The light on the Twin Towers of September 10, already warm in autumn, reflected joyfully and mightily from the New York bay, to the touch of the Statue of Liberty.
The Towers hosted 150,000 people, 50,000 workers, 100,000 tourists, city within city every day.
The two twin buildings of the World Trade Center were designed by the architect Minoru Yamasaki in 1962 and the critics never loved them, “the cloying gothic style, the sophisticated angles, the exotic perforations, the decorative seductions do not temper the rigidity and arrogance of the towers pairs of the World Trade Center… ”wrote Bruno Zevi in his“ History of modern architecture ”. I loved them.
The Towers weren’t the first iconic buildings in New York to be hit by a plane. On July 28, 1945, with the World War in the Pacific still in progress, the B-25 Mitchell bomber, commanded by pilot William Smith, got lost in the thick fog and tried to land, despite the alarm from the control tower, veered to the right ending on the Empire State Building. Three crew members and eleven civilians lost their lives, including tourists on the Observatory, watching Manhattan. When I saw the first plane over the Towers on TV, I called the archive of La Stampa, so that they could reconstruct the story. At the second, history changed.
Following the attack on September 11th, the Italian architect Renzo Piano, now a senator for life, called a friend on the phone “I started to calculate the life time that remained for the two buildings. The heat of the fuel is monstrous. I knew they would not resist. I counted the minutes, they didn’t come down and I thought maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m wrong … “.
United Airlines Flight 93 was supposed to hit Congress in Washington, but the revolt of the passengers, informed by the first cell phones of the attack in Manhattan, thwarted the blitz, with the sacrifice of all on board, falling on Shanksville, Pennsylvania. When the first news spread, the lawyer Gianni Agnelli was impressed by the rebellion and for days he searched for new details, phoning the reporters.
Fire chief Peter Ganci, a “villager”, spurs his men on the dark stairs of the burning WTC “The last one at the top is a bastard”.
A famous Italian writer said “I don’t set foot in America, those have the death penalty”. I remember the heavy silence on September 11th.
And I remember the Pharisees of “America deserved it!”, Those who posted photos of General Pinochet’s coup, September 11, 1973, as if the martyrdom of Chilean President Allende was a grotesque retaliation for the fall of New York. Ignacio Ramonet, director of Le Monde Diplomatique, “Think about when they shot down Allende”. Even a monk of the monastery of Santa Croce, Father Giustino, bleakly observed “The US deserved it”, citing the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. Twenty years later they are still at work, gloomy, obsessed, guilty, but this time with sponsors in Moscow.
Toni Negri, animator in Italy of Workers’ Autonomy at the time of terrorism, famous in the US for the essay “Empire” written with Michael Hart, comments: I would have preferred they hit the White House.
He doesn’t know how close they got.
The National Guard had prepared 30,000 body bags for the dead.
The fire brigade chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, fell to bring Extreme Unction to the dying. The sacrament was now called Anointing of the Sick, but Father Judge was an old-fashioned priest and used the old denomination.
Oriana Fallaci wrote from her townhouse on Sixty-second street, devastated by the massacre, for Corriere della Sera. He bought it because he trusted Ugo “Misha” Stille, correspondent and then editor of Corriere, who lived next door, and worked there until his death. She was convinced that emigration was the spearhead of Islamic jihad in democracies, and we had a long discussion in the hall of the Rizzoli bookshop on Fifty-seventh Street, where my office was on the fourth floor and hers on the fifth, shared with the dear agent. literary Maria Campbell. I had the military papers of the US Army of Iraq and Afghanistan and Oriana came to study them. Not convinced that the dilemma was the opposite, the jihadists know that Muslim emigrants, to a large extent, assimilate into our societies and fear this diaspora of theirs. Oriana’s theses were adopted by conservatives, in the US and in Europe, history has resolutely gone elsewhere.
Rina Anoussis, legendary Greek travel agent in New York, bypasses the blockade of flights in the US, transporting her passengers to Canada and then transferring them, by car, to New York. As famous reporters sign helplessly from vacation spots, Team Rina works on the smoldering ruins.
For days, downtown Manhattan, the wind from the South blew pages of documents, photos, letters, torn from collapsed offices, set on fire, or with windows blown up by the explosion. It was difficult to decide what to do with them walking fast, the printed texts were as numerous as autumn leaves, impossible to collect them, but the snapshots, the memories? Taking them seemed like a theft, abandoning them to the garbage collection crime. We took them to the collection centers, stopped them on a fence, and went on bitterly.
I spoke at West Point with Professor Sonia Finley, a major in the US Army. He had drawn on the blackboard two opposite curves, Liberty, Security, explaining to his cadets, that if one goes up, the other often goes down, in a tragic political equation. All those boys then served in Afghanistan and Iraq in the war on terror, several injured or killed. Sonia Finley left the army with the rank of colonel and is a lecturer at Georgetown University. She is also a veteran of Iraq.
The fundamentalist Christian preachers Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on TV twenty years ago: “God allowed them to hit us because we live in sin. Abortionists, homosexuals, lesbians, progressives have attracted divine punishment to our country ”. They were the seeds of the American division, planted, with poison, in the days that appeared to us instead of majestic unity.
“Dau Tranh ”, a long-lasting war, was the Vietnamese strategic concept that defeated the US in 1975. It means, the scholar Douglas Pike explained to me,“ to absorb suffering and pain as a people without stopping, coming to an end. Democracies do not know how to do it, because there are elections, dictatorships require it ”. Twenty years later the concept is forgotten, but Dau Tranh brings the Taliban back to Kabul.
John Arquilla, a scholar of asymmetrical warfare, explains that to win it you need to untie every single node of the terrorist network. Three US presidents, Bush son, Obama and Trump will not have the patience and determination to do so. The United States has lost all asymmetrical wars it fought except the one against Native Americans in the Philippines and Che Guevara in Bolivia.
“Understanding why the jihadists hate America is crucial to beat them ”. Colin Powell, former US chief of staff, George W. Bush secretary of state, October 2001.
The days of anthrax. Seven days after 9/11, envelopes made toxic by anthrax spores arrived anonymously at newsrooms and parliamentary offices. In the following months, five people died and 17 remained intoxicated. Bruce Ivins, a state scientist in whose laboratory anthrax was used, was suspected. Ivins will kill himself in 2008, taking the secrets to the grave.
The first disinformation on September 11th, a genre in which Italian firms, with directors, politicians and intellectuals unfortunately will shine for infamy, appears at the end of September 2001, launched on the web by Middle Eastern sources, then picked up by Western extremists: “How come no Jew did he die at the Twin Towers? ”. According to the hidden plot of the plot, the Mossad, Israeli intelligence, would have warned the Jews one by one, saving them from disaster. Then, in league with the US right, they undermine the Twin Towers and attack Kabul in search of mines and oil pipelines (thesis resumed on the left in Italy for a long time). Alas, a glance at the list of those killed on 11 September is enough to refute the tale.
At the memorial to the Maine massacre in Columbus Circle, passersby recorded thoughts and grief with school chalk. The last sentence to disappear, erased by the heavy rains of October, read tremulously “May peace prevail on Earth”, may peace triumph on Earth.
Every time I pass that Central Park intersection, I see it with the eyes of memory and say “Amen” softly.