Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 2001-2002

When we put the last issue of G&LH to bed, the events of 11 September had not happened. As you read this issue, much more has happened that has caused millions of words to be written, encompassing a myriad viewpoints from people of all religions and none, from politicians, from military men (usually men), from journalists and commentators – and, indeed, contributors have shared their own thoughts with us in other parts of the magazine.

So much has happened that we occasionally need to be reminded of the catalyst, the event that commentators say has changed the world. Here, our own correspondent, Warren Allen Smith, gives us his account written almost as the attack on the World Trade Center was happening.

Smith is a gay humanist activist and journalist who lives in Greenwich Village, New York. He has written for US humanist publications and, of course, contributes the Gossip From Across the Pond column to G&LH. Here is his description of that fateful morning.

When Hell Came to Manhattan

by Warren Allen Smith

Anyone who has been to my apartment knows that my panoramic view includes the World Trade towers – they’re perhaps a little over a mile away, and there are no buildings in between to obstruct my view. I wake up looking at the towers, I look at them all day while at my computer, and when I lie down to go to sleep I look at the beautiful lights, which stay on all night and for that matter all day, too.

When Mardi my neighbor telephoned around 09:00 yelling for me to look out my window, I’d gone back to sleep, having gotten up as usual at 04:30 to work on my book, Celebrities in Hell, then taken a nap at 08:30. She exclaimed that she didn’t understand how I could not have heard the explosion. I had, however, heard a plane fly low and directly over my apartment building – doesn’t he know it’s illegal to fly over residential areas? I thought to myself! (Only later did I learn that Mohammed Atta’s co-pilot had been Allah himself.) I looked out my window, and the north tower had indeed been hit 10 or 20 floors from the top, smoke billowing out. I rang bells on my floor for those who don’t have my view, then returned with one neighbor and together we watched a plane which I presumed was taking photos of the conflagration. But, no, it zoomed right into the south tower, and flames shot out, this time more toward the bottom of the skyscraper. My feeling? This couldn’t be a movie, could it?

I telephoned Peter, my computer guy who lives nearby, and was going to stop by anyway to put more memory into my G-4, and he joined me just in time to see the smoke from the two towers billowing over all of the Wall Street area. Something appeared to be falling from windows of the north tower – I’m afraid what I saw were people jumping!

As we watched, yet another hit! The TV was blaring, and before long it was speculated that a third plane had hit. However, we could clearly see that, no, no third plane was there. It was an implosion. The building had simply collapsed. Smoke now really increased, and one could imagine people on the ground unable to see where they were going. Then, it appeared despite all the smoke that the building may have buckled. Surely enough, little by little, it was possible to see only the one building standing! Then, and no words can explain the feelings, no, no, no, now the north tower also was falling. Now stupendous smoke! In all likelihood any of the thousands who may have been able to get downstairs in the buildings were down below, looking up at what had happened. And then with all the rescue equipment and people there, both buildings down! And they must have been trapped and covered over, too!

Meanwhile, the telecasts talked about the Pentagon and other problems. But all I could think of was the loss of life on those hijacked airplanes plus the thousands who were just starting work in the towers and were gone in a second! St Vincent’s Hospital is two blocks away, and the ambulance sirens increased even more than usual!

One assumes the terrorists were Muslim. It’s clear where this will lead. In short, there’s just no place that’s safe for a non-believer like me!

It’s now over 2 hours later. I look out as I type and I see nothing but a huge, huge cloud of smoke. Presumably the massive towers fell into a huge pile of rubble, bodies and everything in a pile! No television picture can really capture what I’m seeing.

An occasional plane now flies over, and my mind goes back to the war when in Reims we were able to detect the difference in sound of a Nazi or an American plane. Sorry to say, in those days the French came out to look if they heard a Nazi plane but they ran for the shelters if it was an American plane – we dropped a dozen bombs which landed helter-skelter, whereas the Nazis focused carefully, or so the opinions ran at that time.

At any rate, I’m safe. I have electricity. And I have drinking water. Until terrorists take that path, too!

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Created : Sunday, 2002-02-17 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :