By Tom Benner
Sept. 11, 2001, was going to be crazy day for me, no matter what. Yesterday’s horror at the Boston Marathon brought me back to that time, and reminds me of the unfinished business of that day.
At the time I normally went to work at the press gallery of the Massachusetts State House, where I served as bureau chief for a daily newspaper. But on Sept. 11, I was scheduled to go to the paper’s main newsroom, where I was filling in for the vacationing editorial page editor.
Then, that evening, I would shift back into reporter’s mode and cover that day’s primary election to nominate a replacement for a recently deceased congressman from Boston. The election results wouldn’t come in until 10 pm or later, so it was going to be a long day.
I remember looking in the bedroom mirror, tying my tie and about to step out for my drive to the newsroom, when a radio reporter with scant information said something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. This was 10 minutes or so before 9 am, it had just happened, and there was no way to gauge the enormity of what was to come.
I was in my car, driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike, when the radio was now reporting that America was under a full-scale attack. Another plane had struck the World Trade Center. There was speculation about other hijacked planes and other targets. I forget what time I learned that one of the flights originated in Boston, but I remember thinking as my car entered the Prudential Tunnel, not too far from Boston’s Logan Airport, that more was coming, and I was speeding as fast as I could to get to work.
I dashed into the newsroom, and everyone was in deadline mode. We were an afternoon paper, the last copy had to be written and edited about 11 am or so, and we had to report and write what we could. People were astounded, but there was no time to be emotional, we had to be fast and efficient.
The paper’s managing editor led an impromptu news meeting; each of us was given our marching orders and little time to make sense of what was happening. I worked the phones to get what information I could – including whether that day’s election would be canceled or not – and banged out an editorial that expressed our collective grief and called for understanding and dialogue to figure out what had happened.
The paper got out, that day’s election went on as scheduled, and all of us went straight to work on the next day’s issue. The editorial I wrote would eventually be taken apart on the air by a bloodthirsty radio shock jock, who demanded immediate revenge and retribution, an eye for an eye, justice now. He mocked my suggestion that this is a time to remain calm.
Monday’s twin bombs at the Boston Marathon finish-line area marked the first large-scale bombing in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks. National security has come a long way, and there were a lot of foiled bomb attacks during the intervening years. Not this time. We are reminded how much more work remains in the war on terror – whether this was international or domestic terror, for the U.S. has seen more than its share of home-grown attacks – and of our inability to resolve our differences in a peaceable manner.
Awaking in Singapore on Tuesday morning to hear the news from Boston, my first thoughts went to the people there. I had friends who would be at that finish line, and colleagues would be covering the news. News sites, emails, and Facebook eventually told me my friends were fine, but many others were not so lucky. Three people, including an eight-year-old boy, are gone, and another 144 are hurt.
The fact that the attack came on Patriots’ Day – a Massachusetts holiday celebrating independence and a huge source of civic pride – might be seen as an attack on the U.S. or a particular American city. And while it is that, it is much more. It is a global attack. Just as the victims of 9/11 came from more than 90 countries, athletes – like the 18 runners from Singapore – come from all over the world to take part in the race. The attack is against all who value and celebrate freedom.
The work that began on Sept. 11, 2001 is far from over, and will be until acts of violence against innocent people are a thing of the past. Bringing the culprits to justice is just the first step.
Tom Benner is a freelance journalist based in Singapore.