Death Downtown

by Michael Moore

September 11, 2001

Dear friends,

I was supposed to fly today on the 4:30 PM American Airlines flight from
LAX to JFK. But tonight I find myself stuck in L.A. with an incredible range
of emotions over what has happened on the island where I work and live in
New York City.

My wife and I spent the first hours of the day - after being awakened by phone calls from our parents at 6:40am PT - trying to contact our daughter at school in New York and our friend JoAnn who works near the World Trade Center.

I called JoAnn at her office. As someone picked up, the first tower imploded, and the person answering the phone screamed and ran out, leaving me no clue as to whether or not she or JoAnn would live.

It was a sick, horrible, frightening day.

On December 27, 1985 I found myself caught in the middle of a terrorist incident at the Vienna airport - which left 30 people dead, both there and at the Rome airport. (The machine-gunning of passengers in each city was timed to occur at the same moment.)

I do not feel like discussing that event tonight because it still brings

too much despair and confusion as to how and why I got to live... a
fluke, a mistake, a few feet on the tarmac, and I am still here, there but for the grace of...

Safe. Secure. I'm an American, living in America. I like my illusions. I walk through a metal detector, I put my carry-ons through an x-ray machine, and I know all will be well.

Here's a short list of my experiences lately with airport security:

At the Newark Airport, the plane is late at boarding everyone. The counter can't find my seat. So I am told to just "go ahead and get on" without a ticket!

At Detroit Metro Airport, I don't want to put the lunch I just bought at the deli through the x-ray machine so, as I pass through the metal detector, I hand the sack to the guard through the space between the detector and the x-ray machine. I tell him "It's just a sandwich." He believes me and doesn't bother to check. The sack has gone through neither security device.

At LaGuardia in New York, I check a piece of luggage, but decide to catch a later plane. The first plane leaves without me, but with my bag - no one knowing what is in it.

Back in Detroit, I take my time getting off the commuter plane. By the time I have come down its stairs, the bus that takes the passengers to the terminal has left - without me. I am alone on the tarmac, free to wander wherever I want. So I do. Eventually, I flag down a pick-up truck and an airplane mechanic gives me a ride the rest of the way to the terminal.

I have brought knives, razors; and once, my traveling companion brought a hammer and chisel. No one stopped us.

Of course, I have gotten away with all of this because the airlines consider my safety SO important, they pay rent-a-cops $5.75 an hour to make sure the bad guys don't get on my plane. That is what my life is worth less than the cost of an oil change.

Too harsh, you say? Well, chew on this: a first-year pilot on American Eagle (the commuter arm of American Airlines) receives around $15,000 a year in annual pay.

That's right - $15,000 for the person who has your life in his hands. Until recently, Continental Express paid a little over $13,000 a year. There was one guy, an American Eagle pilot, who had four kids so he went down to the welfare office and applied for food stamps - and he was eligible!

Someone on welfare is flying my plane? Is this for real? Yes, it is.

So spare me the talk about all the precautions the airlines and the FAA is taking. They, like all businesses, are concerned about one thing the bottom line and the profit margin.

Four teams of 3-5 people were all able to penetrate airport security on the same morning at 3 different airports and pull off this heinous act? My only response is - that's all?

Well, the pundits are in full diarrhea mode, gushing on about the "terrorist threat" and today's scariest dude on planet earth - Osama bin Laden.
Hey, who knows, maybe he did it. But, something just doesn't add up.

Am I being asked to believe that this guy who sleeps in a tent in a desert has been training pilots to fly our most modern, sophisticated jumbo jets with such pinpoint accuracy that they are able to hit these three targets without anyone wondering why these planes were so far off path?

Or am I being asked to believe that there were four religious/political fanatics who JUST HAPPENED to be skilled airline pilots who JUST HAPPENED to want to kill themselves today?

Maybe you can find one jumbo jet pilot willing to die for the cause - but FOUR? Ok, maybe you can - I don't know.

What I do know is that all day long I have heard everything about this bin Laden guy except this one fact - WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden!

Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA!

Don't take my word for it - I saw a piece on MSNBC last year that laid it all out. When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, the CIA trained him and his buddies in how to commits acts of terrorism against the Soviet forces. It worked! The Soviets turned and ran. Bin Laden was grateful for what we taught him and thought it might be fun to use those same techniques against us.

