Congrats to 2008 Mountainfilm guest Laurie Garrett who just published I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks.
All of my adult life I have earned my keep by bearing witness. As a journalist, writer, broadcaster and analyst I had endeavored to stand on the outside, looking into history as events unfolded before my eyes. Epidemics, wars, famines, and grand human struggles have been the paragraphs of my articles and tomes, spanning three decades. I watched, and dissected the steadily expanding plague of our times, starting in 1981 in San Francisco, and eventually all over the AIDS-afflicted world. In Siberia and the Caucasus I studiously noted the falling life expectancies of the post-Cold War masses. In my role in life as objective observer I honed the skills necessary to provide emotional distance from the events that I chronicled.
But September 11th 2001 shattered such refined techniques. Even as I rushed down to the Brooklyn Bridge, and salmon-like made my way upstream, against the tide of humanity, towards attacked Manhattan, I felt profound rage and grief. How dare they destroy our buildings, attack my city, kill my people? How dare they!
The studied exercise in distancing grew even more anemic when a month later I received a phone call from a top federal security official, warning me that I ought not open my mail. I just might, the official alarmingly said, be a target for an anthrax attack.
From Day One, September 11th, I sent a daily missive to a few dozen close friends and colleagues, written in the form of something that mixed my practiced sense of news reporting and objectivity with the much less comfortable diary entry, laden with emotions. And on the first anniversary of the attacks in 2002 I realized that I needed to know more, hoping to solve great mysteries.