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The Aftermath
An Essay by NPR's Alex Chadwick

audio Listen to Alex Chadwick's commentary on the aftermath of Tuesday's catastrophic events.

Alex Chadwick
Alex Chadwick

This is what happened.

At one minute before eight o'clock, American Airlines Flight 11 leaves Boston with 92 people -- including hijackers -- bound for Los Angeles. Within 15 minutes, two more similar cross country flights are airborne.

At 8:45 a.m., the first plane flies directly into the upper portion of the north tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. News bulletins report a disaster... there may be tens of thousands of people in the towers.

Eighteen minutes later, a second plane strikes the south tower midway up. Cameras catch the horrific fireball. Everyone at the same instant knows that this event is something much more terrible than a catastrophic accident. People begin calling family and friends, "Are you safe? Are you listening? Are you watching? Have you heard?"

9:40 a.m.: Across the river from Washington, D.C., a third comandeered suicide plane comes hurtling into the Pentagon. News bulletins first report a nearby plane crash, then a fire. But it is soon clear that this, too, is terrorism. Trading on Wall Street is suspended.

9:48 a.m.: The White House and the Capitol Building are evacuated. From Florida, where he is on an official visit, President Bush flies to safety. The government will not disclose his location.

9:49 a.m.: All airports in the U.S. are ordered to close immediately.

9:50 a.m.: The crippled south tower of the World Trade Center collapses. Unknown numbers of rescuers and office workers are caught inside.

10:00 a.m.: A fourth airliner crashes near Pittsburgh. A 911 center heard someone on the plane call for help.

10:29 a.m.: The north tower collapses, trapping many more people. Within the hour, Mayor Giuliani asks for an evacuation of lower Manhattan. Power is out, phone lines jammed. Schools close there, and in many other places as well. The United Nations shuts down. Government buildings across the country are evacuated. The Securities and Exchange Commission closes all US financial markets... all before noon... four hours.

We want to get even. We'd like to find those who did this -- cowards and thugs. But difficult as it is, we might look back at those four hours, and ask if that looks like the work of cowards and thugs. Do they act with determination and discipline over many months, are they capable of carrying out a carefully plotted, coordinated attack that shuts down the most powerful country the world has ever known. Whoever they are, we know that when they moved against us, they acted out of hatred. But we can also see that they acted with calculation. They knew their enemy -- they knew us. We have to ask, how well do we know them?

Alex Chadwick is a correspondent and subsitute host for Morning Edition and has been with NPR since 1977.