"Contextualizing Context - Explorations in Invertive Anthropology"

Finn Sivert Nielsen, Spring 2002
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Texts about / from September 11 For the Thursday seminar, Febrary 21

Från välunderrättat håll meddelas idag att man tillfångatagit delar av bin Ladens familj i Danmark. De personer som nu sitter i säkert förvar är bin Ladens mor Marme Laden, hans två bröder Choko Laden och Remou Laden. I lördags kväll tillfångatogs även bin Ladens syster Pina co Laden. Man spanar nu för fullt efter hans kusin Sal Laden.

"In this time of war against Osama Bin Laden and the oppressive Taliban regime, we are thankful that OUR leader isn't the spoiled son of a powerful politician from a wealthy oil family who is supported by religious fundamentalists, operates through clandestine organizations, has no respect for the democratic electoral process, bombs innocents, and uses war to deny people their civil liberties."

American Anthropological Association

Recording Our Reactions to September 11

Peggy Bulger and Ann Hoog

American Folklife Center

We will remember the date of September 11, 2001, forever. At a time of national crisis, one wonders what positive action should or could be taken? As anthropologists, what might we contribute to the future?

On December 9, 1941, Alan Lomax (then in charge of the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Song) sent an urgent message to fieldworkers all around the US to collect "person on the street" reactions to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war by the US. Among those fieldworkers who responded were Bob Allen, Fletcher Collins, John Henry Faulk, Lewis Jones, Vance Randolph and Robert Sonkin. Recordings were made in all parts of the US in which people expressed their immediate reactions to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the US declaration of war. Interviews were conducted with shoemakers, electricians, janitors, oilmen, cab drivers, housewives, students, soldiers and physicians. People of many ethnic groups and ages were represented in these interviews. Those interviewed expressed their opinions on the political, social, financial and miliary aspects of the US involvement in the war.

These field recordings were sent to the Library of Congress where they were made into a series of radio programs and distributed to schools and radio stations. The radio programs and field interviews are still housed in the Archive of Folk Culture at the American Folklife Center where they comprise an invaluable aural resource and are part of our American legacy. The AFC has continued to make these unique recordings available to researchers and media producers.

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is interested in partnering with the anthropological and oral history community to provide such a service to the nation today. We call for all of those who are interested in participating to use your anthropological and folkloristic training in a positive way during a time of national crisis and mourning. We ask you to document the immediate reactions of average Americans in your own communities to yesterday's terrorist attack and to what many have called "an act of war". What were they doing when they heard? How have their lives been changed? We are asking those who are interested, to document these reactions on audio cassettes.

The AFC can promise that these interviews will be deposited in the Center's Archive of Folk Culture where they will be preserved for and made available to future generations. Since we wish to capture immediate reactions the deadline to send your interviews is December 1, 2001. If you need release forms, required for the project, or have any questions please contact the American Folklife Center at 202/707-5510; folklife@loc.gov.


By Roberto J. Gonzales

AN aggressive attack on freedom has been launched upon America's college campuses. Its perpetrators seek the elimination of ideas and activities that place Sept. 11 in historical context, or critique the so-called war on terrorism.

The offensive, spearheaded by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a Washington-based group, threatens free speech, democratic debate and the integrity of higher education. In an incendiary report, ``Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America,'' the American Council claims that ``colleges and university faculty have been the weak link in America's response'' to Sept. 11. It also asserts that ``when a nation's intellectuals are unwilling to defend its civilization, they give comfort to its adversaries.''

The report documents 117 campus incidents as ``evidence'' of anti-Americanism. More than 40 professors are named, including the president of Wesleyan University, who suggested in an open letter that ``disparities and injustices'' in American society and the world can lead to hatred and violence.

Other examples abound. A Yale professor is criticized for saying, ``It is from the desperate, angry and bereaved that these suicide pilots came.'' A professor emeritus from the University of Oregon is listed for recommending that ``we need to understand the reasons behind the terrifying hatred directed against the U.S. and find ways to act that will not foment more hatred for generations to come.''

Dozens more comments, taken out of context and culled from secondary sources, are presented as examples of an unpatriotic academy.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni was founded in 1995 by Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Its Website claims that it contributed $3.4 billion to colleges and universities last year, making it ``the largest private source of support for higher education.'' Cheney is cited several times in the report, and is reportedly a close associate of its authors, Jerry Martin and Anne Neal.