We abhor terrorism - unless we're the ones doing the terrorizing.

We paid and trained and armed a group of terrorists in Nicaragua in the 1980s who killed over 30,000 civilians. That was OUR work. You and me. Thirty thousand murdered civilians and who the hell even remembers!

We fund a lot of oppressive regimes that have killed a lot of innocent people, and we never let the human suffering THAT causes to interrupt our day one single bit.

We have orphaned so many children, tens of thousands around the world, with our taxpayer-funded terrorism (in Chile, in Vietnam, in Gaza, in Salvador) that I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised when those orphans grow up and are a little whacked in the head from the horror we have helped cause.

Yet, our recent domestic terrorism bombings have not been conducted by a guy from the desert but rather by our own citizens: a couple of ex-military guys who hated the federal government.

From the first minutes of today's events, I never heard that possibility suggested. Why is that?

Maybe it's because the A-rabs are much better foils. A key ingredient in getting Americans whipped into a frenzy against a new enemy is the all-important race card. It's much easier to get us to hate when the object of our hatred doesn't look like us.

Congressmen and Senators spent the day calling for more money for the military; one Senator on CNN even said he didn't want to hear any more talk about more money for education or health care - we should have only one priority: our self-defense.

Will we ever get to the point that we realize we will be more secure when the rest of the world isn't living in poverty so we can have nice running shoes?

In just 8 months, Bush gets the whole world back to hating us again. He withdraws from the Kyoto agreement, walks us out of the Durban conference on racism, insists on restarting the arms race - you name it, and Baby Bush has blown it all.

The Senators and Congressmen tonight broke out in a spontaneous version of "God Bless America." They're not a bad group of singers!

Yes, God, please do bless us.

Many families have been devastated tonight. This just is not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, DC, and the planes' destination of California - these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!

Why kill them? Why kill anyone? Such insanity...

Let's mourn, let's grieve, and when it's appropriate let's examine our contribution to the unsafe world we live in.

It doesn't have to be like this...


Michael Moore

Michael Moore is an activist, filmmaker, author and social critic. His most recent film is The Big One.

A letter from a friend in NY, USA, 13th Sept. 2001 :

I got this letter through a internet list. I do not know the writer.  I
did hear from my neighbor this afternoon that his best friend's only
son, a 38 year old lawyer whoose office was on the 106th floor went to
the roof.  They did not know if he jumped.
The human dimension of this tragedy is beginning to seep through.


(Below is an account of yesterday from an NYU linguistics professor who
lives in a 27th floor apartment, and watched the WTC with a telescope.)


I was quite moved by Frank K.'s letter. This is indeed an enormous

I live in the New York University Housing on 100 Bleecker Street on the
27th Floor looking south. I am a professor of linguistics. I have an
unobstructed view from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and watch planes land at
Newark and Kennedy. If the pilot had missed the world trade center, he
would have been in my living room.

        I heard the boom, and it knocked over a lamp near my window.
Schrapnel hit my window. I thought a plane had broken the sonic barrier
and knocked the antenna off the roof. I looked over and saw the hole in
the WTC and saw the flames. While we watched the burning building (some
friends, students,
faculty, etc. came by) the second plane hit. We did not see the plane
and throught it was an explosion.

        The fire spread lower and lower through the WTC building,
probably as the jet fuel ran out. Flames came out of every window in
both buildings on all sides. The planes hit one building about  1/3 way
from the top, the other about 1/4 way from the top. Descent for those
above in the WTC was impossible since all floors near the impact were

        People went to the roof and, after 20 minutes or so of
increasing heat, jumped off - frequently in pairs holding hands. I saw
no jumping triples.

        My Thayer School engineering training came back, and I realized
that with that intensity of heat in a building in which the steel
girders were insulated with asbestos, it had to collapse within one
hour. I called
the fire department, police, etc. and told them the building was
guaranteed to collapse. I was told that 911 was only for emergencies,
and I should call somewhere else.

