War on Terror

Memories of 9/11 and its Aftermath

My experience that day, and its immediate aftermath. Less dramatic than many others. But perhaps still of interest.


Today is the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, and many are recounting their memories of that day. In this post, I describe some of mine. But I warn in advance that my story is nowhere near as dramatic as many others. I was too far from Ground Zero for things to be any other way.

On the day of 9/11, I was clerking for a federal judge in Houston, Texas. I first heard about the attacks listening to the radio on my way to work that morning. The dial was tuned to a "top 40" station that almost never had any news. So when they interrupted the usual programming to say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, I assumed it must be some sort of hoax. I had read about the 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio program scare (some listeners were convinced there was an actual alien invasion). I thought this might be the same sort of thing.

When I got to the office and turned on my computer, I could not load the CNN website; too many other people were trying to access it. That's when I knew the attack was real.

Business in our judge's chambers went on more or less normally for most of the day. But I did call some people I knew in the New York area to see about their safety. The longest of these conversations was with the brother of a Muslim friend who worked near the Twin Towers. By the time we spoke (it was late morning), we already knew the attack was likely the work of radical Islamist terrorists. We discussed the implications for US foreign policy, and also the possibility of an upsurge of anti-Muslim bigotry at home. We both thought there would be a strong military response, and also both were in favor of the idea; I still think it was necessary, though many in retrospect disagree.

With respect to the other issue, I said historical precedent (I had in mind things like the persecution of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor), suggested such a backlash could well happen. But I also thought there would be more resistance to it than in earlier eras.

To an extent, I turned out to be right; but only to an extent. The initial upsurge of hate crime incidents subsided after a few months, though still above pre-9/11 levels. Bad as it was, it was still fairly modest, by historical standards. To their credit, both George W. Bush and (later) Barack Obama condemned anti-Muslim bigotry, and did what they could to forestall it. The War on Terror did lead to some racial/religious profiling and other civil liberties violations. But nowhere near the scale of what happened during World War I and World War II. On the other hand, the conflict helped spur the rise of a new and dangerous nativist movement on the right, lowlighted by Trump and his anti-Muslim travel bans. I did not foresee that would happen to anything like the extent that actually occurred.

A few weeks after 9/11, I saw my first instance of post-9/11 "security theater," while getting on a plane along with a group of other federal court personnel, on our way to a court sitting. One of the people in the group was a federal court of appeals judge (not the one I clerked for). The security people insisted on confiscating his fingernail clippers.

The judge, who was about 70 years old, pointed out he was a federal judge (showing the guard his judicial ID), and that there was no way he could possibly hijack a plane with those tiny clippers, even if he wanted to. It is indeed true that even the most ferocious terrorist would be hard-pressed to take over a plane with such a "weapon." But the security people insisted they had to enforce the rules, no matter how absurd. That small bit of mindlessness was a harbinger of things to come, including during the Covid crisis, which has led to far more severe violations of liberty than the War on Terror.

Despite these events, 9/11 had much less impact on my life than might have been expected. I knew two people who were killed that day, but both were very distant acquaintances. In 2005, I was scheduled to to go to Iraq to meet with members of the Commission drafting the new Iraqi Constitution to advise them on federalism issues. But my trip was scuttled at the last minute, because the Commission members went into lockdown due to the threat of terrorist attacks. The failure to institute an appropriate federal system was one of the main flaws of "nation-building" efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I  foresaw that problem even back then (as did plenty of other, far more distinguished, federalism specialists). But I am under no illusion that my efforts would have made a meaningful difference, though I badly wanted to try to do so.

I know people who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose sacrifices put my own very small ones to shame. But their experiences impacted me only peripherally.

I will not go further into the moral and policy issues surrounding the conflict that began that day. There is plenty of blame to assign to all four presidents from that time to the present. At the moment, I am so angry at both Trump and Biden's handling of Afghanistan, that I am in no mood to discuss it, beyond what I have said already. Of course, many veterans and others who experienced the conflict far more directly than I did, are likely feeling much greater pain today.


