With so much U.S. media coverage focusing on the Hurricane Katrina disaster, it’s easy to overlook the fact that today is the fourth anniversary of the nation’s deadliest terrorist attack, when the World Trade Center towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, a plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, and thousands died. I’m sure the remembrance will be muted in light of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, a disaster that is now as embedded into the American psyche as is that infamous day on 9/11/2001.
Here in Korea, far away from the U.S., it all seems so distant to me now. I remember well where I was when I heard the news of the terrorist attacks. Who could forget? I was at the Boeing assembly plant in Everett, Washington where two of the four jetliners hijacked by the terrorists, 767s, had been assembled. The other two jetliners, 757s, had been built in Renton, Washington at another plant where I used to work. I drove to work that day mindlessly listening to music. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary as I drove to work. I usually listen to the morning news, but for some reason, on 9/11 I tuned the world out. I parked my car and walked into the plant. As I entered, a coworker passed me and said, “You heard about what happened, right?” I answered no, and he exclaimed, “The World Trade Center collapsed!” You’ve got to be kidding! I asked incredulously, “You’re joking, right?” He shook his head and answered, “No, I’m serious.” I raced to my desk and checked CNN.com. The Web site was down due to heavy Internet traffic. I found an alternate Web site covering the attacks, and I turned on my desk radio and listened to the news. I couldn’t believe it. Because we were on the West Coast, the attacks had transpired long before we arrived at work. At the time, the media were still trying to figure out whether the planes that hit the World Trade Center had erroneously hit them. When the second one hit, and the third hit the Pentagon, no one doubted that it was a premeditated attack. Confusion reigned, and the media speculated whether more attacks would occur. The country was in a state of collective shock. As a Boeing employee, I was incensed that a product I helped build was used as a weapon by terrorists. Although Washington State was far from the epicenter, my coworkers and I felt a personal loss by the tragedy. Some of us had friends and family living in the New York City area, and we were desperate to locate them.
In hindsight, the Oklahoma City bombing notwithstanding, the decade between the Gulf War and 9/11 seemed so peaceful. It turned out to be an illusion. The events that transpired on 9/11 had been in the planning long before September 11. Osama bin Laden fled from Sudan to Afghanistan during the 1990s. The Iraqis and Allied sorties frequently skirmished. The levee that broke, flooding New Orleans, remained unrepaired. Nevertheless, something changed on that day in 2001. The world has never been the same. In just four years, the U.S. has been through 9/11, the Afghan War, the Iraq War, Tsunami relief, and now Hurricane Katrina. It’s been a very turbulent four years for everyone. Although I’m skeptical, I hope that the next four are just as uneventful as the previous four were eventful. We could all use a break.