Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Query: The North Tower Portico

The Twin Towers
March 2001
(Image from Wikipedia)

I spent this morning explaining to my NYC cyber-friend Malcolm Pollack a question that I had earlier posed to him, and since I'm out of time as a consequence of my explanation, I'll post that exchange here in lieu of some other blog entry that I might have worked up.

Here was my initial query:
Dear Malcolm,

This will sound odd, but do you know if the roof of the portico jutting out at ground level from the west side of the WTC's North Tower was made of glass?

I've read of the jumpers' bodies striking the glass above the portico, and I wondered if this west side is meant.

I infer that most jumpers were landing on the north side of the North Tower, for the plane struck on that side, and on the west side of the South Tower for a similar reason. I hope that I have the directions correct, but you can correct me.

However, I suspect that jumpers were leaping from all sides.



P.S. I'm currently listening to Dylan's "Forever Young," which I used to enjoy back in my now innocent youth of 1976 . . .
Malcolm replied:
Hi Jeffery,

Though I used to spend a lot of time down there, I don't really remember the portico. I think conditions were generally intolerable all throughout the floors above the impact sites, and that people were jumping all round, but I really don't know for sure.

I have to say that even seven years later the memory of that awful day haunts us here in New York. If I seem unduly obsessed, in my bloggery, with the threat that Islam poses to the west, that is one of the main reasons why. I think being here and watching those towers burn and fall (especially knowing that my daughter was in school two blocks away, and not being able to reach her until late that evening), and then living in a stunned and broken city, under an enormous pall of shock and grief (not to mention the literal, acrid pall that hung over us for months as the ghastly Pile smoldered and smoked) made the event very different for us than for the rest of the world.

Are you preparing a post of some sort?

All the best,

To this, I replied with a lengthy explanation:
Dear Malcolm,

I recall being shocked at the image of an airliner entering a skyscraper when I saw the news on television. All night, that image continued to play, rewind, play, rewind. I told my wife that I wondered if we had done the right thing in having children, bringing them into such a world where such evil could be planned and carried out.

But the full enormity hit me later, as I began to read accounts. I didn't watch much television, but in my office, I found details on the internet and learned more of what had happened.

I've never been to New York City, and to be embarrassingly frank, I didn't even know about the two towers until they were struck. I didn't think about the NYC skyline in its details -- it was just a bunch of tall buildings -- and I wasn't especially interested in the City. The northeast coast generally was a cipher to me, far from where I grew up and even farther from where I went with my life -- from the Arkansas Ozarks to Waco, Texas, to the SF Bay Area, to Germany, to Australia, to Israel, to South Korea.

When I initially understood that the news was real and not some war movie on television -- and that must have taken me five minutes -- I found myself asking, "World Trade Center? Where is that? Chicago? New York?" I actually didn't know.

But over the days and weeks that followed, I grew far better acquainted with New York City and the Twin Towers and grew to love the City and mourn the loss.

It was the reports of people jumping, and the stories told by survivors that really got to me and began to prick my conscience and ignite my anger. I realiized that something had to be done.

That was a very odd time, for only one Korean expressed sorrow to me over the 9/11 attacks. Everyone else whom I knew was silent . . . or took part in anti-American protests and blamed the US.

I already knew about the dangers of Islamism -- though I didn't call it that at the time. I probably called it Islamic radicalism . . . or Islamic fundamentalism. Koreans seemed to know nothing about this religious radicalism and tended to see American foreign policy as the motivating factor in what the terrorist did.

When I was asked to give a presentation at Hanshin University, where I worked, I decided to talk about 9/11 and explain some of the religious motivations.

Since I had been reading about Islam for twenty years already (though not steadily), I knew what to look for and could use the internet and some of my books for sources. In my presentation, I explained about jihad as the motive behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks and noted that while such an attack probably couldn't legitimately be justified according to the rules of jihad, only the context of jihad theory could make sense of the attacks. I therefore spent some time detailing some of the Islamic justifications provided by the terrorists for the attacks in order to demonstrate that jihad motives were at work, namely, that while the terrorists didn't like American foreign policy, their more basic aim was subjugation of the infidels.

A lot of Koreans simply failed to grasp this and refused to believe my report.

I wrote the presentation down and published in a Hanshin journal. It didn't get much attention, but I have it on my blog roll among my online articles, and it occasionally gets clicked on . . . and possibly even read.

