Letters We Sent After September 11

I wrote this piece for City Journal after going back and re-reading the letters I sent in the week that followed. I wanted to know what I had really been thinking, not what memory told me I’d been thinking. I remember seeing the images on television, over and over, and the emotions; I remember writing to friends in New York and Washington to make sure they were okay, and writing to friends in the military and reserves to see if they would be called up, But I remember myself as dazed, and the letters suggest otherwise: I was thinking quite clearly. 

What surprised me most is that several days later, after the initial shock, I sent an e-mail to a friend asking some very sober, rational questions about what our military strategy might be. Ten years later, I’ve yet to see a coherent answer to them. 

Did you save the e-mail you sent that week? If you can bear to read it–it was very hard for me–is there anything in it that surprises you now? 

I put the most interesting ones in that article, but here’s one I left out. 

Salon reports that you New Yorkers are all having frantic “terror sex.” Evidently, heady with overwhelming emotion, you’re all grabbing each other off the streets and shagging as if there’s no tomorrow — having had a vivid demonstration that indeed, there may not be a tomorrow. Is this true? Hey, I’m terrified too, why don’t I get to have terror sex? All I’m getting is terror cat-in-my-lap.

  1. Jimmy Carter

    “‘They must pay for it with a city,’ he said.”

    Sounds nuclear to Me.

  2. Herkybird

    Like most people, 9/11 left me stunned. Being too old for military service I didn’t think there was much I could do about it until President Bush announced a parallel humanitarian relief operation to run in tandem with the military response.  I immediately volunteered and so spent the winter of 2001/02 flying an old Lockheed Hercules painted in UN World Food Programme livery around Afghanistan delivering food and medical supplies .

    For security reasons we were based in the rather ramshackle capitol city of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, which I was surprised to find actually had an Internet Cafe from which I could send e-mails home to friends and family describing what I saw and did. Reading those yellowing pages over again recently and remembering back in time,  the thing that surprises me most is that we’re still there ten years later.

    For anyone interested, the story is available on Amazon under the title The Very Best of Intentions but you have to have a Kindle to read it

  3. Stu In Tokyo

    I sell liquor for a living, wine etc here in Tokyo, I have an American buddy who sells meat here, I was introducing him to a group of liquor shop owners that we belong to, so he could sell them his products, during his presentation, everyone’s cell phones started going off. I could not believe what I was hearing, and we went to another room at the shop we were having the meeting at that had a TV, a nice big 42″ TV we turned it on and maybe 30 seconds later saw the second plane hit the WTC. We were in shock. I have been fortunate enough to have a large number of friends in the US military who have been based here in Japan, I talked to many of them right after the event, one guy who was rather high up in the war gaming part of the planing of things said something that still rings true to this day, he said “If that is their best shot, we will be OK, but, this changes EVERYTHING”.

    Domo

  4. John Peabody

    That is actually something that I remember, that is, I remember reading this SOMEWHERE a few weeks after the date. Didn’t affect me…I was separated from mr family, serving the Army at Ft. Stewart.

  5. Claire Berlinski
    C
    Herkybird: For anyone interested, the story is available on Amazon under the title The Very Best of Intentions but you have to have a Kindle to read it · Sep 10 at 4:41am

    I just looked on Amazon (I don’t have a Kindle, but I wanted to know more). I couldn’t find it. A link, perhaps?

  6. Basil Fawlty

    Here you go.  You can also read it on your computer or phone with one of the free Kindle readers.

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

     Herkybird: For anyone interested, the story is available on Amazon under the title The Very Best of Intentions but you have to have a Kindle to read it · Sep 10 at 4:41am 

     I just looked on Amazon (I don’t have a Kindle, but I wanted to know more). I couldn’t find it. A link, perhaps? · Sep 10 at 7:50am
  7. Scott R

     My wedding aniversary was soon after, and I remember in the card to my wife I was way more personal and open and intense than I’m normally inclined to be. Couldn’t help it.

    And if we had “terror sex” that night, it’s only because she saw me naked.

  8. Nick Stuart

    Never too late to experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Sexual Desire).

  9. Johnny Dubya

    There was a period during which I maintained a blog, and the following is a link to a post from from that blog, three years after 9/11: 

    http://thiswickedworld.blogspot.com/2004/09/dispatch-from-war-zone.html

    The post reprints the email I sent to friends and family on 9/12/01.  (The blog version, while otherwise unchanged from the original, does contain pseudonyms for me and my family.)

    The last post of the blog, from Sep. 2006, contains some pictures I took of the devastation: 

    http://thiswickedworld.blogspot.com/2006/09/five-years-later-ii.html

    What was most surprising to me about the political aftermath is expressed in a blog post from Sep. 2006:  

    “I am saddened by the partisan bickering regarding the war on Islamofascism. After witnessing the attacks, not only did I know instantly that Osama bin Laden was responsible and that we would have to invade Afghanistan, but I very soon realized that in a post-9/11 world, there was no way that the status quo with Iraq could be allowed to continue.”

    I still don’t understand why some people don’t “get” that.

  10. Johnny Dubya

    The due date for my son was 9/11/02.  I guess we had delayed PTSD.  All kidding aside, for two weeks following the attacks I couldn’t go back to work because of the conditions around my office building, but I wasn’t much use anyway because I was pretty much a zombie.  Romance was the last thing on my mind.

  11. Doctor Bean

    Wonderful article, Claire. Thank you for sharing it.

    “‘They must pay for it with a city,’ he said. I wish I knew exactly what he meant.”

    Given his experience in the War, don’t you think he meant that we should repeat in Baghdad or Cairo or Riyadh what we did in Dresden?

  12. Jerry Broaddus
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    …Hey, I’m terrified too, why don’t I get to have terror sex? All I’m getting is terror cat-in-my-lap.

    Something about that phrase doesn’t bring to mind any type of comfort.