Although the council's stated objectives include the protection of academic freedom, the report resembles a blacklist. In a chilling use of doublespeak, it affirms the right of professors to speak out, yet condemns those who have attempted to give context to Sept. 11, encourage critical thinking, or share knowledge about other cultures. Faculty are accused of being ``short on patriotism'' for attempting to give students the analytical tools they need to become informed citizens.

Many of those blacklisted are top scholars in their fields, and it appears that the report represents a kind of academic terrorism designed to strike fear into other academics by making examples of respected professors.

The report might also function to extend control over sites of democratic debate -- our universities -- where freedom of expression is not only permitted but encouraged.

At my campus, symposiums, teach-ins and lectures about religion, terrorism, central Asia, the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy have been organized recently. A teach-in entitled ``Background for Understanding'' drew hundreds of students, faculty and citizens from many political and intellectual perspectives. The audience had the opportunity to ask questions and comment freely. The discussion was lively and at times contentious.

As a microcosm of society, the university is a place where people of different ethnicities, religions, generations, and class backgrounds exchange ideas and opinions. Anyone who has visited Bay Area colleges knows that they are especially rich places for intercultural exchange.

The vigorous and often heated debates typical of such encounters are a hallmark of democratic processes. On most campuses this can still be done freely, but official accusations of anti-Americanism might intimidate and silence some voices.

That is not patriotism, but fascism. The American Council's position is inaccurate and irresponsible. Critique, debate, and exchange -- not blind consensus or self-censorship -- have characterized America since its inception.

Our universities are not failing America. On the contrary, they are among the few institutions offering alternatives to canned mainstream media reports.

The targeting of scholars who participate in civic debates might signal the emergence of a new McCarthyism directed at the academy. Before it escalates into a full-blown witch hunt in the name of ``defending civilization,'' faculty, students and citizens should speak out against these acts of academic terrorism.


Roberto J. Gonzalez is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at San Jose State University.

© 2001 The Mercury News.

© The New York Times

September 17, 2001

ESSAY: Of Human Missiles


WASHINGTON -- One Sunday morning a generation ago, the C.I.A. chief William Casey dropped in at my house for a cup of coffee and gruffed, "You got a map of Afghanistan?"

Not your usual request, but I found a world atlas. Casey's fingers stabbed at the map to show the strategic purpose of the Soviet Army's thrust southward into that nation. First, conquer Afghanistan; then take over neighboring Pakistan, thereby achieving the czarist dream of an opening to the Indian Ocean, leading to Communist victory in the cold war.

To counter Moscow's daring plan, we covertly supported the Afghans with guerrilla training and anti-aircraft weapons. Sure enough, with our secret aid and with the help of adventurous Muslim volunteers from all over -- including one rich young Saudi named Osama bin Laden -- the Afghans stunned the world by breaking the will of the Red Army. Our spymaster was prescient: that demoralizing, decade-long military defeat did begin the end of Communism's evil empire.

But the soldiers of misfortune triumphant in that war found further sponsorship from ayatollahs who took over Iran as well as dictators of Iraq, Libya and Syria. That gave impetus to a loosely linked, resentment-motivated terrorist empire usually lumped together as "radical Islam."

After the murder of thousands of American civilians by 19 suicide bombers, almost every Arab or Persian man in the U.S. has been receiving looks of fear or suspicion. Our leaders, recalling the unjust roundup of patriotic Japanese-Americans in World War II, rightly condemned such knee-jerk bigotry.

It was fitting that a Muslim cleric was among those chosen to offer their condolence at the National Cathedral memorial service. Other Muslim clergy have dissociated their religion from radical violence, and Arab- American groups have taken out ads expressing their revulsion at the crime and solidarity with the grief- stricken. But Muslims are uniquely equipped to undertake more specific action.

What are the two most powerful weapons the terrorists possess? First, the element of surprise, which we will try to reduce with closer surveillance, air marshals, biological and missile defenses, etc. A more powerful weapon of radical Islam is its ability to erase from the brains of recruits the basic will to live. The normal survival instinct is replaced with a pseudo- religious fantasy of a killer's self-martyrdom leading to eternity in paradise surrounded by adoring virgins. This perversion of one of the world's great faiths produces suicide bombers.

How to build a defense against the theological brainwashing that creates these human missiles? That is the challenge to Muslim clerics everywhere, not to mention Arab governments fearful of radical takeover. In recent months, official Palestinian stations have been broadcasting sly evocations of suicidal martyrdom, and over the weekend, in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, a radical cleric hailed America's black September as a victory for Islam.

Mainstream Muslim clergy need to step up in their mosques and in public * as many surely are now doing * to give the lie to the fanatics' perversion of their faith. It is for them, far more effectively than for members of other religions, to cite teachings from the Koran that forbid the murder of innocents and to warn that such murderers will suffer for their sins.

