Photographer's Note

This is a sad day in the United States, as well as in the rest of the civilized world. I cannot imagine many individuals who do not remember what they were doing at the exact moment when they heard about the attacks on the Twin Tower Buildings in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 That Tuesday I was just getting ready to walk into a classroom to teach my twice-a-week Quantum Mechanics class, when a colleague in the Physics Department ran up to me to announce, “Did you hear what happened! A plane flew into the World Trade Center!”

Like many others on 9/11, initially I thought it must have been an accident, that an airplane had lost control and collided with one of the twin skyscrapers, just as in 1945 an American B-25, flying in the fog, had flown into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building. My colleagues and I found a television set in the department, but as we watched the fire and smoke billowing out of the structure, we saw a second plane, “…at full throttle” as the British Prime Minister Tony Blair would later describe it, slam into the second tower. (Events now felt eerily similar to those of Nov. 22, 1963, when I was a young university student, and someone ran into my classroom, blurting out that the President had been shot.) Transfixed, we watched the havoc that followed — people running out of the building, and a few actually jumping out of the upper stories. I remember one couple holding hands as they jumped out of the 80th floor — the ultimate act of solidarity, and shared misery. Then we all saw the two buildings collapse, dust and debris exploding through the streets, evocative of the pyroclastic flow from a volcanic eruption, people, covered with dust, desperately sprinting away from the oncoming cloud.

In the early 1970s on visits to New York, I had photographed the Twin Towers as they were being built. In the early 90s I had taken photos from a historic church down the street, with magical light and shadows illuminating the towers, and the ancient headstones at the church lying in the shaded foreground. It was one of my favorite photographs, but I now see it as a premonition of things to come. I also remember in the late 90s taking a helicopter ride over the city and shooting images of the Towers and the Statue of Liberty from above. Rather than submit either of those photos, I decided to submit a picture of part of the television antenna crowning one of the 110 story buildings, and as a Workshop a picture showing the array of newspapers from the next day.

Another Trekearth member, Betty Jones had submitted a pair of photos of the Newseum, seen from the Outside and of the Atrium.

Almost simultaneously with the planes flying into the World Trade Center buildings, a third plane was flown into the Pentagon in Washington. A fourth plane that had been highjacked, with an intended target again in Washington, crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania. In that case, it was the action of the passengers that prevented the terrorists from flying to Washington and destroying another government building with countless additional casualties. Their’s was the ultimate sacrifice. The total number of deaths that day was around 3,000.

Life has not been the same since 9/11. Most of us feel the consequences of that day only in the inconvenience we must put up with at airports. But the United States went to war in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. Tens-of-thousands of innocent lives have been lost in these wars. How very sad that it is along religious lines that this sort of act of terrorism takes place. It has been said that more blood has been spilled in the Kingdom of God than in all other kingdoms. Unhappily, one more time we see the effects of ignorance, illiteracy, and religious intolerance.

I’ve spent most of my life teaching theoretical physics, and I’ve written about the very rare geniuses, Leonardo and Newton. Ultimately, even in that rarified level of intelligence, genius has its limits, but stupidity has no limits.

Finally, I wrote a blog for the National Geographic that echoes this post. If you happen to remember where you were when you first about the attacks, I would love to have you share your experience by writing a comment at News Watch National Geographic.


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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6777 W: 471 N: 12149] (41261)
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