PODCAST: Former FBI agent and American hero Ali Soufan on the most important lessons to learn from 9/11 + the tragedy at Mỹ Lai: an American shame
Thank you for the difficult but important remembrance Steve. Interestingly, Joyce Vance writes a disturbing post today distilling down the fact that after 9/11 2001, America was united, but now because of Trumpism brainwashing 30% of our population, 30% of our population did not unite against the Pandemic, 30% of our population does not believe that there was an assault on the Capitol, 30% of our population does not believe that there is an assault on democracy, and 30% of our population are not troubled by racism and white supremacy.
“We called it My Lai. It was the place where 504 defenseless, unarmed civilians were savaged by American forces, who acted no differently than SS Einsatzgruppen killers in Eastern Europe murdering Jews.”
It never ceases to amaze me how war can bring out the worst in humanity. Even though, most soldiers due act with honor and integrity.
After 9/11, we wanted revenge. Instead, of allocating all our resources against Al Qaeda and their financial backers; Saudi Arabia. We decided to attack the low hanging fruit; Iraq, because as Rumsfeld famously stated, there aren’t any good military targets in Afghanistan.” No worries that Iraq wasn’t involved. Time to send a message, and a message well received.
Torture programs, spying on Americans. 500,000 dead innocent Iraqi’s and several thousands of Americans killed, tens of thousands of Americans wounded, trillions wasted; all for a manufactured war that accomplished nothing, except handing Iraq over to Iran, without them even having to fire a single shot.
And look at us now. 9/11 celebrations and slogans like “never forget,” and “thank you for your service.” Those words would have more meaning if veterans and 9/11 responders didn’t have to go “hand in hat” to Congress every five years to get funds RE-allocated for all the health issues these hero’s continually face.
And who are the culprits that continually refuse to allocate these funds? The same strong on defense party we call republicans.
Just some thoughts...:)
9/11 is a sad day of remembrance for me. I watched the horror on TV as the 2nd plane hit the north tower. Like many on that fretful day, I was enraged and wanted revenge. However, I was too old at that time and no armed service wanted my willingness to fight for our country. I hold the men and women who served in times of need in high esteem. Their sacrifice is what our country is about. We remember those who serve bravely or at least that was once true. Now we have a population of our country who spit on the Constitution and want to turn our country into an autocracy with a dishonorable man as their leader. Trump never thinks of country first or of making America great again. No, Trump only thinks about Trump first. He is the most selfish person that has ever risen to high office. He is the Nero of modern times who would rather burn it all down and watch it burn. I only mention this person in the same comment of 9/11 because Trump is still a clear and present danger to our democracy. He is more dangerous than any foreign terrorist.
What I remember most about the day was the color of the sky. It was a blue that I’d never seen before and have only rarely seen since. I live in Chicago but when I talk to others about the day, they invariably bring up the sky’s color that day. I’ve gathered that it was like that over much of the country.
Now when I see a sky that color I think about THAT day. Airline pilots call it “severe clear”, but I call it a “9/11 sky”.
I was working at International Place at State Street in Boston on the 4th floor, several months pregnant with my first child. My brother was working in Stamford, CT as an energy trader. He called me and said "I'm listening to Howard Stern! A plane just flew into the Twin Towers!" This was at the dawn of "Al Gore's Internet", but nevertheless we all headed there to see what was going on. Updates on Firefox were almost non-existent. Howard Stern was breaking the news, as his callers were seeing this go down in real time and were calling. This was shortly before 9:00 on, as we all remember, an absolutely gorgeous day. Originally the thought was that it was a small plane, like Cape Air, that had bungled into the first Tower. Someone wheeled in a tv on a stand to the conference room, and we all started watching the horror unfold. Two of the planes were as we know from Boston, and later we learned there were people some of us knew on those planes. A young man named Stephen recently out of college had spent the prior year and summer working at Marsh Mac in the Twin Towers - his college friend who was working with us knew I needed an assistant since I'd be heading out on maternity leave and I had hired him. It was his first day. He watched the towers go down with a mixture of terror and relief (?). We hardly knew each other but we both realized we shared a special serendipitous bond that fortune had connected us and brought him to Boston rather than to Marsh Mac that day. My brother, still watching the trading desk screens in Stamford, also had the horrific experience of hearing the squawk boxes of what was happening in real time with the traders at Cantor Fitz who were his friends. They all perished. I remember looking out the 4th floor window and thinking, "I can jump if I have to," but being pregnant I knew what would probably happen. I called my husband who was at Putnam Investments in Boston (their parent company was Marsh McLennan) and said we needed to go now! We both left work and wormed out way through the stand still traffic to the ferry and made it home, packed on an overloaded boat with people not saying a word. In the weeks to come my husband's coworker at Putnam who handles voice mail and email was tasked with deleting all of those numbers and addresses of people no longer alive.
