Monday, December 31, 2001

Year in Review:
9-11 eclipses everything else

By Phil Fisher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        So, the millennium arrived in 2001 after all. The new era, the changed world, emerged from a clear blue September sky, with a shock so unexpected, a wound so deep, a scar so lasting, that America seemed to see everything through a dark new prism. One morning of coordinated terrorism set the nation back on its heels, before it found its footing and again stood firm.

• U.S. • Local
        It was a year of calamity for Cincinnati, as well. That shock emerged from a dark April night, from an ill-lighted alley, where a white officer fatally shot a fleeing young black man. The riots and turmoil that exploded, and the bloody summer that followed, burst a pressure-cooker that exposed the city's deep divisions, damaged its reputation, set back its economy and set off a search for solutions.

        The two events are not on the same scale, of course. But on Cincinnati's smaller stage, the protests and riots had a parallel impact. Here, too, we entered a new and dangerous era.

        But above all, it is Sept. 11 that now divides our lives and our history.

        “It will be more than we can bear”

        New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, asked Sept. 11 how many were dead at the World Trade Center

        The blows came in confusing succession: A plane hit a tower of the World Trade Center. Was it a terrible accident, or something worse? Twenty minutes later, another plane, another tower.

        Then it became clear: This was terrorism, on a scale never seen or imagined. And there was more to come.

        More planes were unaccounted for. A third hit the Pentagon. A fourth went down in a Pennsylvania field.

        As World Trade Center workers below the crash floors evacuated, those above were trapped. Fires fed by the full tanks of jet fuel intensified. For some inside, a quick fall must have seemed better than burning; people jumped from

        high floors to certain death. The sight was horrifying. Others phoned loved ones for heartbreaking goodbyes.

        Below, as workers came down, firefighters and police went up.

        And then the towers fell.

        At the Pentagon, an entire section of the west side of the building was devastated. Military and civilian employees were killed at their desks. Survivors went into the flames to rescue the injured.

        Air traffic controllers stopped all takeoffs nationwide and ordered every civilian plane out of the sky. The move was unprecedented and unpracticed. The skies were clear within two hours.

        But on the ground, thousands were dead, thousands injured, many thousands more bereft.

        And where two great towers once stood, a hellish pile of twisted wreckage, fire, smoke and broken bodies took the name Ground Zero.

        “On a normal day, we value heroism because it is uncommon. On Sept. 11, we valued heroism because it was everywhere.”

        — Nancy Gibbs in Time

        America found new heroes: Police and firefighters who went into the buildings that others were fleeing. Workers who missed their chance to escape because they were helping friends or strangers. Rescue workers, doctors, nurses, construction workers, forensic specialists, food suppliers, organizers, clergy, counselors, blood donors, dogs. They and countless others helped save the endangered, heal the wounded, support the rescuers, comfort the bereaved, and find and identify the dead.

        New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani went from embattled lame duck to tower of strength. He directed the rescues and cleanup, led the mourning, attended the funerals and stepped into harm's way. But most of all he exemplified New York's — and America's — courage, resilience and determination.

        President Bush, too, emerged as a determined and effective leader in a crisis. “Freedom itself was attacked this morning,” he said. He showed grit, focus and determination. He had found his mission, and his public support soared.

        But perhaps the most astonishing heroes were the passengers of Flight 93 who, alerted to the other crashes, chose to take back the plane — or bring it down — rather than let it be used as a fourth flying bomb. “Let's roll,” said Todd Beamer, with a phone line open. The plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field, not a Washington landmark.

        America poured out its heart, in donations, fund-raising efforts and blood drives. The nation wore patriotism and unity with pride, singing “God Bless America” and showing flags, flags, flags.

        “They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building, so I said to them: "Be patient.'”

        — Osama bin Laden, talking to friends on a tape found in Afghanistan

        It was the glee that was so chilling. If the actions of Sept. 11 were not enough, the smug laughter as Osama bin Laden described his joy watching the attacks was infuriating.

        “Our nation saw evil,” President Bush said that night, and it was not just in the attack, but in the face and mind of the terrorist leader.

        Worse, he was not a lone madman. He had thousands of followers, many training in Afghanistan, others distributed in secretive cells around the world. The suicide hijackers were well funded, well organized and fanatically dedicated.