For many vulnerable clerics, a reminder of Allah's wrath would require great courage. But every religion has its local communications networks. Such specific refutation, repeated with fervor and broadcast in every language throughout the world, would begin to plant the seeds of doubt in the misled minds of the suicidal. The potential of eternal punishment rather than bliss would encourage at least some life-saving defections from the ranks of radicals seeking to take over Islam and destroy all other religions.

Political leaders are weighing the wisdom of invading Afghanistan or plastering other havens of terrorist cells. It may be that a not-so-holy alliance of democracies determined to end this scourge and autocracies afraid of internal terrorist takeover will unite in uncomfortable military collaboration and rampant realpolitik.

But if, at the same time, the great majority of peaceful Muslims can be helped to win their internal theological war, today's military solutions need not beget tomorrow's tragedies.

Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2001

You're on the 87th Floor, and Something's Terribly Wrong...

Survival: How three office mates, amid thousands of others, fled for their lives through a very tall trap.

By SCOTT GOLD, Times Staff Writer

Adam Mayblum enjoyed the storms that rumbled off the Atlantic. As they lashed his windows and strafed the steel beams, Adam would scoff: You think that's power? I'm on the 87th floor of the World Trade Center. That's power.

During the worst storms, the cords on his window shades would appear to sway a few inches, but it was an illusion. They actually hung straight, held steady by gravity. It was the tower that swayed, to absorb the weather.

When Adam felt the first rumble Tuesday morning, he glanced at the cords. They were oscillating like a pendulum, 3 feet in either direction.

He shot from his desk, turning his back on breakfast and e-mails to face the Statue of Liberty. Outside, pieces of paper fluttered through the air, "gently," he would say later, "on a breeze." He looked down at the tiny people staring up at him from 876 feet below and offered them a New York retort:

"What're you looking at?"

They were looking at terrorists ripping apart the World Trade Center.

It was 8:45 a.m., and American Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles, had just torn into the north side of Adam's building, the trade center's north tower. At 9:03, United Flight 175 would strike the south tower. At 9:50 a.m., the south tower would collapse. The north tower would follow at 10:28.

Adam Mayblum would find out all that much later.

For 103 minutes, he was one of thousands cast into an extraordinary purgatory. As many as 15,000 found their way to safety. Perhaps 5,000 did not.

For many, it was a matter of chance.

On the 87th floor of the north tower, one worker left his office and went to the bottom of the building to get a muffin. He lived. Another went to the bathroom. The roof collapsed on him, and he died.

Window washer apprentice Fabian Soto, three weeks on the job, low man on the union hall totem pole, was dispatched early Tuesday to wipe the nose-prints of tourists from the observation deck glass atop the north tower. He would not be seen again.

87th Floor

The confusion inside Adam's office at May Davis, where he is the managing director, lasted just seconds. He knew he needed to get out. The phones were still working, which seemed odd, and he called his son's nanny, told her to page his wife. There was a bomb, he said, but he was on his way out.

He took off his Van Heusen dress shirt, then ripped his T-shirt into pieces, soaked the pieces in water and gave them to some of his 13 colleagues to cover their faces. Among them: Harry Ramos, the head trader at the investment firm. Adam had worked with Harry off and on for 14 years. They were casual, beer-after-work friends.

Adam, 35, a native of Queens, put his shirt back on, grabbed his laptop and raced for the stairs through bright white smoke. Sparks bit at his ankles. He missed the stairs on his first pass. It was the World Trade Center. No one took the stairs.

After bolting two flights down, he realized that his partner and close friend, 46-year-old Hong Zhu, had been left behind. Adam went back upstairs and reached the office, now filled with smoke and burning jet fuel.

There was no sign of Hong, a quiet, private man, unmarried, devoted to his work and good at it.

He didn't make it out through the smoke, Adam thought.

He raced back down and made it to the 78th floor, a transfer lobby where one set of elevators and stairs ended and another began. He saw a stranger bravely staving off a wall of flames with a fire hose.

People were collapsing from the stress. Others tried to give comfort, stuffing a shirt under the head of the fallen before racing for the stairs.

Adam found Harry, wading into the pandemonium to help panicked workers into a safe stairwell. It was a reassuring sight, and a typical one. The trade center could be a competitive, back-stabbing workplace. But there is not one person, Adam said, who has ever said a bad thing about Harry, a father of two, a tall, handsome man.

