I am a believer in anniversaries, especially when they are used to not only mark something that happened in the past, but to also prepare for a better future. July 4 is like that; we mark our independence, celebrate it, and re-dedicate ourselves to the founding propositions.
So it is as we mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (I never call them the “events” of 9/11; the Rose Bowl is an event. I also never call them the “tragic events” of 9/11; a bad car accident is a tragic event. It was an attack, pure and simple).
The 9/11 attacks hold a special place in the history of ACI-NA and the airport industry. Obviously, the entire industry was impacted in one way or another, that day and every day since. Many knew people killed in those attacks. The 2001 joint ACI-NA and ACI World annual conference was being held on that very day, in Montreal. Paul Benoit, the director of the Ottawa, Canada airport has written about what it was like to be there.
Everyone has a story of where they were and what they were doing. From my last post you know that I live close enough to the Pentagon that the smell of the fire wafted through the house and my wife could hear the impact (as could my kids in their high school). I was at work in my previous job when I heard about the first plane to hit. Having heard stories growing up of the plane that flew into the Empire State Building many years earlier, I assumed/hoped it was the same. When the second hit I called my wife who was scheduled to come into town for lunch with me that day (my office was 5 blocks from the White House). I told her what happened, that it was a terrorist attack, and that these people like to do coordinated, simultaneous attacks; one on Washington was almost a certainty, so don’t come into town for lunch.
About a half hour later we heard about the plane that went into the Pentagon. There were also reports of one that went into the National Mall, and explosions at the State Department and Old Executive Office Building (these reports, delivered by trusted anchors, were later deemed false, but if you were sitting at 19th and K that morning you didn’t know). Traffic was snarled. By 2:30, figuring the attacks were over and with Metro not running, I decided to walk home, about 9 miles. Luckily, a co-worked, came by and offered me a ride (his name was Ed Ross, he died earlier this year, a wonderful guy, the type of person you want to be with in a tough situation). Those 9 miles took 2 ½ hours to cover by car and we watched the Pentagon burn the whole way. Watching TV the rest of the day and night the enormity of it all became apparent. If you read my last post you also know what I thought about that night.
This is the first time I’ve ever written any of this down, and it will be the last. For while anniversaries are for remembering and honoring the past, they are best if they serve as a pivot to a better future. One of the many things I like best about the job I have now is being part of an industry that shows the terrorists every single day that they failed in what they tried to do. We will and do move on. We are not going to be afraid of them or what they want to do to us. Because they will want to scare us till the end of time, and there is no future worth having living in such fear.
Looking back, al Qaeda and the 19 terrorists succeeded in killing 3,000 people and bringing down the towers (I drive by the re-built part of the Pentagon every day on my commute). But they failed in every other way. Al Qaeda is all but a spent force in many ways, though there will always be people who wish us harm. None of bin Laden’s larger strategic goals came to pass, just the opposite. Indeed, the Arab Spring shows that bin Laden is likely to be consigned to history’s dust “bin” (pun intended), to borrow Ronald Reagan’s phrase.
And every day, 2 million people travel through America’s airports on vacations, business trips, personal trips or whatever. Many go to places bin Laden hoped to keep them from ever visiting. Yes, we take our shoes off and have rejuvenated the plastic baggie industry with our liquids. But those are minor things, also destined for the dust bin.
I am so proud every day to be part of an industry that shows the terrorists, day in and day out, that they did not win, they cannot win and they will never win.