There are so many excruciating and detailed memories forever etched in the minds of those of us alive at that time. Never Forget is not just a slogan. For one brief moment this country was 100% united. And then the lies started to flow from the Bush Administration, and the splintering of this country began in earnest. I just watched Rob Reiner's film "Shock and Awe" last week, about the poisoning and manipulation of the press/media during that time. I highly recommend it as it shines a preemptive light on what we're seeing with the media today. We need to all remember that Saudi Arabia had a massive hand in this despicable day; they are our enemies, no matter how much of their oil we need. God bless all who were immediately effected by this day.
Three days before 9/11, my brothers & I were grieving the recent loss of our father so we decided to watch our old home movies. One was of us boating on the Hudson while the twin towers were being built. That day, I muttered that those towers didn’t add to the NYC skyline & it was too bad they were there in the first place. I had no idea that they would be gone less than 72 hours later as I slept in my Hells Kitchen apartment. My brother called me in a panic, telling me to “go north!” I told him I was north enough at 58th St. His wife spent the day with me as she lived in NJ & had no way home (NYC was totally locked down). Later that evening, one of my grad school classmates was on the news in tears about the loss of her fiancée. Days later, the cloud from the rubble slowly moved north casting a shadow over every part of the city. Dark days to be sure.
9/11. We remember. Thank you to the brave people of the NYC metro area. I am always disappointed when people from certain areas of the country consider themselves or are considered by the messed up media to be the “real” Americans and the rest of us working people are dismissed as the “coastal elite.” For those of us who lived through the attacks, we will never forget the bravery of those everyday citizens who helped others survive the attacks and the sacrifice of those who went to work to clean up afterwards. No one needed an assault rifle to be brave. They just needed the heart and the will to move forward in spite of the horrors. For so many, may their memories be a blessing.
Thank you for writing this. Your account was heartfelt and touching. I saw the WTC for the first time in 1979, the grandeur of the twin towers rising about the New York skyline
The events of September 11th 2001 weigh heavily on me this time of year, especially over the weekend, so I created an open thread about the attacks with a very short account of what I was doing that morning while assigned as the Chaplain for Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. I lost a friend from my Army days at the Pentagon that day. Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner.
I am disappointed but not surprised to see how many Americans have moved on and how many younger Americans are pretty much ignorant of it. That is why I wrote it, and why I will take a class period for each of my history classes tomorrow to discuss it and show video accounts. If anyone here is interested in sharing their memories the link is here. https://dundas.substack.com/p/9-11-at-22-years-what-do-you-remember
Also, thank you for sharing Major Thompson’s story. He was a true American hero. Interestingly enough, I buried the Brigade Commander who was in charge of the operation and part of the cover up, Colonel Oren Henderson in 1998 when I was command Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. The six-degrees of separation are always fascinating. Thompson was a hero who tried to stop the massacre and reported it, Henderson ordered it and covered it up.
All the best,
Thank you so much,
My personal memory of 9/11: Sorry that it's so long-winded, but here it goes: I was in court in Burlington County, NJ, and when I walked into the courtroom, it was a mob scene. Strangely, though, no one was talking. It was about five minutes to nine. I saw an attorney I knew and asked him why it was so quiet, and he said that he had no idea. Just as he finished talking, the Judge came out onto the bench and asked if there were any attorneys who were either from New York City or who had family living or working there. A small group of people responded affirmatively, and he asked them to come back to his chambers immediately. They went back, and I never saw them again.
