"I have watched through a window a world that has fallen.” — W. H. Auden
The date, 9/11, turned into the frantic dialing of 911 nineteen years ago. A surreal feeling of shock and helplessness enveloped all Americans as we watched that day’s events unfold. In hindsight, we should ask many questions. Is America a safer place today? Maybe. But we also have witnessed a fundamental shift in our culture, where liberty and freedom have been compromised so that we supposedly feel “more safe.”
I was home on that horrific when a family friend called a little after 8:00 a.m. to tell me about the first plane’s crashing into the World Trade Center. Like millions of Americans, I turned on my television just in time to see the second plane hit the second tower.
I was home alone, so I immediately felt the need to call the people closest to me. I was able to reach my mother, my brother Jack, and two of my daughters. I told them all to turn on their TV sets. I reached my son on his cell phone as he was entering the LSU Lab School. But, what about my oldest daughter Campbell? I knew she had flown back to Washington late the night before, from California, where she was reporting a story for NBC news on the retirement of the president’s plane, a former Air Force One. Perhaps she was still home. I called her apartment but got no answer. Then the third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington. Thoughts raced through my head. Was there a fourth plane — or more? Wasn’t the White House a likely target? Was my oldest daughter sitting in her NBC office in the White House?
She didn’t answer her cell phone. I called the White House switchboard, which is noted for being efficient. There was a brief recording saying to hold on for an operator, then the line went dead. For a moment I feared the worst: a plane crashing into the White House, my daughter inside. Then I heard Matt Lauer on the “Today Show” say, “Now let’s go to Campbell Brown for an update across the street from the White House.” Campbell told a national audience that the White House had been evacuated and that she was broadcasting from a nearby hotel. She gave hourly reports throughout the day and late into the evening.
Like millions of Americans, I stayed glued to the TV all day. That night, my wife and I kept a long-standing dinner date with friends at Chris’s steakhouse, close to our home in Baton Rouge. Halfway through dinner, around 9:00 o’clock, my cell phone rang. It was my son James. “Dad, I’m still watching everything on television,” he said. “I just need to do something. Do we have an American flag here at home?”
I told him we had one stored in our “flag box,” where we keep banners for the various seasons, as well as holiday flags for Christmas, Halloween, and Easter. When we drove into our driveway that night, a large American flag was hanging from the front porch, waving in the wind.
Ten years later, we have a lot of questions to ask, and a lot of consoling to do. How is it possible that there is still such intense hatred for our country? Who is our enemy, and how do we do battle with them? Before 9/11, life was so normal and ordinary. Now we live under the so-called Patriot Act that has stripped all Americans of basic constitutional freedoms. We live with body scanners, “enhanced” pat-downs and “fusion” centers. For all of us, life will never be the same.
Jim Brown is a former Commissioner of Insurance, Secretary of State and state senator from Ferriday. His past columns can be read at www.jimbrownusa.com.