        After about 40 minutes, as I saw (I have telescopes, binoculars,
etc.) the top segment of the building listing about 3 degrees, I left my
apartment and went out to walk in the street. Buidlings collapse if they
list more than 3 degrees. As I walked down Bleecker Street, people
gasped as the building collapsed. Like Lord Jim, my imagination
surpasses any reality. I should have stayed and watched. I did for the
second tower. It was easier on me.

        I bought some milk, water, beans, etc. and went back to the
apartment. We watched the second building, and I noticed it was more
than 3 degrees, but as the telescope revealed, that was because the
beams were buckling on both sides. A building like the WTC does not
'break off in the middle' and
fall like a tree. Rather, each floor can support a certain amount of
weight, and the floors above are supported by the steel girders. If a
top floor collapses onto a lower floor, it must collapse onto the floor
below, etc., etc., etc. And the building implodes. All of the people
that were in the WTC building are squished into a sort of accordian
structure between floors constructed of reinforced concrete. The steel
beams flexed like rubber to allow the building to collapse, but they are
certain to become rigid when
cooled, thereby locking any trapped victims between the immediately
adjacent floors

        As each building imploded, an immense amount of burning
kerosene, moulten aluminum, white hot steel, cement heated into dust,
and sundry smouldering flammables spread out in an inverted mushroom
cloud - inverted in that it spread along the earth, and unlike an atom
bomb did not spread out

        As each building imploded, this burning cloud of asbestos laden
dust spread out from river to river and as high as the original erect
World Trade Centers. I imagine that most of the deaths of the rescue
workers came from being enveloped in this thousand degree dust cloud. On
one ambulance caught up in the cloud, all of the paint was burned off of
one side, according to one radio report.

        I have never in my English speaking life owned a television set.
The goal of the media is to make the world palatable, not
comprehensible. I only own a TV in France or Germany, mainly to learn
the language. I even watch French and German soap operas to learn basic
'hello, good-bye' type stuff, and
of course, the curse words and their tidy use in proper social
situations. English speaking TV is abominable. The only thing worth
watching are the commercials, and even those are not very good. The news
is intolerable.

        My friends who have watched the WTC collpase on TV do not grasp
the Hiroshima-like horror.

I heeded the call for blood, and began to walk towards the hospital,
about a distance from Tuck/THayer school to the Dartmouth Gym. Freshly
showered and in a crisp new white pressed buttondown shirt, I arrive at
6th avenue and Houston Street, where I see hundreds of men and women of
all ages
walking towards the hospital. Badly burned, clothes torn and shredded,
bleeding, some with (I am not a doctor) apparently broken or dislocated
limbs, they are dragging themselves towards the hospital. One 17-19 year
old boy I tried to help did not seem to even know that I was trying to
help him, or
perhaps even, that I was there. He was waving his arms trying to keep
people away. From his jargon, I think he had been trampled in a

        Crisply and cleanly shirted and powered by newly shined shoes I
walked faster than most towards the hospital. Different than I expected.
They had the 'sick' people on the sidewalk, and the 'sicker' people were
steered off towards something else outside, maybe a truck. Only the
'sickest' people got in. Some advice: If you are ever in such a
situation, no matter what your ailment is (broken ribs, crushed
whatever) be certain to cut your forehead (with a found shard perhaps)
and bleed all over your head and shirt. This will guarantee you get
inside the hospital.

        There were about 500 people ahead of me donating blood, and they
parsed the line. They seemed to want O type, which isn't me. So I will
go bac tomorrow.

        Many of the severely injured people at the hospital seemed to be
NYC officials (fire, police, etc.) that were trapped in the collapse of
the World Trade Center. The blazing hot inverted mushroom cloud burned
off their clothes and damaged their lungs and eyes.

        Back home, I looked towards Brooklyn  and saw thousands and
thousands of people on each of the major bridges (Brooklyn, Manhattan,
and Williamsburg) walking out of Manhattan. It was like a hundred
marathons, except that everyone was walking slowly. No one seemed to be
carrying anything (remember
I have an astronomical telescope that can see Jupiter's moons and
canyons on our moon). They left Manhattan empty handed, at most, helping
some friend to leave. In my life I have never seen anything as moving as
this immense exodus of bobbing human heads (they were shoulder to
shoulder, back to belly) slowly groping their way across the bridges. It
appeared that no one had a laptop.