        Mr. Bush declared war on terrorism, and it began with bombing in Afghanistan. The war has gone quickly, with the tyrannical Taliban fallen and Mr. bin Laden fleeing, hiding or dead.

        But a new threat showed up: anthrax.

        Bioterrorism took its first shot at the building housing the National Enquirer and the Sun in Boca Raton, Fla., followed by the Capitol and the New York media. Anthrax-laden letters apparently contaminated not only their targets, but postal facilities and other letters.

        Three months after the attacks, Mr. Bush said we had lost “the illusion of safety.” Whether from the sky, or in the mail, or some other way, we wonder, can it happen again? Yes, it can.

        Cincinnati's agony: The shooting of Timothy Thomas April 7 was the inciting incident. But there was a backstory of tension that was decades old. African-Americans' anger and frustration had been growing, much of it aimed at police.

        In the early hours of a Saturday morning, Officer Stephen Roach shot Mr. Thomas to death at the end of a police chase. Mr. Thomas was fleeing from police because he had open warrants. But the warrants were all misdemeanors, and Mr. Thomas had no gun.

        Outrage erupted, and a few days later, fires, looting and assaults exploded in several neighborhoods. It took four days of nighttime curfews, ending Easter Sunday, to calm the city.

        But the damage was not over. People were hurt, jobs were lost, the city was caught in the harsh eyes of the national media.

        What followed was a violent summer as police pulled back from tough areas. The homicide rate soared. In the fall, three police officers, including Officer Roach, were acquitted in the deaths of two black men.

        Widespread efforts to mediate the tensions and bring people together had an impact. How much will change is uncertain.

        Few years seem to have so much distance between the top stories and the runners-up. In 2001, there is Sept. 11, and there is everything else. In Cincinnati, there are the riots, and there is everything else.

        But everything else is still a lot of news.

        Holy, bloody land: In the Mideast, too, it was a year of trauma. A shaky peace process collapsed into an endless bloody cycle of attack and retaliation. It was an eye for an eye, a rocket for a bomb.

        In February, Israel elected Ariel Sharon, its toughest of tough guys, as prime minister. A wave of suicide bombings prompted strong Israeli attacks in Palestinian-controlled territory. Yasser Arafat looked weak and isolated, with militant Palestinians rejecting his leadership, and Israel rejecting his relevance.

        On both sides, there was plenty of anger and despair, and precious little hope for peace.

        Recession: There was no getting around the R-word. America's economy was in a recession even before Sept. 11. Stocks fell, business slowed and tens of thousands were thrown out of work. Not even 11 drops in interest rates by Alan Greenspan and the Fed could break the sluggishness.

        One of the nation's largest companies, energy dealer Enron, collapsed. Other big names went broke: Chiquita, Polaroid, Baldwin Piano, Bethlehem Steel. Argentina.

        Gas prices soared. Then they fell. California had blackouts.

        Microsoft and the Justice Department settled their antitrust case.

        Procter & Gamble simplified the company by jettisoning Jif, Crisco, Comet and 10,000 more employees.

        Grounded: The airline industry had a devastating year. Comair suffered a damaging three-month strike that was followed by air travel's post-attack plunge.

        Airlines' products were used as bombs on Sept. 11, and fear of flying was high. Business plummeted as passengers decided to drive instead, or just stay home. And the struggling economy slowed business travel.

        The problem of security was a major black eye for the industry. Passengers wanted stronger security; when the airlines tried to provide it, passengers were annoyed at searches and delays.

        The industry begged for and got a financial bailout from the government.

        Arrested development: Newport on the Levee opened to big crowds. But Saks had its hand out, the Banks couldn't open any safes, and Nordstrom still isn't coming.

        Cincinnati culture: The biggest cultural shift in Cincinnati's music scene was the coming of maestro Paavo Jaarvi as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Museums made news, too. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center unveiled its plans. The Taft Museum of Art closed for renovation. The Newport Aquarium boomed. The zoo had a rhino baby.

        Politics as unusual: Cincinnati opened a political era by electing Charlie Luken the first strong mayor in decades. City Manger John Shirey stepped aside, one step ahead of a City Council firing.

        The nation entered a new era as well with President Bush's inauguration. The clouds of chads hanging over his head dissipated, though some news organizations kept counting. He came in with a 50-50 majority in the Senate (yeah, that's how it works) then lost it when one of his 50 became an independent.