As for my question about the portico roof, that's not for a blog entry (though is anything truly not for a blog entry?). I have a different project in mind for that, and I'm trying to understand more about the Towers. I need to understand concretely what the Towers were like and what took place.

Partly, this has to do with my dismay at the conspiracy theories floating about the internet -- the US government setting explosives to bring down the two Towers in order to justify a conservative crackdown on American society. For that reason, I need to know more, but I have other reasons.

Anyway, that's sort of why I asked about that portico . . . and I asked you because you often know obscure things, such as that Milton quote about "a good Booke" that stands above the portal to a large reading room in the New York Public Library.

Thanks for the reply. I know that September 11th, 2001 must have been a profoundly harrowing day for you and your family.



P.S. I love New York.
That was my morning this morning . . . and I guess that Malcolm was right about me "preparing a post of some sort."

By the way, does anyone know about the North Tower's portico that jutted out toward West Street? Was the roof made of glass?

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At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"That was a very odd time, for only one Korean expressed sorrow to me over the 9/11 attacks. Everyone else whom I knew was silent . . . or took part in anti-American protests and blamed the US."

The topic of Korean reactions to 9/1 has come up on the K-blogs a few times. I was in Korea on that day and for a few months afterward, and I share your perception that there were very little genuine sympathy for the US. Rather, there was some apathy and a lot of blame. The gleeful reaction was so widespread the Chosun Ilbo published an editorial called "To Those Who Beautify Terrorism." Lest foreigners get the "wrong" idea about Korea, the Korea Times and Herald wrote stories claiming that most Koreans were sympathetic while a few carefully cautioned the United States.

Let's compare Korean reactions with a few other countries:

Great Britain: Parliament members stand and sing our National Anthem.

Canada: Star and Stripes fly all across the country.

Many other countries: masses of flowers laid in front of the US embassy

Korea: Literally a few bunches of flowers in front of the embassy and lots of schadenfreud in conversations between Koreans.

In times of trouble, you find out who your real friends are, for they are the ones who put aside their grievances and lend support. I had seen and heard a lot of anti-Americanism during my long stay in Korea, but I lost respect for Koreans after seeing so many display an almost gleeful reaction to seeing the US taking a direct hit.

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I'll never forget the words of one woman in the masters class in English education at Hanshin University that I taught at night for high school teachers.

One week after 9/11, she told me that her husband -- who was also a high school teacher -- had been watching news of the Towers falling and smiling at the image with a big smile of his face.

I didn't at all like what I was hearing, but I listened in silence. The students were all high school instructors, and they were mostly on the left, as I quickly discovered, and held strongly anti-American attitudes.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:48 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Try this and this. Check video on youtube, someone may have posted the NOVA program about how the building failed. I don't remember, but I think the show describes the buildings and their relationship to each other.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Hathor. The two sites are informative . . . although not specifically about the portico (not that I saw, anyway).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, looks like a glass ceiling: (picture link)
You are "dismayed" by conspiracy theories? You are a rare bird.

"When it comes to what they knew prior to September 11th, 2001, about possible terrorist attacks against the United States, do you think members of the Bush Administration are..."

Telling the truth 16%
Hiding something 53%
Mostly lying 28%
Not sure 3%

Source: The New York Times / CBS News
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 983 American adults, conducted from Oct. 5 to Oct. 8, 2006. Margin of error is 4 per cent. (source, pdf)

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Erdal. It does look like glass, as I had thought from the image of the Twin Towers that I posted on this blog entry (as seen when one clicks on it). But I wasn't entirely sure until seeing the close-up image that you found (and I'm amazed that you found it).

As for conspiracy theories . . . well, I do believe in one of them. I believe that a secretive group going by the code name of "The Base" conspired to plan and carry out the 9/11 attacks. This radical group has a larger aim of imposing worldwide a totalitarian system ruled over by an all-powerful dictator. The group is ruthless, relentless, and resiliant. We ignore it at our peril.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conspiracy theories are both international, national and local.
I live three miles from the small town of Bakersfield, MO, and whenever any minor event happens, within hours you have several versions of how, when, and to whom.....including my recent broken hip......and for which each person spreading the rumor will fight as a mother for her child.
I may be dismayed at the various rumors rampant, but not surprised.

I quote from the book of Acts:

"For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing." Acts 17:21.