Adam found another stairwell and began walking down again. His heart was beating faster and faster, and the muscles in his calves were contracting in spasms.

On the 53rd floor, Adam came across a heavyset man whose legs just wouldn't move anymore. The man was sitting on the stairs and said he needed help. Adam knew his bad back would make it hard to carry him, but he offered anyway. The man hesitated.

"Do you want to come, or do you want us to send help?" Adam shouted.

The man asked Adam to send help. Adam said he would.


The hijackers did not strike either tower with their wings level. Instead, they hit at an angle.

Twelve employees of the American Bureau of Shipping, a nonprofit group that promotes safety and property protection at sea, were on the 91st floor of the north tower when the first plane hit almost exactly at their level.

But they were on the northwest corner of the building. The bulk of the plane's fuselage entered the building about 100 feet south of them. The plane's left wing, banked toward the ground, wiped out the east side of the floor. But the plane's right wing, banked toward the sky, sliced through the office above them.

George Sleigh had been at work at ABS since about 7:30 a.m. He was in his cubicle, surrounded by technical shipping manuals.

"I heard this unusual sound. A roaring sound," he said. "As I looked up I saw the plane. I thought: 'This guy is really low.' "

A wing flashed past his eyes, followed by the plane's smooth belly. Then the world caved in. Down the hall from ABS, an office was obliterated. Above them, Marsh USA Inc., an insurance and risk management firm that occupied the 93rd through 100th floors, was hit badly. It would later report as many as 400 workers missing.

Sleigh, who occupied the easternmost desk in the ABS office, was buried under a pile of ceiling tiles and bookshelves. His colleagues were fine, as surprised they were still alive as they were that a plane had just crashed into their building. They dug Sleigh out, and they all escaped.

"I can't believe that I'm alive," Sleigh would later say. "I don't know why I was spared."

Tom McGinnis, a 41-year-old broker for Carr Futures, was on the 92nd floor of the north tower for a business meeting when the attack began. He called his wife, Iliana, his high school sweetheart and the mother of 4-year-old daughter Caitlin. He told her he could see people jumping from floors above him.

"This doesn't look good," he said. "There's no way out of this room. . . . I love you. Take care of Caitlin."

"Don't hang up," Iliana said. "Don't hang up. You are coming home."

She would not hear from him again.

53rd Floor

Hong was alive.

He had been behind Adam in the stairwell the whole time, but in the noise and the smoke and the sparks, Adam didn't know. They had apparently passed each other on stairwell A, Hong running down, Adam running up to rescue him.

When Hong got to the 53rd floor, he came across Harry Ramos. Harry had stopped to help the heavyset man--the same man Adam met earlier. "I'll give you a hand," Hong said.

Together, Harry and Hong helped the man down one more flight. They found an office, a securities firm, where the air-conditioning was working. While they tried to get a dose of cool air into the heavyset man's lungs, Hong found an elevator.

"No! No!" a Port Authority official screamed. "Don't take it!"

Hong and Harry tried to send a magazine down in the elevator. In the confusion of the moment, they reasoned that if the elevator came back, and the magazine was still inside, it would be safe. That was what passed for logic at the time. They pressed the "down" button, but the doors didn't close. So Hong decided that he would be the guinea pig instead.

He stepped inside, and the doors closed behind him.


In the center of each floor of the twin, 110-story towers at the World Trade Center, the hallways converged in a spot employees called the crossroads.

The path down began at that spot. In many cases, escape depended on choices--left or right, up or down, stairwell A or B, stay or go.

Roko Camaj, 61, had cleaned the windows of the World Trade Center since it opened in 1973. He was on the roof when the first plane struck, hanging the rigging for the machines that scrubbed the windows. He began racing down the stairs but was told on the 105th that he should return to the roof.

He called his wife on his cell phone and told her he was heading up to wait for a helicopter. Then she heard a scream. The line went dead. She wouldn't hear from him again.

Arlene Charles had a choice too.

An American Building Maintenance employee, she had started her shift at 5:45 a.m., turning on the elevators that had been shut down for the night.

Then, filling in for a vacationing co-worker, she headed to her assignment on the 78th-floor sky lobby and began saying "Good morning," in her Grenadan drawl, to the arriving executives. A group of visitors was headed to a breakfast conference at the Windows on the World restaurant.

The plane struck the north tower, just above her, about 15 minutes later.

"I squeezed between the desk, put my head down and put my jacket over my face," Charles said. "I was so scared to look up, but when I started peeking, I heard a lady screaming."

