David Kotok: Reflection on 9/11

David Kotok: Reflection on 9/11

Below is a comment on the anniversary of 9/11 by my friend David Kotok, Chairman of Cumberland Advisors.  We all lost many friends that day.  Kotok himself was in the WTC and was lucky to survive. — Chris

A dozen years have passed. Memory doesn’t fade. In some ways, the events remain as vivid today as they were that September morning.

For newer readers who do not know this history, I was sitting in the ballroom at a breakfast meeting of the National Association for Business Economics. The speaker, who had come down from the 37th floor, was in the middle of his remarks. The noise of impact was shocking. The chandelier shook in the middle of the ballroom. Lights flickered intermittently. The meeting stopped, and so began an orderly and rapid exit from the conference center.

We exited from the main floor. I had come from an upper floor and had checked out of the World Trade Center hotel early. When we reached the foyer, we could see the street littered with debris. It was an orderly exit through the emergency exit doors, onto Liberty Street. Old timers will remember it as the exit from the “Tall Ships Bar.” We crossed West Street in the middle of chaos, pandemonium, and smoke. There were people injured; some were fleeing in every direction. Crossing West Street we moved to the knoll in front of the old Wall Street Journal office in the World Financial Center.

I turned to look at the smoldering building, wondering, “How could this be? What kind of a plane is that? What is a light plane like a Cessna doing hitting this building? But it couldn’t be a small plane – the explosion is too big!”

The fact is that something else was going on, something far more sinister. In those confused moments we did not understand what that first explosion meant and how it would impact our lives. Several of us watched from that knoll, right under the connecting second floor corridor that is protected from the weather. That manmade bridge runs between two buildings in the financial center.

As we looked at the first building, the second explosion occurred. The “flash-to-bang” time counted automatically in my brain. Army training took over so I could triangulate and measure the distance. The sound was huge. The explosion’s fireball on the exterior of the building measured 10 stories. I counted them. It was as wide as it was high. Imagine such a fireball, 10 stories high and 10 stories wide. That was the outside of the building on the other side after the plane impacted and exploded.

9/11 never leaves. Images are embedded in the mind as clearly as if they had been etched in the back of the retina. Even as the retina ages.

Two jumpers holding hands leapt from the 100th floor.

Smoke was suffocating.

Noise was deafening.

Let’s fast forward to today. The news flow is disconcerting. In this world there are still many who would like to reprise 9/11 and deliver another devastating attack. Why? To what purpose?

How is it that the divisions among billions of people on this planet include so many who revere the cause of raining death on others? Why?

At the same time, there are billions more who would like to revere and respect the quality, existence, and perpetuation of life.

How do we, as human beings, ever bridge the massive divides among us? Where can we find a way to connect, to bridge human chasms of differing perspectives, painful histories, and sometimes hatred?

Years after 9/11, after a catastrophe on American soil, contemplation affords us no ready answers, but only politically and logistically challenging, soul-searching questions.

Maybe in a generation or two we will find answers. Maybe. But the march of age and the trajectory of events suggest that is unlikely in our lifetimes.

Still, 9/11 poses a question that echoes forward through the years: Do we have the strength and the will to continue the search for solutions to such a profound dilemma? Do we have the wherewithal to find, amid the smoke and noise, a path forward rather than a path into escalating destruction?

That is the question in front of America. That is the question for our Congress, about our policy, and it supremely challenges our leaders.

That is the question in front of the modern, mature, Western world, and the rest of the developing world.

9/11 provides a pause to reflect on it.

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