And I am sure in that city, every time a tale was told, someone would say, "That is not the way I heard it...," or as they would say in hillybilly lingo, "That 'twarn't the way 'twas told to me...."


At 4:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, that reminds me of the old hillbilly who told a whopper of a tall tale to his grandkids.

When he'd finished telling about how he'd made a wagon fly by attaching turkey buzzard wings to it, one of the older kids retorted, "That may be the truth, but it sounds like a damned big old lie to me!"

Whereupon the old hillbilly thwacked that kid on the head with his walking stick and reprimanded him, saying: "What are ye doin', calling me a liar right in front of these here younguns? Ye think I'd be tellin' it if twarn't the truth?"

Now, some people say that I made up this story about the old hillbilly, but I never made it up. That's the way it was told to me.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:32 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...


I had the same experience as you and Sonagi. Most of the Koreans with whom I worked were very careful about what they said around me, but it was apparent that they were less horrified than gratified by what had happened. One brave (and somewhat prescient) colleague wondered out loud, and very worriedly, at what the US would do in retailiation that would adversely impact Korea in some way.

BTW, if you want to know more about WTC, we should talk. I spent a lot of time there when I worked in New York. Also, the mosque of the lead perp in the first bombing of the WTC was just down the street from my loft in Brooklyn, above a store that I frequented to buy cous cous, hummus and olives. I knew him well enough to nod in passing.

At 4:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sperwer, do you meant Ramzi Yousef? Anyway, yes, we ought to talk. Were you in New York early enough to see the WTC go up?

Man, we're getting old enough for a lot of our lives to be truly part of history. Even my time at Berkeley is now part of a bygone era.

But as my loopy mother once remarked about our crazy times and our wonder at having survived everything, "Life goes on."

For some, anyway...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:14 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

One and the same.

Amen to the rest. This April there is a 40th anniversary get together at Cornell to which I've been invited of various groups of people there during the takeover and occupation of Willard Straight Hall - the student union -- by the Black Student Association (actually a small group of outside agitators masquerading under the BSA banner. Unfortunately, I can't go.

At 6:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I reckon that we've both lived in some 'interesting' times -- as that old (supposedly Chinese) curse goes -- but your times seem to have been somewhat more interesting than my own.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was dreadful and I don't know anyone here who was gleeful although I don't know anyone who was truly surprised either and plenty of terrorist acts have devastated other countries as well. America wasn't exactly lily white and had fairly bloodied hands already. There were plenty of reasons for anti american sentiment in the world. Furthermore, the American reaction did little to draw sympathy from outside as it blamed its old pal Hussein and accused Iraq and invented the acronym WMD and the concept of "War on Terror" - tales we cynics down under didn't believe. No wonder conspiracy stories thrived. Why did Bush lie and what was he hiding? Thank God our blessed PM refused to enter us into the illegal war. Fundamentalist terrorism isn't all about Islam. It uses Islam to express itself politically with violence. It wouldn't have grown on it's own without provocation. That's what I think. I know you disagree.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Steph, I think that Islamists were both active and reactive as agents. Certainly, they were reacting to American foreign policy, but they have their own dynamism, too, and base their acts upon a world-historical vision with roots deeper than the discovery of the New World.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Modern terrorism wasn't realised before the discovery of and domination by the New World.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I realize that, but Islamist terrorism is qualitatively different and quantitatively more extensive than most other types of modern terrorism, and much of it is not directed toward the West (let alone the New World).

To understand Islamist terrorism, one has to learn about jihad and how Islamists interpret and use it.

I don't know to what extent we disagree and to what extent we have common ground. If you haven't done so already, you might read my 9/11 paper to see where I stand (though it's a bit out of date by now).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks - I have read your article but forgotten it now... I'll read it again. I did study Islam for several years and my previous supervisor is identified here as a 'terrorism' expert and advisor to government. I'm still very much in regular contact with him personally. Not that I'm claiming any expertise but I'm not totally ignorant. By the way, have you read "Jesus in an Age of Terror" by James Crossley. It deals alot with modern scholarship. I recommend it (not that my recommending anything is great recommendation but it's blinking well worth reading!)

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No, I haven't read Crossley's Jesus in an Age of Terror, though I may have looked at it. Thanks for the reminder.

If I were to rework my 9/11 paper, I would emphasize the role of Islamist thinker more than I did, for I've become more aware of that tradition and its debt to Ibn Taymiyyah, among other sources.

Jeffery Hodges

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