Memories of 9/11

I have little to say about the tenth anniversary of 9/11 that hasn’t already been better said by others. I was fortunate enough not to lose any relatives or friends in the attacks. I had briefly met Barbara Olson (who died on the plane that hit the Pentagon), and a couple of friends of friends from Amherst College perished in the World Trade Center. But I did not know any of these people at all well. Since then, I have had several friends and acquaintances who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and almost went to Iraq myself in 2005 to consult on the federalism issues in the drafting of the new Iraqi Constitution (my trip was cancelled because the drafters went into a security lockdown after some of them were targeted by terrorists). But those are stories best told at another time.

My own experience of 9/11 was much less interesting or moving than that of many others. But it does include a minor example of how knowledge of social science and history can sometimes steer you wrong. I recounted it in this post:

I was clerking for a Fifth Circuit judge in Houston at the time, and was driving to work, listening to a top 40 station that never had any news reports. The regularly scheduled programming was interrupted by a breathless announcer who said that there were reports that multiple planes had hit the World Trade Center. I was skeptical. Why? Because I was familiar with the famous Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” incident in 1938, when a radio station broadcast fictional reports of an invasion by aliens from Mars, sparking a minor panic (the public reaction is recounted in Hadley Cantril’s classic book, which I had read in grad school). For some reason, I decided it was possible that the top 40 station was trying to boost ratings by repeating a version of Welles’ stunt. The scenario of multiple airliners crashing into the World Trade Center seemed almost as implausible as an alien invasion. And this station had never broadcast any other news during the weeks I had been listening to it. I decided to withhold judgment until I could check the news on the internet when I got to the office. When I arrived and found that CNN.com couldn’t be accessed, I realized that the reports were true.