It was Carmen Griffith. They had worked together for 20 years, swapping stories as their children grew from toddlers to teenagers. Now Griffith, who had been standing nearby when a glob of burning jet fuel burst through the elevator shafts, was crawling toward her. Charles looked at Griffith's hands pawing at the floor. Skin was peeling from her fingers.

People sprinted past toward safety, but Charles refused to leave without her friend. With the help of an executive who stopped, she soaked Griffith with water from a nearby office, then picked her up and began a slow walk down 78 flights of stairs.

"She was crying," Charles said. "She was burning."

Charles' walkie-talkie crackled with static and voices all the way down as other workers with radios urged them on.

"I'd say: 'I'm on the fortysomething floor, on the twentysomething floor,' " Charles said. "They said: 'Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!' But I said: 'I can't hurry. I have to help Carmen.' "

Around the mid-40s, two men sprinted past them, then doubled back to help. Together, they made it out after 90 minutes, 15 minutes before the collapse, Griffith alive but with burns on 60% of her body.

44th Floor

Adam was progressing steadily toward freedom, stopping occasionally to counsel people from his office, to usher a few of them into the line ahead of him.

His cell phone rang. It was his parents, calling from Delray Beach, Fla. Adam was nervous but betrayed little of his fear. They were hysterical.

"Get out," his father said sternly.

"Relax," Adam said. "I'm fine."

And he was, in a way. He wasn't hurt. He was making good progress. He felt oddly bored. He couldn't believe it himself. But he was.

Harry and Hong, meanwhile, were in trouble.

Hong took the elevator down to the 44th floor, the next transfer lobby. So far, so good. He pressed "52," went back up and collected Harry and the heavyset man.

On 44--halfway down--Hong, Harry and the heavyset man got off the elevator and stumbled across the lobby toward the last bank of elevators that would take them all the way down.

Hong pressed the "down" button again. Nothing. They would have to take the stairs.

Harry and Hong each took an arm of the heavyset man and draped them over their shoulders. "One floor at a time," Hong said. "One step at a time."

They had been trying to get out for an hour and five minutes. They were on the 39th floor when they felt the south tower collapse.

"We really have to move," Hong said.

The rumbles of the collapsing tower next door seemed to sap the heavyset man of his last gasps of energy. He sat down again.

"I can't move my legs," he said. "I can't do it anymore."

The Stairs

In both towers, the stairs were a lifeline that grew increasingly frayed as time passed.

It takes a long time to walk down 90 flights of stairs.

"It was not designed for quick evacuation," said Thomas A. Humphreys, a Brown & Wood attorney who escaped once from the firm's 57th-floor offices after the 1993 car-bombing at the trade center, and then again Tuesday. "You had to get everyone in our building out in 90 minutes. That's tough."

At first, even in the upper floors, the exodus was calm and orderly. Someone had time to break into a vending machine and pass out grape sodas. Someone made a joke about how the water from sprinklers and fire hoses was ruining their shoes.

"I was at the tail end of the crowd," said Humphreys. "You wait. People are orderly. It's crowded and it's slow. You go down a few steps and it would stop. Some of the stops were five minutes. You don't know why."

As time passed, the stairs became increasingly crowded. Heat began to build, dust poured into the stairwells and the water was around their ankles.

All the while, the building was coming apart. Walls creaked and then cracked.

"It seemed we were walking down very calm, very orderly . . . and all of a sudden you felt like the ground was falling out from under you," said Claiborne Johnston, who escaped from the 64th floor of the south tower.

"You knew the structure had been altered severely, and the rest of the way down you could feel that."

Veterans of the 1993 bombing knew that stairwell B--there were three in all, A, B and C--was the widest and could accommodate the most people.

On most passes of most staircases, there was room for two people to stand side by side, but that didn't last long. From the top, the injured were being carried out, and those who could walk were forced to step aside.

Near the 40th floor, workers began encountering the firefighters coming up, many of them carrying heavy gear and sweating profusely.

Receptionist Dianne DeFontes took to the stairs from her law office on the 89th floor. After walking down 50 floors, she ran into the first wave of firefighters, their ruddy faces peering up the stairs.

"You're going to be all right," one of the firefighters said.

"I thought, they're going up there and they may not come back down," she said. "The night that I came home I couldn't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I saw a face. I thought, they may not have wives or girlfriends, but they all have mothers, and they're going to be devastated."

39th Floor

Hong was screaming at the heavyset man to move.

"You don't have to move your legs!" Hong shouted, as Harry waited with him. "Just move your butt. Slide down, one at a time. He moved two steps, and that was it. He couldn't go on. 'Let's go!' I shouted."