        More terror: Political violence was big news before and after 9/11. Timothy McVeigh was executed for the Oklahoma City bombing, but not before giving interviews in which he referred to the children as “collateral damage.” Anti-death-penalty protests seemed muted.

        A Libyan intelligence agent was convicted of the 1988 bombing that brought a jetliner down in Lockerbie, Scotland. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was brought to trial on war-crimes charges.

        The king of Nepal, his queen and seven other members of the royal family were gunned down by the crown prince in the palace.

        And a violent suicide attack on India's Parliament brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. They're still there.

        Crime and punishment: Big and bizarre crimes shocked us. In Florida, a 14-year-old boy was convicted of murdering his teacher. In Texas, a depressed mother drowned her five children. And in Washington, D.C., the FBI charged veteran agent Robert Hanssen with spying for Moscow for a decade and a half.

        Cold cases: A series of old criminal cases took us back to other times. In Cincinnati, Michael Wehrung was found not guilty of killing his girlfriend in 1963, when he was 15. In Connecticut, Michael Skakel, a Kennedy cousin, was cleared for trial in an eerily similar case from 1975, when he was a teen.

        In Alabama, a former Klansman was convicted of the notorious 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls. And in York, Pa., the mayor was charged as an accessory to murder during 1969 race riots.

        Hard landing: A U.S. Navy surveillance plane was bumped by a Chinese fighter over the South China Sea, and made an emergency landing in China. China kept the plane and the crew, accusing them of spying. After 10 tense days, China agreed to free the crew. The plane came home in pieces.

        Scandals and furors: Chandra Levy is still missing and Gary Condit is running for re-election. Jesse Jackson had an affair and an out-of-wedlock daughter. Sharks bit people on the beaches. W's were missing on White House keyboards. Can you remember when people paid attention?

        Child's play: Sports faced a new sense of irrelevance, after Sept. 11 reminded us they're just games after all. But after a brief halt, the games resumed and interest returned, helped by an outstanding and emotional World Series. The New York Yankees represented their wounded hometown's resilience. But the Series was won by Arizona in Game 7, bottom of the ninth.

        An earlier tragedy also shadowed the sports world: the death of Dale Earnhardt, auto racing's greatest icon.

        In Cincinnati, the Reds were surprisingly bad; the Bengals were predictably bad. The Reds traded Dmitri Young and Pokey Reese for some players to be forgotten later.

        Elsewhere, at least, there were great accomplishments: Barry Bonds passed Mark McGwire by hitting 73 home runs. Just three years ago the record was 61. Tiger Woods won the Masters, his fourth straight major. Cal Ripken and McGwire retired. Michael Jordan returned.

        Football planned to expand; Baseball planned to shrink. The made-for-TV XFL was born. The dud-in-ratings XFL died.

        The Olympic torch passed through Cincinnati on its way to the Winter Olympics. The 2012 Games, though, will pass the city by.

        Space: Space got its first tourist when Dennis Tito vacationed on the international space station. Admission price: $20 million. Coming someday: Six Flags Over Saturn? After 15 years in operation, the Russian space craft Mir plunged into the South Pacific.

        All things must pass: With the death of George Harrison at 58, half the Beatles are gone. That's a baby boomer mortality check.

        Ohio lost a political giant, four-term governor James Rhodes. Cincinnati lost TV icon Bob Braun and guitarist Cal Collings.

        The music world lost violinist Isaac Stern, who performed with the CSO 16 times and saved Carnegie Hall, crooner Perry Como and blues great John Lee Hooker. A promising career was cut short when young singer and actress Aaliyah died in a small-plane crash in the Bahamas. Movie and TV screens will preserve actors Jack Lemmon, Anthony Quinn and Carroll O'Connor.

        Journalism lost Katharine Graham, stalwart Washington Post publisher.

        Irony was reported dead, but turned out to be very much alive. Isn't it ironic?

        And Cincinnati's beloved Ribs King, cigar lover and jokester Ted Gregory died. For his funeral, he left cigars to be passed out to a few close relatives and friends. They lit up in his memory. Then the cigars exploded. It was just so Ted.


- Year in Review: 9-11 eclipses everything else
Year in Cincinnati: Riots, trials, national scrutiny
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