A time capsule in two home pages


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A day after the horrors of that crystal blue Tuesday morning 20 years ago, like so many others, I carefully preserved a copy of The New York Times dated September 12, 2001, with its garish headline at the top:

But I hadn’t thought of the newspaper the day before until July, when a fellow teacher, Rob Spurrier, walked into my summer journalism class at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and handed me over. its yellowed copy. As the big anniversary of September 11 approached, he said, “This is your story.

I scanned the front page of this national edition of the September 11, 2001 newspaper, with its heartwarming single column headlines, like:

Top left was a large photo of an orange tent in Bryant Park for Fashion Week. Underneath was the cable and network rush for morning viewers. Beneath the fold was dizziness over school dress codes – what one reporter called “the bare skin uproar”.

I saw my friend’s point. Looking at those first two pages side by side was a stark reminder of how 9/11 radically changed our world.

I had a particular reason to be riveted. As a reporter for The Times, where I worked for 45 years, I was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Metro team that covered the February 26, 1993 terrorist bombing on the World Trade Center. It left six dead, more than 1,000 injured and left clues to al-Qaeda fanatics ignored by investigators. In 2008, I covered the seventh anniversary of September 11. And in 2009, I reported on the uproar around a planned Islamic center near Ground Zero.

Yet, seen alongside the newspaper stating that America has been attacked, the headlines conveying the events of September 10, 2001 may seem totally irrelevant. I now see this paper as a time capsule from a nearly vanished era – before the worst unnatural carnage on American soil since the Civil War and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the nation’s traumatic awakening to a violent new reality. of world terror and eternal war.

And it is even more poignant now, after the chaotic exit from the long war in Afghanistan that the attacks of September 11 had started. Five of the 13 servicemen killed in the suicide bombing at Kabul airport on August 26 were only 20 years old, possibly just infants when the war started.

The newspaper of September 11 was not without alarm. On the front page, a menacing “reference” (pronounced reefer) to an article in the newspaper: Palestinian snipers killed two Israelis, prompting a retaliatory bombardment by Israeli tanks. On A3: A suicide bomber killed two policemen in Istanbul.

In the newspaper, there was the story of a suicide bombing attack in Kabul that targeted a 48-year-old anti-Taliban rebel leader in Afghanistan called Ahmed (later Ahmad) Shah Massoud. Who then could have imagined that 20 years later the Taliban, ousted after 9/11, would take over Afghanistan as President Biden struggled to get America out of its longest and most futile war? Or that Ahmad, the son of Massoud, would be today a leader in the Panjshir valley fighting against the takeover of the Taliban?

An article at the bottom of the front page of September 11 now seems oddly resonant, with “Jet Hijacking” in the headline. On the run for 30 years, Westchester County, NY teacher Patrick Dolan Critton has been arrested for kidnapping, armed robbery and extortion after a shrewd Canadian investigator spotted his name in a local newspaper article. He requisitioned an airliner from Ontario to Cuba in 1971, lived in Cuba and Tanzania, then slipped into the United States in 1994. But like so many others on September 11, his fame grew. quickly blurred in the immensity of the attacks.

Time and time again we see how the cataclysmic news is shaking up the world as we know it. And disasters follow an unassuming morning newspaper. This is why calm mornings can seem especially worrying, especially if the sky is a perfect blue.

Ralph Blumenthal was a Times reporter from 1964 to 2009, and has since written about the Pentagon’s efforts to track down UFOs.

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