Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

A Disaster Foretold-- Remembering 9-11

By Nancy Scheper-Hughes

Where were you when 9/11 erupted? I was in my shower stall when the bloody phone kept ringing and ringing. It was a call from the historian Jeremy Adams (SMU, Dallas, TX), a friend I had not heard from in years. Quick go to your TV to see the end of the world as we knew it. Then came the end of Flight 93 when terrorists carrying bombs got out of their seats and entered the cockpit and began turning the plane towards Washington DC and the Pentagon. Every passenger on that plane knew that this would be their last day. But a few men got our of their seats and charged the hijackers. One of them, Todd Beamer, was heard saying: “LETS ROLL”! At the end of the struggle, the hijackers were forced to crash the plane not in Washington but in an open field in Pennsylvania. Among these courageous men was a UC Berkeley alumnus, Mark Bingham a reserve on the 1991 Cal rugby National Championship squad B.A. from Berkeley in 1993. It was he and three other athletes on the plane — Jeremy Glick (judo champion), Todd Beamer (a high school athlete from Los Gatos) and Tom Burnett (a high school quarterback) — stormed the cockpit of Flight 93 and intentionally crashed the plane in a field in Pennsylvania killing all 44 on board. A few days later I was in Manhattan a few blocks away from what was left of the World Trade Center for a meeting with the young South African executives of a new Foundation based on the ANC model of Reconciliation around the globe. Despite all that these savvy scholars had learned via the ANC and Nelson Mandela, the young men and women were shaken to the bone by the chaos of 9-11 and decided to end their project quickly and get home where life was more safe than in the US at this time.  

What I learned soon after the demolition of the World Trade Center and the just close failed attempt on the Pentagon was during a research project in Moldova where I was studying the victims of organ trafficking among poor young men. Two of the first men I interviewed were a suspicious of me and it was only after we shared two bottles of good vodka in their tiny apartment that the men began to talk about 9-11 and Osama Bin Laden and his followers that included themselves. The ‘devil’ they said was in the blatant greed, affluence and vulture capitalism that to them made the World Trade Center a good enough target for the attack. It was then that I realized that we Americans were missing a wave of violence and terrorism that should have been predictable.  

Had we been more self-critical and more alert about how much our grotesque wealth, our blind confidence, and our endless militarism abroad was viewed by the rest of the world we might have not gotten into the horrendous assault of 9-11.