NEXT: Lawyers' True Superpower

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  1. Your recollections of the day are interesting as most Americans were surprised/shocked. I was working as a product manager at Xerox and flew into Boston from Upstate NY the night before. I always though Logan was a chaotic airport. The next day we were doing a sales training in a suburb and heard about it. I thought it was some idiot in a Cessna but we quickly cancelled the training and watched the TV in the training room all day. A colleague was smart enough to call National Car Rental and extend our rental for a week. We drove home a few days later. The drive was bizarre and all I could think of was how my Dad felt as a 19 year old after Pearl Harbor..it was much easier for most of us as we were too old or we didn’t have a draft. The poor decisions the US had made since then are sad with so many of our troops and innocent civilians dead as well as a new day of authoritarianism in the US which would shock the founding fathers and even Ike and Reagan.

    The 21st century has been one failure after another for America..Ron Paul had the right idea…the neocons were a true evil in America

    1. 9/11 would be unthinkable on the airlines of another nation. The scumbag lawyer profession has taught the American male to not intervene, for fear of being sued or even arrested. The lawyer profession always defends, and prosecutes the victim defending self and others. It was only after 2 crashes, the third airline passengers decided to fight back.

      9/11 was 100% the fault of the scumbag lawyer profession that feminized our American males. Fuck you, scumbag traitor lawyers. We have to round your hierarchy up, try them an hour, and shoot them all in the court basement.

      1. What the actual fuck? That was one of the most irrelevant, dumbass things I’ve read since I got here. And unnecessarily callous. What is wrong with you?

        1. What is wrong with you?

          He’s mentally ill. Seriously. If you want to point out the facts or analysis he got wrong in a particular comment for the benefit of other readers, that’s one thing. But you can’t shame him, because he’s not a rational human being.

          1. David is a lawyer. He believes minds can be read, the future forecast, especially human behavior. He believes standards of conduct should be set by a fictitious character. These are supernatural abilities. They do not exist in the empirical world.

            Then he has the nerve to use the stale KGB argument that dissenters are mentally ill.

            1. Although the lawyer, David, has supernatural, delusional, idiotic doctrines at the core of his toxic profession, he is not insane. He is a cult criminal, stealing our money. Supernatural beliefs are part of cult memberships. Criminality is taking money and providing nothing of value. Indeed, every year he breathes, he destroys $5 million in economic value. His life has a negative value. When it ends of a natural cause, the economy will stop losing value.

        2. Nelson, I didn’t read the comment you replied to, because it was posted by the only, yes, the only, commenter I have muted. I encourage others to do likewise, and in any case not to respond.

        3. Nelson, thanks to the lawyer, the terrorists spent $500,000 to inflict $7 trillion in damage on our nation. Around 99% of that was self inflicted by the lawyer traitor, in the service of lawyer rent seeking.

          The damage at the Towers and of the lives lost were caused by the terrorists. The rest was caused by the US government. The market dropped 14%. Highway travel increased, killing thousands more in crashes. Huge and worthless government departments arose. The Federal Register exploded to 10000 pages. Several wars, killing a million people were started. $5 trillion was wasted abroad. Then our warriors were hobbled by the lawyer, and chased out of 6 countries by Stone Age savages with $50 weapons. Again, all of that was thanks to the lawyer profession.

          This is common knowledge, and stated everywhere.


          On 9/11, I remember saying, shit, there goes my raises for the next 5 years. And, that was true for the entire country. None of the damage outside the Towers was caused by the terrorists. All of it was caused by the dumbest people in the country, the lawyers in charge of our government.

          1. Naturally, none of the scumbag lawyers in this blog will ever post an analysis of the toxicity of the lawyer profession. They wants us to stay civil, so they can pursue their rent seeking in peace.

