Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

An affront to civilization

"I thought, ‘My god, I’m watching people die.


"I thought, ‘My god, I’m watching people die.’" — a resident of south Manhattan who watched the World Trade Center burn and then collapse

Most of us only saw the horrific images of jetliners crashing into two massive buildings on videotape, and then those buildings disintegrating. The 266 people on four hijacked airplanes and the thousands who worked in the World Trade Center and Pentagon buildings remained hidden, their fate left to our imaginations.

There is no videotape of the people sitting at their office desks when the planes struck and the 2000-degree fire fed by jet fuel liquidated entire floors. No television images to show the horror workers felt as they realized their doom and waited for the end.

Every routine, every habit this city knew was fractured yesterday. If a flight full of commuters can be turned into a missile of war, everything is dangerous. If four planes can be taken over simultaneously by suicidal hijackers, then we can never be quite sure again that any bad intention can be thwarted, no matter how irrational or loathsome. We have nearly all had occasion to wonder how civilians who suddenly found their country at war and themselves under attack managed to frame some memory of life as it once was. Now we know. We look back at sunrise yesterday through pillars of smoke and dust, down streets snowed under with the atomized debris of the skyline, and we understand that everything has changed.

— from a Sept. 12, 2001 New York Times editorial

The massiveness of the World Trade Center, so great that it had its own zip code, was always something to marvel over. That it could be reduced to rubble, leaving a great hole in the New York skyline and a Pompeii-like ash over much of the city, so quickly is shocking. But it’s the inhumanity of the terrorist act that defies comprehension. Thousands of lives lost and families torn apart, scattered in the wind like the office papers that still floated over New York hours after the collapse of the buildings.

For where is the might in hijacking a plane full of innocent civilians and crashing it into a building filled with more innocent civilians? This is not a show of power and strength. It is a show of cold-hearted brutality perpetrated by fanatics who have discarded all pretense of humanity or morality.

— Globe and Mail editorial, Sept. 12

It has been several generations since the tenets of our society have been so openly challenged – and it is our society, the society that everyone who believes in human decency belongs to, not just the United States, that has been challenged. Even though the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are two of the most powerful symbols of American financial and military power, this was an act against all of us.

" This is a crime against the foundations of our common humanity." — Mary McAleese, president of Ireland

The impact to our psyche of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist assault won’t be fully measured for some time. But as new depths of inhumanity have been discovered this week, people have also risen to new levels of courage and humanity in response. Firefighters, rescue workers, paramedics, ordinary people donating blood, these are the people who give hope at a time when the questions are unanswerable.

"It is impossible to fully comprehend the evil that would have conjured up such a cowardly and depraved assault." — Prime Minister Jean Chretien