A Nation Challenged: A Visual History of 9/11 and Its Aftermath
© 2002 The New York Times
The first few anniversaries of 9/11 had a weight as they approached — not only for what memories they evoked, but for the speculation that another attack might be attempted on the day itself. But as the years passed, that salience eroded. This past anniversary, in 2018, was different — different because it was a Tuesday, an echo of the day itself. I couldn’t help but remember the shock and fear of that day, and especially of the early morning when things kept happening and we didn’t know when it would stop or what might happen next. This past week, for the first time, I sat and watched extensive videos relating to 9/11 — not news footage, but video shot on the ground itself, after the attack or even before it, seeing the towers both in their prime and in their demise. In this mood I couldn’t help but reading through one of the books I put on display at the library, A Nation Challenged.
In the days that followed the obscene attack on New York City in 2001, the New York Times began publishing coverage of the aftermath and its investigation in a special feature called “A Nation Challenged”. This feature, an insert inside the paper, ran until the end of the year. A Nation Challenged collects many of the photographs and articles from that run into a single collection to document the day itself, stories of the people involved, and review the consequences of America’s grief as it began a war in Afghanistan which, like a mythical hydra, spawns more conflicts the more we persist in flailing away at it. The information included, however, is not merely text and photos; instead, there are other visual aides. A two-page spread reveals the interior of both towers, and includes analysis of how each fell. Another two-page spread provides a transcript of communications chatter as aviation authorities and other pilots realized that something was wrong. Coverage of the day itself is only a part of the book, as subsequent sections review the clean-up process and the treatment of debris as a mass crime scene. Also included is information Osama bin Laden’s background, and the political/ethnographic breakdown of Afghanistan.
While I’ve never read any other 9/11 books, this particular volume recommends itself as a remembrance. Also, if you have time, in late August a video was posted containing 30 minutes of restored footage shot on the day itself, near the WTC site immediately following the collapse of tower two. The photojournalist responsible, Mark LaGanga, spoke with people fleeing the scene, toured WTC-7 (empty save a few LEOs confirming the building was clear), and captured the collapse of WTC-1 on film. It is unlike anything I have ever seen.