Pedestrians react to the World Trade Center attack, September 11, 2001. (Stringer/Reuters) Even watching 9/11 unfold from abroad, we could grasp its historical significance, its incomparable horror.
On September 11, 2001, I was working in my dad’s office just outside Cambridge, England, when, an hour or so after lunch, I noticed an email with an unusual subject line drop into the inbox of his personal AOL account. It was from a close family friend out in California, and it read, simply, “Some clown has flown a plane into the World Trade Center.”
As a 16-year-old English kid who had spent a good amount of time in America but never been to New York City, I had no meaningful frame of reference for this news. I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was, or where it was. I didn’t know how tall it was, or how many people worked in it. And, like a lot of other people, I assumed that by “plane,” our friend must mean a Cessna, and by “some clown,” she must have meant an amateur pilot.
I read the email to my dad, who suggested that I look at the BBC’s news website to find out what had happened. But I couldn’t. At least, not for a while. Try as I might, I just got error messages. Oddly, the same was true of CNN, Yahoo, and pretty much every other overloaded current-affairs site to which I tried to connect. The requests just sat there in the queue.
When I eventually got through, the page was all broken up and the images weren’t working, but I managed to read the text. There had been a terrible accident in New York, the BBC said, and one of the tallest buildings in the world was on fire. From the links, I could see that there was a video, but however many times I clicked on it, it wouldn’t load.
A few minutes later, my dad went down to the lobby to mail some letters and noticed that everyone had congregated in front of a
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