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My September 11

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I suppose you’re going to see a lot of these today, and read fewer…

Summer courses at the University of Washington end in late August, and Fall courses don’t begin until late September.  This leaves roughly a month in which nothing much happens.  In September 2001, I was living in “The House of Fun,” a group house that then included three graduates students, an undergraduate, and a couple of young professionals.  One of the young professionals was in between jobs (I mean this in the good sense of the term) and one of the graduate students was djw.  The three of us had a void, which we filled with beer, Law and Order, naps, and useless chatter.  At the time, I was in the end stages of a long distance relationship that had lasted about six years, and I was periodically trying to pound away at my dissertation.  Prospects, as they say, were hazy.

On the morning of, one of my roommates started banging on my door at 6:30am, crying and screaming about building falling down.  This was after the second plane hit, so all I ever saw were replays.  I can’t remember whether the plane had hit the Pentagon yet.  We watched CNN for awhile, then I woke up the rest of the house (7am was pretty early even for the gainfully employed members of the House of Fun).  The undergrad, notably, went back to bed.  The rest of us watched, until each of us had to meet whatever commitments we had that day.  I remember calling my long term, long distance girlfriend at around 9ish (she lived in Massachusetts), and I remember calling Scott around 10:30 or so; I must have called my dad as well. I had agreed to help a friend move, and I have ever since been deeply thankful for the two hours respite from watching the aftermath of the attack.  She treated us to lunch at Kidd Valley; I had the Double Bacon Burger and fries.  In retrospect, I think I should I have gotten the large chocolate shake as well.  I recollect that we agreed that there would be a war, and that Afghanistan would be the target; I can’t remember why we were relatively certain that the attack had come from Bin Laden.

And then I went home, and basically didn’t leave the living room for four days, except for the essentials.  djw, my friend Aaron, and myself had essentially become accustomed to watching TV all the time for the previous two weeks, and it’s what we had all expected to do for the next two. This… was not healthy.  We didn’t drink, and we didn’t smoke; I think that all of us were too worried about how we might react.  For some reason, we had an old poster of the twin towers in the basement, pictured at four different times of day.  It went up immediately, and stayed up for a couple of years.

What changed for me, personally? I don’t really know.  I have to wonder whether I would have finished my dissertation if September 11 hadn’t happened.  There was an element of straight (if only half-conscious) calculation to this; it became apparent in a very short period of time on the morning of September 11 that there was going to be a market in political science for scholars focusing on security studies.  The policies undertaken by the Bush administration in response to 9/11 reinforced this, of course.  Without 9/11… I don’t know.  My topic was already chosen, and while I had a general feeling on the morning of 9/11 that political science had failed as a discipline, I didn’t expect my own work to be transformative or have an impact that would be important in policy terms.  I don’t know that I would have been able to generate enough optimism about my career prospects to go to the trouble of finishing my dissertation.  Later on, in context of Bush administration security and military policies, things would be different.  And so in this very measured sense, 9/11 may have had a very real impact on my life.

Much later, I discovered that my future wife had also been in Seattle on September 11.  She had flown across country to take a deposition in Bellevue, and was stuck for several days when air traffic was suspended.  To make it that much odder, we also discovered that my future boss was in Seattle on September 11, touring various Boeing facilities.  None of us had the faintest notions of each others existence, but we were all there.

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