By this point, there was a buzz in the courtroom--everyone was wondering why the Judge had called back the New York City attorneys. My case was the next one called back, and when I walked into the Judge's chambers, I saw immediately that the TV was on, something I had never seen before in this or any other judge's chambers. I could see clearly that one of the Twin Towers was on fire, and as I watched, the second plane hit. This Judge, who was and is one of the classiest men I have ever encountered on the bench, just looked at my opposing counsel and I and said "Holy S--t".
My first thought was "Jets just don't hit buildings." I knew then that we were under attack. I had no idea at the time that a friend of mine from my youth in Montreal was going to die when the South Tower came down.
At that point, the Judge told my opposing counsel and I that he was going to dismiss Court for the day. He told us that he would call our case in again in a few weeks, and then went back out to the courtroom and told everyone that the Twin Towers in New York had been hit by airplanes and were on fire. He added that he was dismissing Court for the day, and then added "Counsellors, the world has changed today. Don't go back to your offices. Go to wherever your family is, and be with them." He then walked slowly back into his chambers.
I called my ex-wife (we were still married at the time) as I left the courthouse to tell her what was going on. She already knew, of course, but her employer (who was located in central New Jersey, about an hour from New York City), had banned employees from watching the television, telling her and everyone else "That's New York, not here. Get back to work". I told her that I was going to go back to work and drop my file off and from there I was going home to watch the news out of New York.
On the drive back, word came out of D.C. that the Pentagon had been hit as well, and as I walked back into my office, the fourth plane went down in Shanksville, PA. One thing you have to understand something about my firm--it is run by and filled with workaholics. Yet, when I stepped off the stairs, I looked down the hallway at our main conference room and EVERYONE was in there, staring at the tv, including the main equity partners who you normally could not get out of their offices unless they were being threatened with death (and even then, I would say that it was only 50/50 that they would leave).
We all just sat or stood in the conference room, watching what was happening in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville. Occasionally, someone would cry. No one talked. Then, one Tower came down, followed by the other, each followed by gasps of horror. We SAW the people jumping out of the Towers. In my worst nightmares, I can't imagine, having to make a choice of dying in a fire or throwing yourself to your death from 100 stories up.
Around 11 a.m., the managing partners of our office walked up to the tv and turned it off. They announced that the firm was closing for the day, the only time we have ever done that except for a weather emergency. True to form, my ex-wife's employer stayed open until 5 p.m., just like any other day.
I got home around 11:30 a.m. I spent the rest of the day watching tv, and making a promise that I would never forget how I felt that day. I still haven't. I also remember that for a period of time after 9/11, there were no Republicans or Democrats, no liberals or conservatives, nor "red state" or "blue state" residents. There were only Americans. Sadly, I don't know that in today's political environment if we can ever recapture that sense of unity.
We must heal our National wound, lest our grief and fear destroy everything we hold sacred and dear.
"Never forget" to seek justice because revenge is not justice, it's terrorism
Wonderful segway from the heroes on flight 93 that saved the Capitol all those many days before the recent domestic terrorist hijackers took it from us on 01/21.
(Sorry Steve, when I first read your posting I was thinking "...where in the world were they going to park between RNC HQ and the Supreme Court. Everything is blocked..." It wasn't blocked then. How much has changed in the 22 years).
Two thoughts from that day: 1. If you ever go to the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) Udvar-Hazy Center (one by Dulles) you will see one of the thrust blocks that has an unfinished surface. They're the blocks that hold up the 10 story roof semi-circular roof trusses. It's in the aviation hangar. The museum was under construction, and that thrust block had just been poured when the call came to evacuate. Later, the question came should the block be torn out and re-poured. The decision was to keep the block in memory of 9/11. 2. The second memory is from an afternoon meeting in the NASM Museum Director's office. Among a few others we had a 4-Star retired Assist Commandant, a 2 Star General, a 3 Star Admiral and WWII Flying Tiger. I remember the 2 Star turning to the 4-Star and stating, "...this is terrorism. If it had been a real attack, they would have gone after the water supply...".
