Children and the September 11th Terrorist Attack

Children and the September 11th Terrorist Attack

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On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 my youngest daughter went to school just as millions of other kids were doing across the US. She started her day gabbing and laughing with classmates when she was supposed to be watching the schools in house news show and announcements on closed circuit television. The same routine she followed every morning.

When a teacher from a neighboring classroom rushed in, obviously in a panic, yelling, "Change the channel…change the channel. A plane has hit the World Trade Center." My daughter's teacher switched the station to the first available news program and then pulled the distraught intruder to the back of the room in order to calm her while, at the same time, trying to see what was happening on the television. The children sat and watched the burning tower, speculating as to the cause of the event, whether accident or intentional, just as the news anchors were doing. A passenger jet appeared from the left side of the screen, it did a slight roll and disappeared behind the damaged building and emerged from the right side of the second tower as a ball of fire, smoke and debris. The distraught teacher screamed, the kids sat staring in stunned silence with jaws hanging and a lone child said, "They want to kill us."

The day had changed from the routine to the surreal. Caught in a living nightmare and wanting to do something, but not knowing what, someone in the schools administration decided to issue a yellow alert. This was part of a response program intended to address the possibility of armed intrusion. It had absolutely no bearing on the current situation. What it did do was prohibit the teachers and students from leaving their classrooms, there were to be no exceptions.

With nowhere to go and no possibility of returning to a normal environment the students spent the day watching the horror unfold. They watched the falling debris they would later discover was comprised of paper, building fragments and panicked jumping victims. They saw the aftermath of two more passenger planes being used as guided missiles and wondered, how far would this go and when would it end?

Later that afternoon I sat with my children and discussed the events of the day. All three had unending questions. "Why did this happen?" "Would it happen again?" "Why were we so hated?" "Why did people want to kill us?

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" I answered the questions as best as I could without deceiving them while trying not to increase their fears.

During our conversation, one thing became very clear, my children had personalized the attack. When my children watched the attacks, they received the intended message loud and clear. "We can reach you, we shall touch you, and we will kill you."

There was a very telling event several days later. My youngest daughter's school is in the flight path of a very busy international airport that lies only half a mile away. On the day, the FAA authorized the resumption of domestic air travel the children in my daughter's class heard the very ordinary sound of a jets engines growing loud with approach. The kids panicked and, acting as one, all dove under their desks for cover. After realizing what had happened, they laughed nervously and returned to their seats.

The impact this day had on my children is profound. I was raised in an environment of ever-present dread due to the cold war and the threat of a nuclear holocaust. As a result, I had hoped and come to believe my children would live a life free of fear, a life in which the international community would be a source of interest and concern, not consuming anxiety.

On September 11, 2001, those hopes and beliefs were destroyed. I had the gall to believe that as a child I knew fear. But my experiences pale when compared to those of my children. Where I once had a phantom Mushroom Cloud my children now have the image of the very real terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.
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