  2. It is dispiriting that a federal judge was demanding special treatment simply because he was a federal judge. If anything, it is especially important that senior government officials be subjected to the same treatment that the government imposes on regular people.

    1. Perhaps the federal judge assumed that the confiscation of nail clippers was arbitrary and not based on an actual rule.

  3. Oil producing region is Shia…Baghdad is Sunni…don’t waste your time. Solved it for you.

  4. It was a strange day for me. As was common at the time, as an IT professional I had yet again just been outsourced to half way around the world, so I was home that morning. I live near Pittsburgh. My (now ex) wife is an RN who then worked at a surgeon’s office. She called me from work and told me to turn on the TV. The 1st plane had just hit. As we were talking about what had possibly just happened the 2nd plane hit the tower. I told her to come home.

    While I was watching and waiting for her to get back the 3rd plane hit the Pentagon. This scared the hell out of my because her sister’s husband worked there.

    Right around the time my wife got home the phone rang. It was her sister in a blind panic. She could not get ahold of her husband. He didn’t answer at his office and she could not get through on his cell. She gave us the number and asked us to try. All I could get was an “all circuits are busy” recording when it would actually connect at all.

    We sat and stared for hours. Eventually she called back about 4 or 5 hours later and said he had just got home. No cars were able to leave the parking lot so he had walked back to their place in Arlington.

    All in all aside from the same trauma everyone else felt that day, it for a few hours at least had us particularly scared.

  5. I lost 3 friends, two at Cantor Fitzgerald and one at a small consulting firm in the North tower. My best friend from college was in WTC #7 and ran for his life to Batter Park as the dust from the collapse of the Towers washed over them.

    He threw a “we’re still alive” party as soon as Manhattan was open again and I drove there to support him. Driving into the Lincoln Tunnel with the Towers still smoldering and fighter jets crisscrossing the island was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

    I have never been effected by anything as viscerally as that day. Never forget.

    1. Nelson. I am sorry about your personal losses that day. In other nations’ airlines, the men passengers would have attacked the hijackers after they slit the throat of a stewardess. On ours, the lawyer pussified males, sat there, did nothing and flew to their deaths. They were trained to not get involved in crime by the scumbag lawyer profession. If the public engages in self help, lawyers lose employment. In other countries, criminals are far more afraid of the neighbors than of the police, and are deterred by public self help.

      Beyond the 3000 lives and the $trillions, the devastation continues today. 15000 murders/year. $Trillions in losses, not including other $trillions in losses of real estate value from crime. All, so the toxic lawyer profession can have a job.

      The terrorists killed your friends. Your lawyer owned government almost killed our country.

      1. Nelson. You may ask why would the lawyer protect, privilege and empower the criminal? Why would the lawyer intimidate, prosecute and deter crime victims defending themselves, and our warriors protecting our nation abroad? Why would it be better 10 guilty men go free (an unmitigated catastrophe for the public), than for 1 innocent man to be falsely convicted?

        The rent seeking theory is the Grand Unifying Theory of all lawyer scumbag anomalous behavior. Criminals generate lawyer fees. Victims generate nothing and may rot. When a criminal is killed by a victim, he no longer commits 200 crimes a year. That is a disaster for the employment of the lawyer.

        1. Beyond the deterrence of our male passengers, beyond the intimidation of our warriors, is the immunization of the oligarchs behind the attack. Saudi rich people not only funded the attack. They shorted the airlines and made $150 million from the attack. We hunted down the figureheads of Al Qaeda, and killed thousands of peasants and working people. However, those oligarchs went untouched, and are thriving. Now, the groveling, Taliban appeaser, scumbag lawyer and traitor, Biden has returned Afghanistan to them. Expect more from them again. In their place, I would have learned some lessons since. They are intelligent and sharp. This time, I would unleash a biological weapon like the Kung Flu. It could not even be traced to them, as the 9/11 attack was.

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