Do you remember what you were doing nine years ago Friday? I don’t either.
Maybe we should, because it turns out to have been our last day of peace — our last day before “homeland security,” before daily casualty reports from endless wars, before shoes off in airports, before perpetually elevated threat levels.
Saturday, the anniversary of 9/11 will be marked by sad remembrance and bellicose rhetoric. That nutcase preacher in Florida threatens a conflagration of Qurans, and we can be reasonably confident that someone claiming to speak for al-Qaida will threaten another attack. Most likely, Americans, Iraqis and Afghans will die.
Today, I suggest we remember and celebrate the Day Before.
On Sept. 10, 2001, the top story in your Monday morning Missourian (which was still being printed back then) reported that city officials were talking about widening Blue Ridge Road between 763 and Garth Avenue to accommodate expected growth. Next to that was a report on the opening of the school year, with the School Board’s concern focused on how to balance enrollment between Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools.
It was business, and life, as usual, or so we thought.
In retrospect, maybe we should have paid more attention to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s appearance the day before on Fox News. “Iraq’s pursuit of chemical and biological weapons threatens to become a serious problem,” he said.
But on 9/10, Hurricane Erin was headed for Bermuda, and Robin Carnahan gathered with her siblings to help her mother, Sen. Jean Carnahan, clean up after a fire in the family home outside Rolla.
Mayor Darwin Hindman had a guest column in that day’s paper. To nobody’s surprise, he wrote, “Columbia is a better place than ever.”
Tiger fans were relishing the first victory by our new coach, one Gary Pinkel. Never mind that it came over Southwest Texas State. Best to forget that the week before, Coach Pinkel’s debut had been ruined by Bowling Green. Instead, attention was focused on the game scheduled for the coming Saturday, against Michigan State. (That game, like others across the country, was postponed. In December, when it was finally played, Michigan State won 55-7.)
There was a little story, tucked inside the paper, noting that the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan were trying eight of their countrymen on charges of proselytizing for Christianity. Another 35 Afghan employees of a Christian aid agency had been arrested on suspicion of the same crime.
Later that Monday, in Washington, a new poll revealed that a majority of Americans said they were “prepared to roll back President Bush’s $135 trillion tax cut to help deal with the shrinking federal budget surplus.” The article, from the Washington Post news service, went on, “The federal government is still running a healthy budget surplus, but virtually all of it is being generated by the Social Security program.”
In Jefferson City, the state House of Representatives approved a plan to help the elderly pay for prescription drugs. And in Columbia, an MU student was arrested for stealing $17,000 worth of instruments from Marching Mizzou.
The Cardinals beat the Brewers that night. Mark McGwire hit a home run. The Royals stood last in their division.
Of course, life as we knew it was about to crash. But who knew? Attorney General John Ashcroft that day released his list of seven top priorities. Counter-terrorism was not among them.
Time magazine for 9/10/01 carried an interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Asked whether he saw Saddam Hussein as a threat, he replied, “I do not lose a lot of sleep about him late at night.”
Secretary Powell also responded to reports of dissension in the Bush administration: “In every administration, there are many views. But the only voice I really listen to is the voice of President George W. Bush.”
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.