CBR11Bingo: True Story
This is an oral history of September 11, 2001. It is fairly comprehensive, as historian Garrett M. Graff spoke to all the major players you would expect as well as to hundreds of people who got caught up in the tragic events of that day. His sources include New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Cheney, Condi Rice, Chief of Staff Andy Card, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and Donald Rumsfeld. He also talks to dozens of firefighters and police officers, office workers who made it out of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, family members of those who didn’t make it out, air traffic controllers and airline employees who dealt with the chaos in the sky, and military personnel who had to scramble to keep the country safe when they had no idea if other attacks were in the works. Graff even tracked down tangentially connected figures like the students in the Florida classroom who were being read a story by President Bush when he was interrupted by the news from New York.
There are some truly remarkable personal stories featured in the book, and they are powerful and moving. Especially the stories of husbands and wives trying to find each other in the chaos, family members watching on TV and hoping against hope that their loved ones would survive, and firefighters whose lives were lost or saved by the minutest decisions.
Graff does an admirable job presenting these stories without getting in the way. However, when it comes to the stories presented by those in power on that day, a little more context would be welcome. It is curious that Dennis Hastert is allowed to comment so often with no acknowledgement that he’s an admitted abuser of children. Since the book only cursorily addresses the aftermath of 9/11, there is no comment from Bush administration officials about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is paltry discussion of the memos that were ignored in the lead up to 9/11 warning of an impending al Qaeda attack. I also took issue with the stories of Americans coming together in the days after the attacks. While it is true that many Americans did so and felt a greater sense of unity, Graff only touches on American Muslims fear of being associated with terrorism and does not mention at all the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh murdered in Mesa, AZ on September 15, 2001. It’s a glaring omission.
The Only Plane in the Sky is a useful rundown of the events of the day and contains many memorable personal anecdotes, but it is an incomplete book nevertheless.