A firefighter ran up to them. Hong expected that he would join in to get the heavy man to move. Instead, the firefighter turned to Hong. The firefighter knew what they could not: For the stragglers, it was too late.

"Who the [expletive] are you, screaming at him to get out?" the firefighter shouted. "You get out!"

"I wanted to help," Hong said. "But at that moment, I didn't see how we could."

Hong looked at Harry, who was still standing with the heavyset man.

"I'm coming down with you," Harry told the man. "I'm not going to leave."

"I left," Hong said. "Alone."

Adam was nearing the bottom. Still trudging down the stairs, he told everyone around him to link hands. They ended up at a courtyard where a pleasant fountain had been just an hour earlier. Now it was a pile of ash, dust, gnarled metal and body parts.

His cell phone rang as the group headed toward Houston Street. It was his wife. Adam fell to his knees.

"Hong is alive," she told him.

The Reunion

Yesterday, the skies cleared over New York, a bright and chilly fall day. Just over the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan, a small group gathered at the tree-shaded home of Owen May, one of the May Davis presidents. They lit the barbecue about noon.

Adam was there. Hong was there too. Micky Ramos, Harry's wife, was there.

And there was one guest with only the slightest connection to the investment company.

Adam, like many survivors, had grown weary of telling his story to his friends and relatives. So he sent them an e-mail describing the ordeal. And they sent the e-mail to their friends and relatives, who sent it to their friends and relatives.

At 2:50 a.m. Saturday, his phone rang. The e-mail had made it to San Francisco, where it was read by someone who knew a woman in New York named Rebecca Ward--and knew that Rebecca's husband, a heavyset man, was missing. The San Francisco man got in touch with Rebecca Ward, who called Adam. The heavyset man was her husband, Victor.

On Saturday afternoon, Rebecca Ward came to Owen May's house to learn how Victor was comforted in his last moments, how Harry refused to leave him behind.

Harry's wife was walking around with a floor plan of the World Trade Center.

She questioned everyone who had been inside the north tower, convinced that somehow, Harry--the only May Davis employee still missing--is alive.

She developed a picture of his escape, learned that Harry was on 87 when the plane hit, that he stopped to help on 78, that he met up with Hong on 53.

But as hard as she pushed, as many questions as she asked, the picture began to fade after that.

And finally, on stairwell A of the 36th floor, it went dark.


Times staff writers Lee Romney, Nicholas Riccardi, Geoffrey Mohan, Solomon Moore, Doug Smith, Abigail Goldman, Carla Rivera, Henry Weinstein, Ted Rohrlich, Steve Berry, John L. Mitchell, Kurt Streeter, Mimi Avins, Jeffrey Rabin, Robin Fields, Patrick J. McDonnell, Jocelyn Y. Stewart and Massie Ritsch in Los Angeles, and Jill Leovy in New York contributed to this story.

The terrorist attack on America: an astrological perspective

by Liz Greene

The astrological portrait of an event always presents us with many layers of meaning and implies a situation more complex than is apparent on the surface. The terrible terrorist attack on America on 11th September 2001 is no exception. Since that day, numerous articles have appeared on the internet offering an astrological interpretation of what has happened, and many of these can aid in our understanding. No amount of interpretation of planetary symbols will mitigate the grief and outrage felt by so many people, nor will it affect the decisions made by governments which do not avail themselves of astrological insights. However, astrological insights can sometimes help the individual to find a more balanced perspective. It seems to me that, in the present astrological climate, [1] a balanced perspective is badly needed in the wake of such a terrifying and terrible event.

1. The chart of the event

1st WTC Explosion 11 September 2001, 8.45 am, New York City, New York

Like many charts for the inception of war, the chart set for the collision of the first hijacked aircraft with the World Trade Centre building contains a deceptively benign aspect. There is a powerful and apparently harmonious configuration between the planets Mercury, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.[2] It is not my intention to discuss the horary or predictive implications of this chart - other astrologers who specialise in these perspectives have already done this elsewhere - but rather, the deeper picture it portrays of the collective psyche at the moment of the attack. Like the similar benign configuration in the inception chart for World War Two,[3] this set-up of planets is telling us something we may not wish to recognise: it is easy for such events to occur when the collective psyche floats in a state of complacency and unawareness. Such planetary configurations are aspects of ease and reflect gifts and innate aptitudes in an individual's chart, but they can also connote a naive assumption that all is well in the world. It is the 'difficult' or 'inharmonious' aspects[4] which force us to become conscious and work at containing our conflicts and developing our potentials. This chart contains a striking juxtaposition of both types of aspect - a grand trine and a T-cross. It is characteristic, when this occurs in an individual's chart, for the trines to dominate initially, and the hard aspects to register through a crisis of some kind which forces the person to face painful realities they would prefer to avoid. This planetary alignment is in the astrological element of air - concerned with ideas, ideals, and concepts - and perhaps reflects the dangerously self-satisfied idealism with which we in the Western world began the week of 9th September. The dominance of political correctness over human reality, and the belief that it can solve the world's problems, may be one of many things which has just come to an abrupt end.

