars as the one we just fought in Iraq, and our enemy is not so easily identifiable. Our enemy has no national borders, no organized military that follows the rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention. Whereas in previous wars, success could be measured in towns taken, divisions destroyed, material captured or destroyed, in the present case, success is not so clearly measured and there is no way to determine when the war will be finished. That last part is what is really frightening. I fear that a hot war that lasts for twenty or thirty years provides the President and military with far too much power over our lives and the course this country takes into the future. We Americans must safeguard our freedoms carefully, not from terrorists who cannot touch us in that way anyhow, but from our leaders who do have the power, the means, and the will to curtail our liberty.
“lc_story245.xml,” September 11 Digital Archive, accessed March 30, 2020, https://911digitalarchive.org/items/show/385.