Even before the World Trade Center towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, bloggers were posting their initial thoughts on the terrorist attacks that hit New York and Washington. Those in Manhattan posted firsthand accounts—sometimes chilling, often poignant—while other writers were remarkably prescient. What follows is a selection of what bloggers were saying that day.
James Lileks, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, had two thoughts when he saw the second airliner crash into the WTC: “Clancy novel, with New York instead of Washington. Pearl Harbor. This is Pearl Harbor.” Later in the day, he wrote: “If the terrorists had a finer grasp of American culture, they might have headed for the Empire State Building. … Even the name contains the contradictions of America - we are an empire, yes but an empire whose provinces are knitted together by an idea. A concept. A bold proposition: citizenship is not based on blood, on clan, on tribe, but on a belief in an ideal. An ideal often soiled by the crude hands of mere humans, yes. But an ideal whose worst manifestation in our history is still a hundred times better than the world the terrorists wish to bring about.”
Economics columnist and former Reason editor Virginia Postrel also drew an immediate parallel to Dec. 7, 1941. At her blog, Dynamist, she wrote: “When … I was watching TV, I said, ‘It’s Pearl Harbor.’ What I meant was a horrible sneak attack, and one that has sparked anger that will not soon dissipate. But it’s not Pearl Harbor. … Today’s attacks had only minor effects on U.S. fighting capabilities, and the perpetrators have no clear military objectives. They are not trying to control territory or even to advance traditional terrorist goals, such as the release of prisoners or changes in U.S. policies. Today’s attacks were aimed not at strategic targets but at our civilization. The only way for the terrorists to ‘win’ is for that civilization to be destroyed. It’s going to be a long war.”
Jason Kottke, who was already a longtime blogger in 2001, offered a thorough roundup of other blog posts and photos from the day. One of his links was to the Fine Line, a blog that now seems to be inactive, where “Bob” shared his personal account of being in Lower Manhattan: “As I got closer to the stairwell, I could smell it. Smoke can smell all sorts of ways. This was the sort of smell that told you something was seriously wrong … an acrid, sharp odor. I stepped into the stairwell. There was a soldier in camoflauge fatigues yelling at us to get outside and east … away from the WTC. … A woman was standing behind an ambulance, her blazer shredded down its back, her body covered with soot. The EMTs had a man on a stretcher, oxygen mask on his face, getting loaded into the van. I took one last close up of the North Tower from this spot before I started heading north. Time really lost all meaning.”
Law professor Glenn Reynolds had started InstaPundit just a month before Sept. 11. His rapid-fire posts revealed the events as they unfolded, and he warned against “hysterical overreaction against American muslims and Arab-Americans.” But in his most prescient post, he predicted the creation of the Patiot Act: “Someone will propose new ‘Antiterrorism’ legislation. It will be full of things off of bureaucrats’ wish lists. They will be things that wouldn’t have prevented these attacks even if they had been in place yesterday. Many of them will be civil-liberties disasters. Some of them will actually promote the kind of ill-feeling that breeds terrorism. That’s what happened in 1996. Let’s not let it happen again.”
Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan also feared encroachment on civil liberties, but maintained a shred of optimism in an eloquent post. (We link to OpinionJournal.com’s Best of the Web archive, because Sullivan’s archives appear to be unavailable.) He wrote: “The one silver lining of this is that we may perhaps be shaken out of our self-indulgent preoccupations and be reminded of what really matters: our freedom, our security, our integrity as a democratic society. This means we must be vigilant not to let our civil liberties collapse under the understandable desire for action. To surrender to that temptation is part of what these killers want. And the other small sliver of consolation is that the constant American temptation to withdraw from the world, entertained these past few years by many, will perhaps now be stifled. We cannot withdraw; we cannot ignore. We live in a world where technology and hatred accelerate in ever-faster cycles, and in which isolation is not an option.”
At Little Green Footballs, conservative Charles Johnson (now well-known for exposing the “Rathergate National Guard” memos in 2004), made a plea for the military action that was soon to come: “We need to go after the nations that give safe haven to these terrorist beasts, because this cannot have been the work of a small group. They could not have succeeded without extensive financial, technical, and tactical support. The nations I’m talking about are well known. Afghanistan. Iran. Iraq. Libya. Yemen. We know who our enemies are. And it’s time to stop playing fair. In the US we are so preoccupied with due process and the rule of law that we seem to expect evidence on a level with what we would have in a criminal trial. Meanwhile, the monsters toy with us and kill us, using our own democratic processes and our own cherished freedoms against us.”
Reflecting on the day, the lawyer and Manhattan native blogging at Tin Man focused on what he loved about the city: “This was one of those rare days when Manhattan felt like a small town. A crazy, eccentric, shell-shocked town, but a small one nonetheless. Everyone on their cellphones. Everyone walking across the bridge. Everyone gathered around radios. Everyone staring at the smoke. I’m a New Yorker by birth. I was born in Manhattan and spent the first three years of my life in Queens. And you know what? New York is the best fucking city in the world. I love this place. And if those assholes think they’re going to scare us — they’re not.”