Letters To America On The Drive Home
Part Three: Somewhere in the Land of Enchantment, September 15, 2001
Here is my third letter, written 20 years ago tonight, on my LA to NY road trip home in the days after 9/11. Reading these letters all these years later, it’s amazing how optimistic I was during that dark week that a majority of Americans would oppose Bush and Cheney in going to war. I did not know at that moment how alone and attacked I and Rep. Barbara Lee and maybe a couple of others would be in those coming months for standing against the invasion of Afghanistan. I didn’t really care. I knew we were right, that we were following our conscience, and that some day we would be vindicated. I didn’t expect it to take until last f---ing week.
Somewhere In The Land of Enchantment
September 15, 2001
I am awakened by the sounds of the Star Spangled Banner coming up from the lobby of the hotel where we have spent the night in Flagstaff. The memorial service has begun at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, and it is on the TV in the lobby. I go down to check it out.
A group of older Black women are standing there watching it, tears in their eyes. I am reminded of a sign we saw on the way into town on a Hopi Indian store: "America Land of the Free Home of the Brave." You probably can't find two groups more denied the American Dream than these two and yet they grieve like everyone else over the attack in New York.
Passing through the Indian reservations of Arizona (and later in the day, New Mexico), you are struck by the abject poverty of these places, and reminded of the 500 years of state-sponsored terrorism against these people, a literal genocide. How many millions were killed by the American settlers and soldiers? How many by the diseases brought over by these Europeans. I can't remember now. But the living results are brutally evident in the shacks and trailers along old Route 66.
We make our way into town and find a Catholic church, San Francisco de Asis, where a service is being held, as they are at noon all across the country to honor the dead. The church itself is remarkable for its matriarchal images, with a large mural of Mary and her mother and her family above the altar. There is no cross, just a statue of her in place of the usual crucified Jesus.
We stand, as there is no room to sit. Minutes go by and the service does not begin. The priest comes and takes a seat in the 7th row pew as if he were just another mourner. After a long while, a woman gets up from her pew and reads from the bible -- but the reading is not the one about vengeance and bloodshed. Rather, it's about beating our swords into plowshares. Oops, off message!
We leave the church and both of us are filled with an overwhelming despair. We still have not heard from friends in Manhattan or from our friend Barbara who works at the Pentagon. We pass by a store -- "Guns and Groceries," the sign proclaims. On the way out of town, the cell phone rings. It is Barbara and her husband Sam calling from outside the Pentagon. She tells me she is OK and that there is a large airplane wheel sticking out of the side of the building where she works as a clerical. The morning of the crash she was late for work because she was taking Sam to the airport. I start to cry again. She says thanks and "Don't worry I'm OK," and I hear Sam cracking wise in the background, "That's debatable," and they both laugh.
I pull off the road in Winslow, Arizona, and I suggest we get a picture “standing on a corner in...” She asks why and, knowing her intense dislike of The Eagles, I tell her it's a song by Jackson Browne (which is technically true; he co-wrote it). She obliges. It’s a moment of levity, perhaps the first moment that is not consumed with thinking about the attacks back East.
I continue to be amazed at the large number of people -- both on the radio and those we run into -- who are completely opposed to some half-cocked military response to what has happened. No matter what the media tells you or shows you, I am convinced there might be just enough Americans who, though they want justice and want to be protected from further attacks, do not want George W. Bush to start sounding like Dr. Strangelove.
Speaking of Strangelove, this past Sunday, just two days before the attacks, I watched one of the most powerful pieces on 60 Minutes in a long time. They laid it all out: How the United States -- and specifically Henry Kissinger -- plotted to overthrow the democratically-elected president of Chile on 9/11, 1973. The plot succeeded, President Allende was assassinated, and thousands of other Chileans were brutally tortured and murdered. Today, many within the new, free government of Chile would like to put Kissinger on trial for these acts of terrorism. Do you think the United States will be willing to extradite him to Chile? (Pause for laughter)
Well, thanks to Tuesday, that story was forgotten just 48 hours later — as quickly as it had been forgotten 30 years ago.
A few of you have written me to say, Please, Mike, don't talk about this stuff, at least not right now. We need to bury the dead.
I agree. And I apologize to any who have taken offense. No one wants to talk about politics right now -- except our leaders in Washington. Trust me, they are talking politics night and day, and those discussions involve sending our kids off to fight some invisible enemy and to indiscriminately bomb Afghans or whoever they think will make us Americans feel good.
I feel I have a responsibility as one of those Americans who doesn't feel good right now to speak out and say what needs to be said: That we, the United States of America, are culpable in committing so many acts of terror and bloodshed that we had better get a clue about the culture of violence in which we have been active participants. I know it's a hard thing to hear right now, but if I and others don't say it, I fear we will soon be in a war that will do NOTHING to protect us from the next terrorist attack.
