September 9, 2011 | Quote

What I Remember

September 9, 2011 | Quote

What I Remember

CLIFFORD D. MAY

As an ex-reporter it has long been my habit to keep a television on in my office — just the picture, no sound. I look up from time to time to see if there’s a news bulletin. On the sunny autumn morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I glanced at the TV and saw a plane flying into a tower of the World Trade Center. I turned up the volume. The question being asked, of course, was whether this had been a terrible accident or something much worse.

When the second plane hit we knew. There was, for me, a special irony in this. Just a few days earlier, I had met with Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and a small group of philanthropists. Their concern was terrorism.

They were convinced that the conventional wisdom was wrong. They did not believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 — ten years earlier — had ushered in an era of peace. They had “connected the dots,” as we now say, and saw lines linking the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the attack on U.S. military personnel serving at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 2006, the bombing of two American embassies in Africa in 2008, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

They were not confident that the experts in university Middle East studies departments, Washington think tanks, the media, and the intelligence community understood what was happening or were thinking seriously about policy responses.

They were outraged, too, by the many apologists for terrorism. Sure, people have grievances. Civilized people do not express them by intentionally killing other people’s children.

A few days after 9/11, I met with Kemp, Kirkpatrick, and the philanthropists a second time. We agreed to create the Foundation for Defense of Democracies to study terrorism and the regimes, organizations, and ideologies that drive and justify it; to find better policies to defend America and its allies. Kemp was the founding chairman. Kirkpatrick was a founding member of the board of directors. Both have since passed, and may they rest in peace. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I remember them. And like millions of Americans and friends of America around the world, I mourn the victims of atrocities carried out to advance what the perpetrators call a jihad. I hope that we are coming to understand that this war did not begin in 2001 and will not end in 2011. As we should have learned by now, in every generation, freedom requires defenders.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

CLAUDIA ROSETT

What I most remember was the determination of small-town America that this attack on our country must be avenged. It was a distant aspect on that day of  horror and heroism in New York, at the Pentagon, and in the skies over Pennsylvania. But it was the part I witnessed firsthand.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was hundreds of miles from Manhattan, in a small town in upstate New York — though my office at the time was across the street from the Twin Towers. I had a column due, so I reported what I could. I grabbed a notebook and headed for Main Street, to find out what the local folks had to say.

They had all grasped instantly what the fancier circles of American politics went on to debate for years, and some are debating still. They understood that this was war. They were certain that America had to strike back. They wanted to help, whether by giving blood or picking up their guns. At a donut shop, watching the broadcasts on a TV propped atop a refrigerator, the customers at the counter called it worse than Pearl Harbor. Their proposal for thwarting plane hijackers was not to frisk three-year-olds, but to issue everyone on the plane a six-shooter or, as the shop owner suggested, a Louisville Slugger baseball bat.

At the American Legion, a former post commander expressed his revulsion at the Palestinians dancing in the streets. At a tavern, the bikers and blue-collar workers called it “an act of war” and said, “Hit the terrorist groups” and “hit ’em hard.” These people are the backbone of America; they were ready to rally for their country then. I’d wager they are ready still.

— Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Issues:

Al Qaeda International Organizations