        I was feeding my daughter supper when the third building
collapsed (only 50 stories or so). It seems to be (or was) a telephone
central, since when it went down my building fire alarm went off, my
lights flickred, and my internet connection died.

        After supper, I walked around and saw no more burned, bleeding,
crippled people dragging themselves towards the overloaded St. Vincent's
Hospital. Only young couples out on hot dates, each on a cell phone
talking to someone they presumbly would rather be out with.

        So. What moved me to write this letter. Well, my intention was
tomorrow to jump in my car with my daughters and go to our farm in New
Jersey to avoid the mind boggling amount of asbestos that must be
floating in the air. (At one time in the 70's - having studied with Noam
Chomsky - I was a
protestor of sorts, and vigorously protested the spraying of asbestos as
fireproofing on steel girder buildings. The WTC were asbestos
insulated.) If you live in NYC, particularly Brooklyn where all the
smoke went, buy a mask. Avoid the 'gray dust'.

        But now I might not be able to leave. On Houston Street, 27
floors below my window, I see enormous numbers of trucks (300?) lined up
blocking my driveway. They are from out of state (Conn., NJ, etc.), the
National Guard, and various carting companies owned by people whose
names end in a
vowel. Many of the trucks are empty. Some are huge - like they could
carry a tank - but empty. A small number of beat up old trucks are full
of lumber, or I thought they were. I went down to ask
when the street would be open so I could get my hot 1989 Volvo Station
Wagon out of the driveway to speed my family towards the supernatural
ecstacy of rurual New Jersey. Anytime, it turns out. All streets are
blocked below 14th street, but residents can get a pass to escape.

        I asked what they were going to build with the lumber I saw
neatly stacked in the beat up old trucks. After a bit of a confused
discussions (I contributing all the confusion since I saw the trucks
from my
professorial ivory tower), it turned out that the trucks do not have
lumber, they have small, narrow pine coffins into which one apparently
places the body bags. Well, the joke was on me.

        People who know where I live have been calling me all night.

        My feeling is that the TV has made the situation politically
palatable so it can fall into the mainstream database and be manipulated
into endlessly repeated segments of Hollywood titbits - 15 second plane
crashes, 13 second building collapses, etc. My guess is that the same TV
newscasters that
present this unspeakable situation will be back in another year telling
us that there is a plan to evacuate New York City in eight hours if the
Hudson River Nuclear Power Plant blows up. Or that a nuclear war isn't
really that bad if you prepare for it beforehand and rememmber to stick
your head between your legs
at the moment of nuclear detonation.

        For me, there were many moving experiences. I was impressed that
the blood donation center had more donators than it could handle. The
line contained people of all walks of life, all ages, races, religions,
genders, and social classes. There were even tourists in the line. I
will never forget the
tens of thousands of bobbing heads stumbling across the East River
Or, the dazzled tattered bleeding blackened crowd walking north from the
scene up Broaday, Green, Mercer, 6th Avenue... - that was moving.

        But above and beyond everything, the one thing I will never
forget to my dying day, is the view of the people on the roof and higher
floors of the World Trade Center lined up in the windows and on
railings. You cannot see their expressions, but it is amazing what a 40
power telescrope reveals. They often huddled, probably talked about
their chances, and sometimes went back into the building, or maybe, just
laid on the floor. But then, some went to the edge, and jumped.

        Some jumped in pairs, holding hands. I doubt if they were
married or lovers. I think it was just two people, alone, desparate,
black, white, oriental,who cares - the telescope looking through the
heat waves and smoke didn't allow me to distinguish age and race. They
would just pair up and jump.

        I have thought all day about this. If I were on the roof, and I
saw flames on all sides of the building, I would almost certainly jump
rather than fry.
And if I saw another trembling human alongside of me, I would be much
happier holding their hand, and jumping as a pair. Somehow to jump as
half of a pair, even if the other half is an ad hoc recent acquaintance,
seems to me an infinitely more human way to pass on to the next step,
than to take the next step alone. I would wait to the next life to
explain to my wife why I held the hand of a strange woman, or to Senator
Helms, if my other half were a man.