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Monday, May 2, 2011

Reflections on 9/11 in Light of Bin Laden’s Dispatch

Reflections on 9/11 in Light 
of Bin Laden’s Dispatch:
Troubling images come 
flooding back
(Posted to 5/2)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – “Bin Laden Dead” and “Bin Laden is Blown Away” were the headlines greeting me Monday morning as I awoke to discover that Osama Bin Laden, leader of al-Qaida and mastermind of the attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, had been killed in a Pakistan-based military operation. It was big news certainly, and I immediately informed my two boys, who were readying themselves for school. Then, as I gathered more details, the images and sound bites of that horrific day nearly 10 years ago started flooding back.

I was a consultant at the time and master of my own schedule. As such, and given the spectacularly sunny skies that morning, I decided to drop my elder son, Evan, five at the time, at Roger Sherman Elementary and go get my car washed. As I began doing some pre-wash vacuuming at the Tunxis Hill car wash, an attendant informed me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I imagined a small single engine plane and snapped on the car radio to catch the story. Only then did the enormity of the event become clear and, as I made my way back home, the first tower came crashing down. I looked about me in traffic and wondered if anyone else was hearing what I was hearing.

As I pulled in the driveway, my wife poked her head out the window to give me the news, but of course I already knew. And while our younger son, Phillip, who was not quite two, rolled around on the living room rug, we watched the events unfold on TV – the fall of the second tower, the strike at the Pentagon, the downing of the plane in a field in Pennsylvania, the suspension of all air traffic, other rumored strikes. It was all very surreal and difficult to compute.

As calls came in from friends and family to check on our well-being and share their own thoughts and sympathies, I decided I had to see “Ground Zero” – the name that was quickly coined for the Trade Center site – for myself.

Just 24 hours later, I was shuttling in my SUV toward Manhattan on I-95, which was almost completely void of traffic, passing crudely constructed signs identifying staging areas for emergency vehicles. When I reached the Parkchester section of the Bronx, I parked and grabbed my brother-in-law Deon for the rest of the trek in.

We took the subway which brought us as far in as Houston Street, where barricades had been placed from the East Side to the West. We slipped past these and followed the deserted F.D.R. Drive down to Fulton Street, following the huge plume of smoke from the site and weaving our way along side streets. As we grew nearer, we found ourselves tromping through concrete dust, which appeared like snow covering cars, streets and steps. Then we saw women’s shoes in the roadways, that had been kicked off in flight from the debris clouds that had billowed outwards from the collapsing towers.

Then the images really flooded by. Flattened police cars that had been pulled from the wreckage and left on the side of the street. Memos and paper debris from the towers. Someone scooping dust into a Snapple bottle. A small tank sitting in Battery Park. Emergency workers commandeering city buses. Flatbed trucks rolling down West Street carrying twisted steel. A military Humvee shooting past with a soldier manning a rooftop machine gun. F-16s patrolling overhead. Coast Guard and E.P.A. ships guarding the harbor. Then the jagged remnants of the towers themselves, visible down Liberty Street, and the resulting vacancy in the skyline.

As the pair of us made our way back uptown, we noticed a dusty windshield and the words “Bomb Bin Laden” that had been scrawled with a finger. The hunt had officially begun for the killer.

The years that followed were frustrating as the shaggy bearded criminal periodically issued ominous communications from an apparent mountainside cave dwelling in Afghanistan. Sketches were released imagining what he would look like as he aged or altered his appearance. Rumors floated about his ill health. Like a needle in a haystack, he continued to elude capture.

So, to find, nearly 10 years later, after a maddening “Where’s Waldo” search, that he had been shacked up at a visible compound in Pakistan, was disheartening. Then, to learn that his body had been dumped at sea to avoid any martyrdom was equally exasperating. There was a mixed feeling of satisfaction about his death and skepticism about whether we had truly gotten our man. At the same time, I had a feeling of concern that there might be retribution from his allies while also wondering if we had actually affected any change, given the pyramid structure in the al-Qaida organization. Wouldn’t an underling just take Bin Laden’s place?

We had apparently knocked off an icon, and that was helpful in bringing some degree of closure and a morale boost to Americans, but now what? 

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