Remembering The 911 Double Tragedy
As I battled the traffic this morning from Culver City to my San Diego home I knew what was on my mind as I shut off the radio after fruitlessly trying to find a left or right talk show that wasn’t involved in angry partisan demonization. Usually it didn’t bug me listening to talk show hosts spending three hours explaining why only one party (theirs) is honorable and has good intentions while the other (not theirs) is filled with evil, manipulative and dangerous people.
Today I just couldn’t stop thinking about the double tragedy of 911..
Sept. 11, 2001: It’s early in the morning and I’m sitting in my condo living room with my former foster son and his son Greg, then 9. Greg never ever came down there that early in the morning. But for some reason he was there that day. And that’s when the first plane hit. We were tuned to NBC, and like everyone else in a state of shock. How could a small plane go so far off course that it would accidentally hit a Twin Tower? The sense of shock deepens: the second plane…the collapse of the towers.
I go upstairs and shower. L.A. based CBS News Radio announces another plane went down in Pennsylvania. Then a plane hits the Pentagon. What is happening? I talk to my father, Richard Gandelman, who passed away last year. “I think it’s that bin Laden fanatic who did it,” he said. The news of the horrific details emerges. San Diego schools are canceled.
And it doesn’t end there..
I walk down to the 7-Eleven a few blocks away from my house. On the way back I think of the talk about the Arab world siding with bin Laden. Predictions of spreading international turmoil.
I look at El Cajon Blvd. and all of the stores there and envision some of them closed due to the U.S. going into a depression.
I am hit with an image of the whole place burned out, after a nuclear exchange, and I shake my head, trying to get the image out. Each night, the sound of planes could be heard cruising the skies of San Diego — reportedly checking for threats.
A few weeks later I visit my father, who seems more frail than ever. He seems to be a bit stunned when we all go out for dinner. Finally, I realized what had him in a state of shock: his generation thought they destroyed this kind of bloodthirsty, merciless fanaticism when they defeated Hitler. Now Hitler was BACK, only this time taller and with a beard. What kind of world faced his grandkids??
And then came the partisan unity.
Americans of all parties, ages and walks of life come together. Partisan demonization seem unseemly and outdated, given the new realities.
The parties work together to back the President. George Bush gives the toughest and best speeches of his life. There’s talk that perhaps it’s a new day in America…
And it was.
Until election time.
For a short, shining moment Americans had a chance to put aside MEGA partisanship — the angry, accusatory, adjective-hurling partisanship that has grown so steadily as American races into the 21st century. But it became clear a decision was made by the White House to run on national security and argue that the Republicans can protect you better than the Democrats. It was a short leap from there to saying the Democrats really don’t care as much about terrorism. The leap was easily made.
Iraq came after that…but this moment was lost earlier…once that politically-productive decision was made.
Today, I walk down El Cajon Boulevard and see some empty storefronts. Units haven’t sold at a big completed condo project. Two other planned condo projects are now dead.
The depression isn’t here.
Tonight you could hear the sound of planes again flying over San Diego — most likely checking for 911-anniversary threats.
So today I remember — and mourn.
Lives were brutally snuffed out and innocents eradicated on 911.
And a key moment when there were hopes that the politics of consensus might displace the us-versus-them politics of polarization that blossomed in the late 60s was eradicated some months later.
It was America’s double tragedy.