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A Dozen Years Since

Twelve years ago yesterday, I had arrived back in Waynesboro from a two-week trip to Mexico. I had enough leave and a brand new Jeep Wrangler that I wanted to show my dad, so I drove down there (all 20+ hours of actual driving time) and then drove back at the end of the two weeks. I arrived on Monday night, somewhat late. I was exhausted from all the driving, and I had to work the next day at 4pm. So I went to bed and blacked out the world.

The following morning, September 11, 2001, I woke up still a little tired, but I knew that I had to wake up then (around 9am) or I would be all sorts of out of phase for the my upcoming work week. My morning routine was “routine.” I’d turn on the news (CNN or Fox News*) and have it in the background as I made myself breakfast and checked my email. These were the days before social media, so all I had to connect to the world was email.

I was in the kitchen when the voice of the reporter seemed too distressed to be normal. It was somewhere between screams of horror and trying to remain professional. I looked out the kitchen door to the living room to the sight of the Twin Towers on fire. By the time I sat down to see what was happening, both towers had been hit. A few minutes later, I stared in horror as the images of the first tower coming down were broadcast… Then the images of the second one.

I sat on that couch for hours.

By the time it was 3pm and I had to get ready for work at the hospital, we all knew what had happened, more or less.

It’s been twelve years since, and the images of that day are very much in my memory. Even the days and weeks after that day are engrained in my mind. I remember telling the girl I was dating at that time that I really did feel like someone was out to kill me. It was traumatizing to me, so I can’t even imagine how it was to the millions of people in New York City on that day… And since that day.

The lessons since are still being learned. We’re still learning to trust our leaders to protect us, to tell us the truth about going to war, and to be fair on the application of laws here at home and abroad. We’re still learning that our leaders can lie and mislead, that they can be quick to pull the trigger on the mightiest war machine in the world, and that they will treat some as less than human in the application of justice.

This all makes me wonder how history will be written about September 11, 2001 in, say, 2101. I wonder how the Iraq War and the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan will be viewed through the prism of a hundred years. And what about all that is going on now in Syria and other countries as their people rise against despots… Will the voices of the thousands killed be ever heard?





*Fox News?! I know, right?

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.

2 replies

  1. I remember that day all too well. I was home, driving north on I-95 toward my parents house, returning from some errand and I remarked to my wife that “someone must not like Manhattan”.
    The highway alert sign had recently been attacked several times by mischievous persons, leaving some rather entertaining, if not embarrassing to PENNDOT messages for the public, hence I thought that had happened again.
    We arrived at my parents house to see one tower billowing smoke and people jumping to their deaths, when shortly after, the second tower was struck.
    My wife turned pale, as she knew I’d be traveling again. I just shrugged and called my unit to update my location and contact numbers, as is policy with our unit.
    It ended up that my travel was delayed, as my mother passed away in her sleep shortly after the attacks. Right at the height of the anthrax outbreak. Whilst suffering from bronchitis.
    Whist ignoring a prolapsed mitral valve. And smoking moderately, drinking coffee and generally being highly industrious in every matter save her own health.
    Personally, I suspect that bronchitis wasn’t what it seemed. Previously, it was likely undiagnosed mild asthma, I’ve treated it before then and after. But, in that case, I suspect it was more like pneumonia secondary to heart valve failure, which overstressed an already overtaxed heart which subsequently claimed her life.
    Still, there are moments when a small voice questions if she contracted anthrax, as we receive some of our mail through one of the contaminated facilities.
    Then, my intellect reminds me that she did not have the proper constellation of symptoms consistent with pulmonary anthrax.

    In regards to Iraq, this retired soldier agrees that it was a hair trigger response to something that had been going on before Bush the lesser took office, was going on while he was in office and overall made zero sense. The intelligence was widely regarded as suspect to the point where a flying saucer landing and aliens asking for our leader report would have been given greater credence.
    But, Bush the lesser did things in his own way.
    Of course, we do have a precedent for such a backwards warfare. When we entered WWII after being attacked by Japan, we first engaged Germany.
    Of course, we had a bit of a Pacific fleet problem, or lack of an operational one back then.

    As for fear, I had plenty of neighbors and various acquaintances fearful of an attack on their miniscule township or borough. I always answered their question with a question that put perspective on their fear, which dispelled it: “Would the world even *notice* if this town sunk into the bowels of the Earth forever? Why would you think that terrorists would attack it then?”
    Because, those terrorists may be dummies for throwing away their lives, but they’re quite far from stupid. Indeed, the US DoD studied the efficacy of using the mentally challenged in military operations, mourning the loss of our most fit and brightest. What was learned was one could not convince one of below average intelligence to attack in a highly risk filled attack. It was trivial to convince the above average intelligence person to do so.
    I guess you could say that they were stupid, but most certainly no dummies!
    Seriously though, it takes greater ability to rationalize away one’s safety and face near or even fully certain death.
    So, the notion was scrapped.
    Thankfully. We should protect those weaker than us, lest we risk returning to the rule of the brute.

    I’ll close with a few thoughts. I and my wife both spent the entire day at my parents house. Few were the times I felt moved to tears, that was one, the only thing that ever hurt worse was when my mother died.
    I’ve traveled a great deal to various rather unpleasant places on this planet. I’ve personally witnessed the worst and best of humanity. I’ve personally witnessed and tried my best to help mitigate horrific epidemics of polio and measles striking distant villages in remote areas.
    I’ve personally witnessed the ravages of war, indeed, delivering quite a few of those ravages myself, along with my teams.
    I’ve personally taken prisoners into custody and transported them to be interrogated. I also had looser questioning on the way and while waiting. Interestingly enough, it seems that I got better and more information by simple conversational questioning than any of that “enhanced interrogation”, screw it, torture ever acquired. Let’s face it, people love to brag. Others were more thoughtful, but wished to justify their actions to someone who was treating them fairly, even rather nicely.
    Nice men they most certainly were not, as if I were to have loosened their bounds, I’d not be talking to anyone today. Determined fanatics, self-brainwashed and externally reinforced brainwashed is what they were and still are.

    “Will the voices of the thousands killed be ever heard?”
    Nope, they are vanishingly rarely ever heard from.
    What really sucks about it is, most of the time, it’s their former friends and neighbors that kill them. The rest get caught between two groups of strangers destroying their homes and neighborhoods.
    The only real difference is, one particular group will feel sickened to cause innocent civilians deaths, many, if not most don’t care at all. To us, they’re victims, to the others, they’re martyrs or animals.
    The thought processes are *that* starkly different.

    This old soldier has always had one prime wish, that people would get along. After all, I am a good dad, all I want is peace and quiet! 😉


  2. I was working in a nearby suburb of NYC at the time of 9-11, away from the office with colleagues…re-certifying for CPR at a local hospital, when the news of the plane hitting the first tower was broadcast. At the time, I didn’t know if my daughter was at her mid-town office or at her alternative office at the World Trade Center. Within 40 minutes she called my office; the good news was relayed to me at the hospital. She, along with tens of thousands of people trudged out of Manhattan on the 59th Street Bridge and she eventually made her way to my home at 8 PM that night. I have her clip-on photo ID badge from the World Trade Center as a grim reminder of the momentary grief I felt until I heard she was safe.

    My daughter’s boss was killed in the attacks as were her close chum from high school, my brother’s best buddy lost his son…a NYC fireman; a physician I worked with lost her husband.

    For months after the attacks, we attended funerals and memorial services and supported our friends who had gone through the attacks and survived.


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