September 11, 2001: 'Michael, This Is the Beginning of WW III'

(AP Photo/Daniel Hulshizer, File)

It was a beautiful sunny morning on Monday, August 27, 2001. I was aboard a Delta flight from Indianapolis to New York City on a business trip with a colleague. As we flew up the Hudson River, my colleague, in the window seat, nudged me, pointed out the window, and said “There’s the World Trade Center,” which was always a sight to behold from that view. Fifteen days later, the World Trade Center would be gone.

It was a beautiful sunny morning on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, in Indianapolis. I was sitting at my desk in my office, engrossed in a financial plan I was working on for a new client when the phone suddenly rang — suddenly, in the respect that it snapped my mind out of the asset allocation model I was debating with myself. It was my wife. Before she said a word, I sensed something was wrong. It was.

“Turn on the TV — a plane just flew into the World Trade Center,” she said, obviously concerned, yet not nearly as much as she would be the next time she called. I quickly gathered up my crew, went into the conference room, and turned on the TV, as we sat around the conference table watching, in disbelief.

Then the second plane hit the second tower and in a nanosecond, we knew what had happened — and we were pretty sure it had just changed everything — maybe forever. Then the phone rang, again.

This time, my wife, fighting back tears, was afraid. Not panicky scared, or out-of-control scared; more of a “dreading what’s to come” fear. “Michael,” she said, “this is the beginning of WW III.”

I remember being somewhat shocked when she said it, given that this was not a person given to hyperbole or irrational thought. As we would later learn, she was right.

Not in a “Pearl Harbor” sort of way, but in a more insidious way; a way that unleashed a previously unimaginable chain of events that, 20 years later, has still to play out. Given the events of the last 30 days, one now wonders how it will play out — if and when it does.

“Twenty years on,” The New York Times observed, the War on Terror “grinds along, with no end in sight.”

Twenty years after the terrorist attacks of September 2001, the so-called war on terror shows no sign of winding down. It waxes and wanes, largely in the shadows and out of the headlines — less an epochal clash than a low-grade condition, one that flares up occasionally, as in 2017, when Islamic State militants ambushed American and local soldiers outside a village in Niger, killing four Americans.

“Taking stock of this war is difficult because it is inseparable from the twin calamities of Afghanistan and Iraq,” the NYT suggested. In those countries, “the United States reached beyond the tactics of counterterrorism for a more ambitious, ill-fated project to remake fractured, tribal societies into American-style democracies.”

Hence, the ill-fated term “nation-building.”

If America has taught itself anything in the decades following WWII, it should be, finally, the fruitlessness of trying to rebuild a country in which a significant percentage of the population does not want to rebuild.

Incidentally, that investment portfolio I was working on when my wife’s first call “interrupted” the process?

One of the options I was considering for the fixed-investment portion of the portfolio was a product from the financial services firm, Cantor Fitgerald, whose headquarters were located at 1 World Trade Center — the North Tower. Every Cantor employee who reported to work on 9/11 was killed in the attack. Our Cantor rep had visited our office earlier that summer. I still have his business card, from 1 World Trade Center.

Meanwhile, WW III grinds on.

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