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Remembering September 11, 2001

by Rudy Baum,
September 11, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 37

There is a very familiar rhythm to each day when your job is putting out a weekly newsmagazine. The same deadlines occur each week, so you know many of the tasks you'll be performing every day.

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, however, was to be a slightly out-of-the-ordinary day at C&EN's offices in Washington, D.C. We had launched a new design of the magazine in January, and on that Tuesday in September five years ago, Mariana Ochs, our redesign consultant, was traveling from New York City to Washington to spend the day with several of us critiquing the first nine months of the new design.

In the offices of a newsmagazine, people are always monitoring news sites on their computers. All of C&EN's government and policy reporters also have television connections to their computers so they can watch televised congressional hearings in their offices.

Shortly after nine o'clock as I was walking down the hall, Kevin MacDermott, an editorial assistant at C&EN whose office was next to mine, looked up from his computer and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I mentioned this to Pam Zurer, now C&EN's deputy editor-in-chief, and she said, "That can't be true." I passed government and policy reporter Jeff Johnson's office and he looked up and said, "Another plane just hit the other tower." I joined him at his computer and watched, for the first sickening time, the video of a jet plane slamming into the tower and a fireball erupting from the other side of the building.

The rest of that horrible day is seared into our collective consciousness, but all of us have particular memories. Another plane, of course, struck the Pentagon a short while later. Tens of thousands of people working in Washington evacuated buildings near the National Mall, and I remember them streaming past the American Chemical Society headquarters building at 16th and M Streets, wondering where they were going. Ochs called us from the Amtrak train she was on, which had stopped in New Jersey across from lower Manhattan. She could see the World Trade Center towers burning. Many ACS employees sheltered in place, and a television was set up in the Board Conference Room on the fourth floor. Many C&EN employees continued to work on the Sept. 17 issue, which, despite the tragedy and the subsequent paralysis of Washington and the nation, mailed on time on Sept. 15.

On Sept. 12, Madeleine Jacobs, then C&EN's editor-in-chief, and I wrote a short editorial, "A Day of Terror." In part, we wrote: "Then, the perfect September day, a day filled with so much promise and beauty, turned eerily silent. Like millions of others, we became numb with disbelief, shock, and grief. We still grieve, but we are also filled with rage by these senseless acts of mass murder. Acts for which there must be consequences."

So much has happened in the U.S. and the world since that awful day. The war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the war on terror. For a few weeks, a few months, there was a sense of coming together, a sense of shared purpose, but that's long since gone. We are a nation more bitterly divided than at any time in my life. Divided over war. Divided over religion and morality. Divided over science and the environment.

It has become accepted by many that "9/11 changed everything." It certainly has changed the way we travel. It's changed the face of many of our cities as security concerns have resulted in countless physical barriers being erected. It has changed our understanding of the threat of terrorism. But if 9/11 really changed everything, changed our approach to the rule of law, our appreciation of and fealty to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, made us endlessly fearful, then the terrorists won on 9/11. What is terribly important is for us to say, emphatically, "No, 9/11 did not change everything."

Thanks for reading.

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