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garrett_graff_LS683 karma

The thing that I was most captivated by in my research on 9/11 is how the theme of luck (or fate or faith or whatever you call it) played out that day — how so many little decisions that people make on a daily basis without thought about the alternate universes you may be unlocking (when you get a cup of coffee, when you send a fax, which bus to catch, when you run an errand, which flight to book) ended up that day determining the difference between life and death.

I tell the story in THE ONLY PLANE IN THE SKY of Monica O'Leary who on September 10th was the unluckiest person at Cantor Fitzgerald — the financial services firm atop the north tower — and was laid off. She boxed up her desk, said goodbye to her colleagues and went home — and then the next day, she watched from the roof of her apartment building as the tower fell and 638 of her colleagues died.

Michael Lomonaco, the chef at the restaurant Windows on the World, also atop the North Tower, would have normally been at his kitchen by 8:30 but that morning of all mornings he stopped to get a new pair of eyeglasses at LensCrafters.

You see it too at the Pentagon — one of the conference rooms that was hit, full of Army personnel, explodes amid smoke and fire, and everyone evacuates. Everyone who turns left dies, and everyone who turns right lives.

I wrote a longer essay about this in The Atlantic if you want to see more: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/09/september-11-blind-luck-decided-who-lived-or-died/597688/

garrett_graff_LS515 karma

Short answer: YES. I wrote about this yesterday in The Atlantic:

"As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, I cannot escape this sad conclusion: The United States—as both a government and a nation—got nearly everything about our response wrong, on the big issues and the little ones. The GWOT yielded two crucial triumphs: The core al-Qaeda group never again attacked the American homeland, and bin Laden, its leader, was hunted down and killed in a stunningly successful secret mission a decade after the attacks. But the U.S. defined its goals far more expansively, and by almost any other measure, the War on Terror has weakened the nation—leaving Americans more afraid, less free, more morally compromised, and more alone in the world. A day that initially created an unparalleled sense of unity among Americans has become the backdrop for ever-widening political polarization."

The full piece is here: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/09/after-911-everything-wrong-war-terror/620008/

My original draft of that article was actually even 3,000-words longer, more detailed, and more damning.

garrett_graff_LS390 karma

This is a great and important question — and actually one I've thought a lot about over the 18 months of the pandemic.

The complicated answer is that the two are actually inseparable. America's mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic is directly linked to the political forces unleashed by 9/11 — there's a super straight line from 9/11 to the election of Donald Trump, who remember came to power on the back of "birtherism" and the ugliest form of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant nativist/nationalist politics that grew up out of the War on Terror.

Similarly, there's a really straight line from 9/11 to 1/6 — our nation's response to 9/11 unleashed the fear and hatred that led to the storming of the Capitol on January 6th.

Today, we have to remember 9/11 both to honor the sacrifice and bravery of that day but also to understand how we got to today.

garrett_graff_LS214 karma

Wow — this is one of the worst chapters of the legacy of 9/11 to be sure. The fact that here on the 20th anniversary of the attacks none of the key plotters have been brought to justice in US courts is a stunning testament to the wrong, dark choices we made after 9/11. Given how the process has played out so far, I think it's dubious that the US is ever able to complete the trial successfully — I mean the best case scenario seems like it's still 2-3 years away, if then. But the US military seems pretty clear-eyed about Gitmo: It's beginning to install geriatric care and readying nursing home and hospice care, anticipating that the 39 detainees will start dying of old age before they're brought to justice.

When I was editor of Washingtonian, we published a piece about KSM's murder of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl and the quest for justice, written by the WSJ colleague he was staying with when he was kidnapped, that I'd recommend: https://www.washingtonian.com/projects/KSM/

garrett_graff_LS178 karma

This is actually quite an interesting question in terms of how we found the answer — but the answer itself is pretty straightforward: The building burned extensively inside, FDNY lacked the water and resources to tackle the fire in a meaningful way, and it was structurally compromised by debris falling from the collapse of the two neighboring towers.

The backstory here is that one of the main conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 is that the 47-story neighboring WTC 7 fell around 5:20 p.m. and conspiracy theorists believed that it was brought down for some nefarious purpose to hide some sort of secrets, since the building contained some government offices.

But NIST, which was the government body who was brought in to study the collapses of the towers, found that there was obvious extensive structural visible in pictures and video of WTC7 that day and that the unique architecture of the building, built atop a ConEd substation, meant that its load-bearing columns were weaker than normal.

Popular Mechanics has done a great job tackling 9/11 conspiracy theories head-on and debunking them: https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/design/a3524/4278874/