Other aspects in this chart are aggressive and potentially very destructive. Treated with consciousness in an individual's chart, they can be productive of extremely positive results. When they appear as the signature of the climate of the moment, they can be explosive.[5] The aspects of 11th September portray this event as being rooted in ideological conflicts, the underlying drumbeat being the fanaticism and intolerance which have yearly been on the increase in every nation of the world.[6] The focus of the tension is the sphere of the horoscope concerned with ancestral ghosts, inheritance from the past, traditionally the house of 'secret enemies'.[7] From a psychological perspective, this area of the birth chart is concerned with patterns in the collective unconscious which stretch back over many generations. In short, this explosive configuration of hard aspects describes the fruition of issues of anger, aggression, scapegoating, and fanaticism which have their roots in a much longer past.

I do not believe it is possible to take the chart for an event, or the transits over a national chart, and foretell what will 'happen' in concrete terms. Sometimes a transit picture over a national chart is highly suggestive when linked with knowledge of political affairs, as was the case with the Soviet Union in 1989.[8] But the configurations here are not that obvious. Threatening and disturbing, yes; clear and simple, no. Many people are now proudly declaring, with hindsight, how easy it is to read the events of 11 September in this chart, and in the transits across the chart of the USA, discussed below. This is a facile pronouncement. So are the various prognostications of the End of the World, which have been around for as long as the world has. Claiming to have such foreknowledge may give a feeling of personal power and importance, but it might be more constructive - and truthful - to admit not only our ignorance but also our need to look objectively at many different levels and perspectives to try to make sense of the catastrophe which has just occurred and steer our way to a future which is constructive rather than destructive. If we believe there is any possibility of free will and any capacity to work on difficult configurations to generate creative rather than destructive results, we must accept the fact that the terrorist attack on America was not 'fated'.

It is also pointless to declare how it could have been avoided if so-and-so had done or not done such-and-such. There are too many 'if only's being thrown about, and perhaps also too many smug declarations of blame in every direction, including self-blame. This is not helpful and is rather like telling someone with cancer that it's their 'fault' because they didn't sort out their psychological problems or ate the wrong food ten years before. We need to look at the meaning of these events first, and then look forward to how we can turn a great evil into an opportunity for bettering things. Of course America has a psychological 'shadow'. So does every other nation in the world. At some point it may be appropriate to explore the nature of that shadow. But just as no amount of self-analysis can protect an individual from the unexpected, no amount of self-analysis can protect a nation from the unexpected either. Those who assume that terrorist acts are the inevitable 'result' of a nation's failings are, in effect, attributing logic, fairness, and justice to people who abandoned logic, justice, and fairness long ago.

Whether in an individual's, a nation's, or an event's chart, the contrast between a benign configuration reflecting lofty and noble humanitarian ideals, and a stressful configuration reflecting elements of scapegoating, aggression, obsessive fanaticism, and potential violence born of impotent rage is striking.[9] Benign configurations in a birth chart often hide a multitude of sins. Psychologically, we tend to hide behind our gifts and aptitudes to avoid the pain of dealing with our limitations and conflicts. It could be said that the collective - globally, and not just in America - was in precisely this state of hopeful denial of reality on the morning of 11th September.

The New York Times, September 12, 2001

Absorbing a Blow to the Heart of America's Financial Center


Reeling from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many corporations across the country suspended operations yesterday, closing offices, scrambling plans and struggling to maintain contact with workers.

Business on Wall Street and in much of downtown New York came to a virtual halt, and office buildings in major cities, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and the John Hancock Tower in Boston, were evacuated. Several major corporations — including DaimlerChrysler in the Detroit area; the drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, in Philadelphia and Research Triangle Park, N.C.; and the insurer Cigna in Philadelphia — chose to send many of their employees home. Some shopping malls across the country were also closed. Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm, two large theme parks in Southern California, were shut down for at least the day.

During the course of the day, the businesses most directly affected by the attack on the World Trade Center — including many Wall Street firms — were groping to assess the impact of the events.