I have received more emails this week than ever before -- about a thousand every four hours. Ninety percent of them are from people who also refuse to be drawn into some form of senseless bloodletting, and who agree that we need to find the right way to bring those to justice who committed these acts.
I have been touched by many of your comments and am so sorry I cannot respond to them while I am on the road. But I am sharing your feelings with those I meet (and, I have to say again, it is a godsend to have an invention like the Internet where I can travel across the country like this and be connected to so many thousands of other Americans …and to so many people in other lands who grieve for us, and who fear for what our leaders may do).
We pass over the Continental Divide and Rush Limbaugh babbles on about whom we must bomb. He signs off, and I am sure he is on his way down to the nearest recruiting station to sign up -- for surely he would not expect your son or daughter to risk their lives for freedom while he just sits back and enjoys his new half-billion dollar contract.
Coming into Albuquerque, we leaf through the Frommer's travel guide for a place to spend the night. We find what seems like a nice spot near the White Sands National Park, but then it contains this passage: "Occasionally the road to the hotel is closed for nearby missile tests." Yes, welcome to New Mexico, the "Land of Enchantment," just one big testing ground brought to you by the originators of every single weapon of mass destruction known to man. We opt for the downtown Hyatt.
The hotel is like a ghost town. "Every convention cancelled," the lady at the counter tells us. I ask the bellman how many people are actually here tonight.
"9.9 percent occupancy," he tells me. Hmmm. Why not just say 10%?
I guess that would be asking for too much optimism on a night like this...
I will write you again when we get to our next stop, Oklahoma City.
P.S. Three days ago, I learned from someone at ABC News that ABC had videotape -- an as yet unreleased piece of footage, a different angle, of the second plane crashing into the tower -- and that footage shows an F-16 fighter jet trailing the hijacked plane at a distance. My source at ABC tells me that “someone high up” at ABC ordered the footage not be shown and had it removed from the videotape room.
I have not shared this with you over these three days as I had not personally witnessed that tape myself and did not want to contribute to all the unsubstantiated rumors. It now just came across on the TV that the government admitted they did dispatch fighter jets when they knew the planes were off course.
To my friends who toil in the mainstream media, please know that from this point on, I will pass on any information or footage that you’re being told not to show us (and I will protect your privacy). The people have a right to know.
Is it - and I’m only asking - becoming more clear now that the plane that went down in Pennsylvania was shot down (as ordered by Dick Cheney, who had taken command of the country while they flew Bush all over the place), and that they felt they had to do so to prevent it from attacking its destination in DC?
The truth is harrowing, unbearable -- but it must be told to us. A free people cannot make an informed decision if they are kept in the dark. Let's hear ALL the truth. NOW.
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When commercial planes were allowed to fly again on Thursday, a wonderful manager at American managed to get me on a flight home when only airline staff were supposed to be flying. Flying from Charlotte to Pittsburgh I did not notice the fighter escorts. I was in my normal flight mode; fall asleep before the door closes. I vaguely remember the pilot next to me saying we were the 3rd flight in the country to be allowed to take off. In Pittsburgh we changed planes and picked up medical evacuees from NY. I looked for colleagues and my intern but didn't see them. An older gentleman across from us was severely injured and was headed to Minnesota for surgery. He was rather out of it. I had my usual emergency row window seat on the wing. I watched as we took off and so was the gentleman's wife. "Harold, you won't believe it, we have the Air Force protecting the plane", she proclaimed. She said he was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. I looked at the pilot sitting next to me who then said "pray the people in the cockpit do not sneeze or cause this plane to even so much as wobble or we will be..."; I completed his sentence - shot down. One of the few flights in my 1+ million miles that I did not sleep on.
As I sat on my deck safely back home I watched the planes with their fighter escorts on final approach. My son was watching with me. He said he saw the fighters with my plane and asked if I knew they were there to shoot us down if the pilots did anything wrong. I said yes. Several of his friends' parents flew for Northwest. His paper route was directly under the glide path. Everyone knew what those fighters were for except the media. He asked when I had to go back to work. I said I didn't know since where I was supposed to be working wasn't there any more.
I found my intern in an NY hospital on 18 Sept. He would be physically okay. He said he led two groups of people out of the building. On the 3rd trip the group was told by NYFD to turn around and go back to their offices. Most went back. Him and 5 others pushed past and went down the remaining 20 flights of stairs. The tower collapsed about 10 min after they were out. I asked this 20 year old man why he did that. His reply, "Because that is what you would have done". He was right. I was a volunteer HAZMAT and fire responder. I would have kept going back in until everyone was out. My 14 year old son knew that too. For the rest of the weekend we just sat on the deck and watched the fighters escorting the planes and didn't say a word.
The official story regarding the United flight never made sense. The debris field was too spread out. I lost friends in the Trade Center and on 2 American flights. Little did my son and I know how many more of our friends would die because of Bush#2, pun intended, and all the lies.
Thank you for continuing to share and including us in the process.