Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
Don Kanare – a 46-year-old business consultant in Alameda, California – wears a smile. Always. It’s easy to see why. Beyond his frequent meccas into the rugged wilderness of the western United States, the West Hartford, Connecticut, native has traveled all over the U.S. (including Hawaii) and has thoroughly explored Canada, Nepal and western Europe. Traveling is, of course, one of his favorite pastimes, along with backpacking, skiing and saving the environment. And Don recently found a soulmate to share in his adventures: Tanya, a lovely woman from Moscow. They met over the Internet in January 2000 and were married in March 2001. Don was at home eating breakfast and watching the news when he first heard about the terrorist attacks. He wrote his remarks around Sept. 20.
It was just another Tuesday morning when I sat down to eat breakfast, read the comics and watch the morning news. The fog was slowly melting away from my view of the east bay hills as I turned on the TV and settled in to enjoy the first bites of nourishment. I watched first in disbelief and then in horror as the words scrolled across the bottom of the screen, “World Trade Center Towers have collapsed.”
The three-hour time change between CA and NY meant that I’d missed these events as they occurred live, and was now being subjected to endless replays of the crashing planes and tumbling structures. Immediately my thoughts raced to the safety of my cousin who works in the WTC plaza, just two doors away from the towers themselves.
Running to the phone, my heart racing, I called and it seemed like an eternity for the phone to ring on the other end. My cousin Naomi answered and I felt immediate relief. She usually goes to work around 10 a.m. and had seen the tragic sequence of events on the morning news. Being very level headed, she called the office to make sure her colleagues were ok, and they told her not to come to work.
I don’t know whether it’s a statement about New Yorkers in general, or the attitude of most Americans in post-modern society, but when the first plane crashed into the WTC, nobody in her office was concerned. They all looked outside to see the building just two doors away engulfed in smoke and flames and thought, “No problem, it’s just a fire from a plane crash and it won’t affect us. Let’s get back to work.” Only after the second plane hit and it became apparent that things were going from bad to worse, did her coworkers evacuate their building, which now lies amid the rubble of the collapsed towers.
Have we as Americans become so numb in our feelings and naive about our existence that a plane crashing into a building less than 100 yards away does not create any sense of urgency? With our constant urge for and belief in instant gratification do we really believe that all is well with the world, and if it’s not, then someone will quickly fix it?
Are the tragedies in NY, PA and Washington, D.C., a wake up call to everyone in America that we cannot be isolationists? Or are they simply a call to arms to defeat the terrorists who wreaked this havoc and destruction?
And what could possibly cause anyone to want to attack these symbols of capitalism and materialism? Could it be that the western world has turned a blind eye to the horrible living conditions that billions of people suffer in many parts of the developing world? Or are there some deeper and more complex issues that we as westerners do not fully understand? Will my Jewish upbringing influence my view of these events or will my understanding of different religions help me comprehend the apparent madness?
When a person believes that death is better than life, and that in death as a martyr they are guaranteed eternal life and happiness, those are very powerful forces to counteract. Those with nothing have nothing to lose and are most easily recruited to become martyrs in the eyes of their brethren.
I cannot fathom sacrificing my life so that I can kill thousands of innocent people. But to the hijackers and their associates, the victims were not innocent, but rather active capitalists seeking to perpetuate rampant materialism at the expense of the poverty-stricken masses around the world.
As a believer in peaceful protest (along the lines of Ghandi), I have a difficult time understanding the mind of someone who would kill thousands of people who’ve never done them any harm directly. Yet, as a student of history, I understand that those with nothing to lose are willing to risk everything in hopes of achieving their dreams, whatever they may be.
I ask everyone in the world to examine their lives, jettison the excess material possessions that in themselves do not bring happiness, and to open their eyes to the masses of people with little food, education or hope. I also ask those who feel persecuted or oppressed to seek to achieve their goals through constructive dialogue and peaceful protest. This is a very big planet with a lot of room for everyone. There are sufficient resources to feed and clothe our earthly population, but not if it continues to grow uncontrollably.
And finally, I ask for tolerance. To perpetuate the belief of mutually exclusive religious, political or economic systems is fatal. As my father used to say, “You don’t have to like everyone, but you can learn to get along with them.”