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The Non-Legacy of 9/11

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A U.S. flag flies over Ground Zero before the start of ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, September 11, 2011. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters) We should be grateful that one horrible day didn’t really change the American spirit.

On September 11, 2001, I stopped at a McDonald’s at 82nd and Broadway around 8:50 to treat myself to an Egg McMuffin ahead of what promised to be an exceptionally dull day downtown: my first day of jury duty. A radio playing in the restaurant (I think it was tuned to WINS-AM, New York’s 24-hour-news station) announced that “a small commuter plane” had struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. Like everyone familiar with the history of New York City, I immediately thought of the B-25 that had hit the Empire State Building in 1945. That tower survived, and wasn’t even that badly damaged. I wanted to believe the World Trade Center crash was just one of those crazy things that happen every day in the city: If it was a “small commuter plane,” perhaps it had been a private flight, and private pilots make lots of crazy mistakes. But the B-25 crash had taken place in thick fog. 9/11 was a spectacularly clear and bright day. How could even a novice pilot accidentally hit the tallest building in New York on a day like that?

Heading down to Centre Street, where my jury duty was to take place, I got off the subway at Chambers Street, six blocks north of the Twin Towers. In the 30 minutes I’d been on the subway, the world had changed. Now both towers were giving off huge amounts of smoke. Clearly this was a coordinated attack, not a “small commuter plane” accident. I stood there gaping with hundreds of others before I walked over to Centre Street to check on my jury duty. Just as a clerk was telling me it was canceled, a sound unlike anything I’d ever heard came in from the street: all New York let

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