I think I’ve told this story before, but to recap…
In 2001, the senior staff of The State — the heads of all the newspaper’s divisions (including news, advertising, circulation, HR, finance, production, marketing and of course, editorial) — met with the publisher ever Tuesday morning at 9. On Sept. 11, 2001, we had just sat down when someone from the newsroom came to the door seeking John Drescher, who was then our managing editor. John told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, then left the room.
We had it in our minds that it was a big story, and certainly John needed to get started on it, but we were picturing (at least I was) another confused amateur pilot in a Beechcraft or something. The WTC bombing of several years earlier crossed my mind, but I didn’t take it seriously yet.
It seemed we had just resumed the meeting when Drescher burst back in and told Executive Editor Mark Lett (News and editorial each had two editors who were on Senior Staff. The newsroom was represented by Lett and Drescher, while Associate Editor Warren Bolton joined me in representing editorial) that a second plane had hit the other tower.
Now we knew it was a coordinated attack on the United States.
That was it. Meeting over. Everybody jumped up. A few of us huddled over by the window and discussed putting out an “Extra,” before moving on to putting together the regular paper for the next day. I asked whether they’d like a column from editorial, just to inject a bit of opinion into the special edition. They said “yes,” and I went to get to work.
The first job was to get some sort of sense of what was happened — I mean the total picture, not just the Twin Towers (which probably had not yet collapsed as I began). That wasn’t easy. A lot was happening at once — the Pentagon getting hit, the Capitol evacuated, the president up in the air, somewhere. And then there were some the unconfirmed reports that later proved to be untrue — I don’t even remember the details of them now, some sorts of smaller incidents going on in the streets of Washington. Once they were discounted, I forgot them so my brain could process all the other stuff going on.
Once I turned to my keyboard, it took me about 20 minutes to write the following. That didn’t keep Drescher from sending up messages from the second floor: Where’s the copy? We’ve gotta go. Of course, all news really had to do is grab the stuff coming in and put it on a page. I had to think about what it meant, on the basis of alarmingly incomplete information, and write it.
So you might say this was written in even more of a hurry than a similar number of words on the blog, and amid great confusion and a certain amount of duress. You can read that in these words. There’s some emotion, and some thoughts, there that wouldn’t have been there a day later, or even a few hours later. Very stream-of-consciousness. I wince at some of it now. But it’s a real-time artifact, at least of what was going through my head that morning. See what you think:
AMERICA WILL FIND A WAY TO PREVAIL AGAINST COWARDLY ENEMYState, The (Columbia, SC) – Tuesday, September 11, 2001Author: BRAD WARTHEN, Editorial Page EditorSometime within the next 24 hours, no doubt, some television talking head somewhere will say, “This doesn’t happen here.”Yes, it does. It has.It’s happened before, in fact. It just wasn’t this close to home.We remember Pearl Harbor. We’ll remember this, too.The question is, what will we do about it?Two nights ago, the nation delved back into its history with a celebrated media event, the premiere of the television version of Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers.”We marvel at how a previous generation responded to an unprecedented crisis – a sudden attack by a ruthless, remorseless enemy. We think of those people as the “greatest generation,” and they deserve that appellation because of the way they came together to settle their own crisis and secure our future.And we all wondered: Are we like them? Do we have it in us?We’re about to find out.We’re about to find out if we can snap out of shock, pull ourselves off the ground, set our petty differences aside, and come together as a nation to deal with our enemies.For now, there is no question that we have enemies. And these enemies are in many ways different from Imperial Japan. In some ways, they are worse.Pearl Harbor was an attack upon a distant outpost of American military power. The attack, as sudden and dishonest and vicious as it was, was at least an attack that made strategic sense in traditional military logic. And while there were civilian casualties, the obvious primary target was our fighting men and their machines of war.This time, there is no pretense of such rudimentary “decency,” if you want to stretch so far as to call it that.This time, civilians were the target every bit as much – if not more so – as our men and women in uniform.This was a strike – and a temporarily successful one – at the chief power centers that have given this nation the strength to stand astride the world as its only superpower.We are the world’s largest economy, so they struck, with devastating effect, at the very symbolic heart of that strength.We are the undisputed military champion of the world, guarantor of security not only for this nation but for the rest of the globe. And this time they struck not just battleships and sailors, but the nerve center of our military colossus.The greatest gift this nation has given the world is our form of democracy. And they have shut down and evacuated our Capitol and the White House. The home of the most powerful man in the world stands empty, surrounded by nervous men with automatic weapons and itchy trigger fingers.The nation that gave the world flight is frozen, earthbound, at a standstill.We are stunned. This attack has been devastatingly successful. We don’t know who did it, and we don’t know how much there is to come.Our response will have to be different from the response after Pearl Harbor. This appears to be a different kind of enemy – the worst kind of coward. An enemy who strikes, and ducks and runs and hides.How to prevail against such an enemy and restore peace and prosperity to the land is not immediately apparent.But we will find a way. This is the same nation that was laid low 60 years ago, by an enemy who thought we lacked the will or the know-how to stop them. They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.We may not be the greatest generation, but we are their grandchildren. We are Americans. We are shocked, and we will mourn.But then we’ll dust ourselves off, and find a way.
Later, I briefly attended a newsroom meeting in which they were talking about the next days paper (the only time I remember doing that during my years in editorial), and then turned to directing my own staff and writing stuff for the next day. I’ll show you that tomorrow.