Well, Steve, thank you for 52 magical minutes with Ali Soufan, through which I cried for about 50 minutes. My husband was a Palestinian refugee. A youngster whose family had made it to Damascus but whose mother saw that there was no future for her son in the Middle East. She herself had been placed in an arranged marriage to a Palestinian as a young Turkish woman who had been orphaned by the Arab/Ottoman Empire wars. Fighting every obstacle that being a woman in the Middle East in the late ‘40s created, and with my husband’s fluency in English (also a result of her determination) they managed to get my husband a student visa from the University of Alabama. She put her son, still in his teens, but smart, determined and resourceful as a result of her magnificent parenting, on a bus with his student visa, a box of sandwiches, a box of sweets, the equivalent of about $15, and the iconic cardboard suitcase headed to the first dock with any freighter on which he could get a job and ultimately to Tuscaloosa. My husband fell in love with America and managed, eventually, to become a naturalized citizen with a Master’s degree and his own business. He was a great asset to this country: hardworking, generous, responsible, and a good husband and father. He’s dead now ten years but he and I together, contributed two amazing children, five amazing grandchildren and three great grandchildren to this magnificent country. We were also able to bring over his parents and five siblings, all of whom were assets to this country, and all of whom loved this country beyond all measure.
I was born and raised in Alabama, fought along side my black and brown brothers and sisters, with my parents, and later my husband, all of us committed to making this country the country our constitution challenges us to be. I see my granddaughter and her generation fighting the same fights my generation fought and it breaks my heart. But I tell myself that two steps forward and one backward is still forward movement. I grew up in the Jim Crow south, which we fought to defeat. The KKK rewarded our work by bombing our little family restaurant twice in the middle of the night like the cowards they are. After we got the damage repaired, they wrote: White N*****s (can’t bear to write the word out) on our plate glass front, pretty much nightly.
Didn’t intent to write you a book, but your podcasts, with the amazing people you interview, often deepens my love for my country which is already a profound love. And makes me realize how amazing this country is, even with all our shortcomings. And your guests remind me of the courage and commitment it often takes to be an activist. How important that work is and how grateful I am it continues.
Most everyone can tell you exactly what they were doing when they first saw the towers hit. I remember walking into the coffee room of my law firm, which was located on the corner of Connecticut and L, just a few blocks from the White House. I wondered where secretaries and other staff were. Another lawyer told me that they were in the lunch room watching TV because a “stray plane” had crashed into one of the world trade towers. I headed over and arrived just as Katie Couric was reporting that a second plane had crashed into the other tower. The room was just stunned into silence. Eventually we started going back to our offices, thinking for a moment that “it” was all happening in NY. I returned to my office to find my secretary, sitting at her desk outside my office, her head down on her arms, sobbing. From the window of my office, I watched as plumes of black smoke billowed from the distant Pentagon, just across the Potomac River. That’s when I knew we were under attack. Our lives since then have not been the same.
So much of how we live today was caused by what happened on 9/11- the airport security screenings, and giving our kids cellphones to keep in touch, are the smaller things. One of the worst consequences (other than those killed, injured and made sick) is how it once again allowed the poison from our perpetual American boil of racism and xenophobia to erupt. Almost immediately, Muslim Americans were blamed and targeted. I remember taking my kids trick or treating that first Halloween and some parents (in a very wealthy, liberal suburb of DC) telling their kids not to take candy from a certain house where they knew an Arab family lived. I see a straight downhill slope since then. And just when we thought we had “recovered” by electing Obama, we see that his election caused an even worse backlash-Trump, MAGA and their cowardly Republican enablers. And all the ones who say they didn’t vote for Trump? They are just like the soldiers at the My Lai massacre who stood by and did nothing, allowing the atrocities to occur.
I too lived in Manhattan that day and was in the car heading for a meeting in nj. I’ve a stern groupy for decades and continue to listen now. He has the rare ability to reinvent himself continuously
SOMETHING THE GOP NEEDS TO DO NOW!
It won’t happen until a wipe out of them in an election. Unfortunately, my respect and admiration isn’t enough for joe Biden, he needs to step aside for Newsom, whitmer or brown, this is too big an election to be concerned with blind loyalty, the country needs a referendum of biblical proportions, Biden harris can’t deliver the knock out punch needed.
You always bring things home just right. I was in my den watching tv. The night before it rained and thus my Tuesday morning tennis game was canceled for wet courts. The only home rang. My daughter turn on channel whatever I wasn’t watching. That night a candlelight vigil on Central Park West. The F15s flying over. The Deafening Silence of NYC except for the F15s. I’ll never forget.