Many businesses were reluctant to speak in detail about their plans, saying that they were still trying to communicate with their employees and had not yet decided what they would do the next few days. Morgan Stanley, one of the world's largest investment banks, employs some 3,500 people in the World Trade Center, many at its individual-investor operations. It said it was working with officials to determine the facts regarding employees' safety.

Raymond Pfeister, the vice chairman of Fred Alger Management, an investment firm with some 30 employees at its headquarters at the World Trade Center, was not at the office because he had a lunch appointment in Greenwich, Conn. "I am thankful for my life," he said. "We're focusing all we can right now on consoling our people and their families."

In the aftermath of the February 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center, Fred Alger made the decision to move the bulk of its work force to New Jersey, where some 170 employees work. Fred Alger, the firm's founder, also survived the attack, according to Mr. Pfeister.

"I'm not sure when we'll return to normal," he added.

Other businesses — including Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse First Boston — evacuated employees from lower Manhattan and were doing what they could to resume operations. But while many businesses planned to ask essential employees to return to work, many said they did not expect to be able to resume local operations the next day or so.

Deutsche Bank is transferring its operations to a back-up system to be able to handle trades and track accounts, while Merrill Lynch says it has contingency plans and is able to operate. The Wall Street Journal, a unit of Dow Jones with headquarters in a building across from the World Trade Center, planned to edit today's issue at other sites, including offices in Hong Kong and New Jersey.

Many companies braced for the news that employees had died in the air crashes or in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Akamai Technologies, a Cambridge, Mass., Internet company, announced that one of the people on the hijacked flight from Boston to Los Angeles was Daniel C. Lewin, one of its founders and the company's chief technology officer.

The events rippled through the nation's financial system. The Federal Reserve moved swiftly to make money available to banks, and banking executives said there was little sign of panic withdrawals.

Commerce Bancorp, based in Cherry Hill, N.J., had a fairly normal day as well, David Flaherty, a bank spokesman said.

"We have seen some isolated instances in our northern branches, primarily in Bergen County, of folks taking out more cash than they normally would on a Tuesday," he said. "But down in Cherry Hill, it has been pretty much business as usual."

Mr. Flaherty said that because of the attack, Commerce Bank would delay indefinitely the opening of two branches in Manhattan, which had been scheduled on Friday.

Robbie Jennings, a vice president at the Fifth Third Corporation in Cincinnati, said it operated as usual yesterday.

"We are counseling customers to work with us, to remain calm and not to move large sums of money," Ms. Jennings said. "And they are not moving lots of money." She said the bank was overseeing a blood drive.

The airline industry — already hard hit by the downturn in business travel, high fuel prices and rising labor costs — is expected to have significant losses from the grounding of flights across the country.

"It will be wildly expensive in terms of immediate loss and down the road in terms of additional costs for whatever additional security measures will be necessary," said Jon Austin, a former executive at Northwest Airlines.

With airlines grounded, meanwhile, many businesses in New York and elsewhere focused on making sure their employees had somewhere to stay.

Other companies chose to cancel plans. Ricoh, the copier maker, for example, called off a sales event at the Javits Center in Manhattan for 6,000 employees and customers and may not reschedule it, said Jim Ivy, president of its office products group in West Caldwell, N.J.

"Where my heart's at right now, I don't know if I could reschedule another event in New York," he said. "Because of the effect this terrorist attack had on the most active city in the U.S., I don't know if my employees will feel safe now."

Nor were decisions to significantly scale down operations limited to the New York area. The Charles Schwab Corporation, based in San Francisco, closed 60 branch offices near state or federal office buildings and gave managers the discretion to close additional offices. In San Francisco, employees were told to stay home if they had not come to work or to leave their offices if they had, though the company was keeping call centers open and its Web site operational.

FedEx, which grounded its 660 aircraft, said it expected to increase its use of ground transportation. "Keep in mind that we have contingency plans every day of the year for weather, for political instability in certain countries, for strikes, for unrest," said Jeff Bunn, a company spokesman. The company said yesterday that it was expecting delays of up to two days on deliveries.

Many businesses, of course, remained open. Most of the employees at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm with large offices in Midtown Manhattan, chose to remain at work, according to a spokesman. Security was tightened.

"We're keeping the office open, but if people want to leave, they can," Owen Dougherty, a spokesman for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, said of the New York office. Thompson is part of the WPP Group.

Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, N.J., also said it was trying to remain open. "Our first priority today is that we can meet any medical needs," a spokesman said.

And other retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores, remained open.