The day that changed the world
The World Trade Center (WTC) in the Lower Manhattan was New York City’s (NYC) most captivating landmark, not overshadowing, but complementing its Midtown rival – the Empire State Building. Its iconic twin towers, shaping the pinnacle of NYC’s skyline, stood tall as a true representation of an American ingenuity and country’s steadfast devotion to the progress and future.
WTC wasn’t just a hollow complex of filling cabinets, accommodating tens of thousands workers and even more daily visitors. It was the heart of NYC’s bustling Financial District, pumping through its transportation valves thousands of white-collars, providing the ample grounds for worldwide business operations and storing enormous amounts of riches in its vaults.
WTC was also the top tourist attraction, as almost every tourist, before sightseeing NYC’s other landmarks, would firstly visit its towers. That tourist would ride the elevators to the South Tower’s 107th floor indoor or, weather permitting, 110th floor outdoor observation decks and would enjoy the view while downing a Nathan’s hotdog or an occasional slice from Sbarro’s. The more sophisticated business crowd would be treated to a pricier cuisine of the famous Windows on the World Restaurant, on the 107th floor of the North Tower. Notwithstanding, all visitors would be astonished by the untiring scenery and get an understanding of why the NYC is called the capital of the world.
My first experience of WTC dates back to 1991, when as a college freshman I set out to explore NYC together with my buddies. It’s truly hard to express the degree of my astonishment by the whole experience, but to say that it’s impossible to forget. Throughout my college years I had frequented WTC quite often, taking almost every visiting friend or relative on a tour of NYC, starting at the twin towers. Later on, it became my main transportation hub on a daily trip to work and back.
Unfortunately, all of it had ended in a few hours of the Tuesday morning of Sept 11, 2001 – the day full of human tragedy, personal despair and miracles.
That morning not a single thing could have pointed to the events that had occurred later on. The sun was shining bright and not a single cloud could have been seen in the tall blue sky. Thus, I’d decided, instead of the usual trip on a PATH train to the WTC, to enjoy the fresh air of the Hudson River commute, drove to Jersey City and boarded Paulus Hook ferry to the World Financial Center (WFC).
Upon arrival to the WFC pier someone had pointed to the North Tower engulfed in flames and smoke. Nobody was panicking, as disembarked passengers stood gazing at the eerie scene. Some were suggesting that a movie is being shot, while others were comparing the incident to the Feb 26, 1993 bombing. True understanding of the situation had dawned upon us as we saw a plane on approach hitting the South Tower. Right away the crew of the ferry had ordered everybody to get back on the boat.
The initial frightening silence on the ferry was interrupted by the overwhelming noise of its engines. The captain had full-throttled them to quickly reach the Jersey shore and to return for evacuation. Some passengers were crying, while others were looking at the retreating NYC coastline in disbelief. Hudson River looked like a congested highway, as other ferries and boats were rushing towards the city.
Disembarked passengers crowded the Jersey City pier. None had yet heard of the attack on the Pentagon or the crashed plane in Pennsylvania. Almost everybody was desperately trying to reach their family, friends and co-workers, but the network was damaged and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of calls.
An unheard of before outcry came from the crowd, as it was witnessing the fall of the South Tower. Some half hour later the picture got even more grotesque, as the North Tower followed its twin. Everyone was paralyzed by the scene of a deafening tidal wave comprised of fireballs, office paper confetti and construction material hitting Manhattan. Something had snapped in minds, as witnesseshad realized that the mixture was also comprised of people, but none wanted to believe it.
Looking at the apocalyptic skyline of NYC that day nobody had yet realized the true impact of the event. Many witnesses felt sucker-punched and doubled over. Others were enraged, desperately gasping for options to avenge the injustice. Nonetheless, everyone had realized that it was the day that had changed their lives and the world forever.
In the aftermath of the attacks we had found out that 2,996 lives were lost and more than 6,000 others were injured. The negative impact on the world’s economy had totaled in trillions of US dollars. The pearl of NYC was lost forever. The day the perpetrators of the inhumane crime had started their war against the civilians, they had inadvertently turned on the vortex of events, which spiraled out into bigger wars with ever escalating death toll. Almost everyone in the world was affected by the attacks, as we had truly lost a piece of our humanity that day.
I’ve spoken to many survivors of another violent event called the Black January. It had occurred on the night of Jan 19, 1990, as the Soviet Special Forces had entered the capital city of the present day Republic of Azerbaijan – Baku and had waged a war on its civilian population. That military operation had resulted in 300 dead, 800 injured and 5 missing. It had also served as a starting point for the dissolution of the Soviet Union and for several ongoing wars, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Seemingly it had only impacted a single nation, but ultimately it had affected the geopolitical map of the present day world, drawing a parallel to the 9/11attacks.
It’s very unfortunate that the lessons of the Black January were quickly dismissed by the world community. But there is still hope that the lessons of 9/11attacks would not be that easily forgotten, as we commemorate the 16th year of the tragedy.