One Survivor's View
by Barbara Hoffman
September 28, 2001

I worked at One World Trade Center on the 28th floor. On Tuesday morning, September 11, a little before 9 am, the building shook, almost knocking me off my feet. My coworkers ran out of their offices, some crying, and all I could think to do at the time was tell them to stay calm.


One of my company's vice-presidents hurried into my office and looked out the window. He said that a plane had crashed into the building. At that moment someone yelled, "Get out!" and we all headed for the stairs. They were already crowded – smoke filled the air and water dripped from the ceiling. It took about 30 minutes to get out of the building and when we hit the exits we ran, through the overpass to the World Financial Center and out towards the Hudson River. We saw the fire and holes in the buildings; some people in the crowd said they saw bodies falling out.

At that point, I just wanted to leave, so a coworker and I walked around until we found a subway. I took it part of the way home, then got out and walked. I passed a bank on 34th Street with a TV set in the window and saw the South Tower collapse.

I'm a take-charge kind of person and tend to stay calm in a crisis. I felt afraid only when the plane hit the building; other than that moment I didn't panic and tried to help others. Days after the attack, my eyes and throat burned from the smoke, and sometimes even now I'm easily startled by loud noises. Of course, compared to many people who worked in those buildings, including some of my coworkers who are among the missing, I'm lucky. I've even kept my job and am back to work at a site office.

Not Surprised

Unlike many Americans, I was not surprised by this horrific tragedy. America has long underestimated the unwavering hatred and determination of those who would retaliate for acts of aggression against them.

Our Mideast policy is a disaster: incoherent, inconsistent, and clueless. We have let our smug complacency dictate policies that do not defend America but do offend many others. The media and politicians constantly describe the hijackers as "cowardly." But what acts are more cowardly than dropping bombs from the air and flying away? – as the U.S. military did recently in Serbia, and continues to do in Iraq.

Terrorist groups have been warning us for years that they would attack us, and after several incidents, including the 1993 WTC bombing, we still didn't take them seriously. I am angry at our pathetically shortsighted, ignorant and inept politicians, who don't know or care about foreign policy and why it is so important. Their idea of international relations is to drop a few bombs and say that America has "sent a message." Well, on September 11, someone replied to that message – and how.

Like me, I believe many Americans are less surprised that the attack happened than at the enormity of the damage and at the stunning precision with which it was executed. The ruthlessness and tenacity of these fanatics is incomprehensible to most Americans (how many times did we hear these acts described as "senseless"?), yet our government commits similar acts of destruction in Iraq, Serbia, and other countries, without ever calling it terrorism (we rarely even call it "war"). We find a convenient bogeyman like Milosevic or Saddam Hussein and then use him to justify killing thousands of civilians.


We must avenge this attack; it is right and proper. Forget coalitions; just do it and do it selectively and quickly. Then, let's get some real intelligence in Washington, leaders who will obey our Constitution and shape a rational foreign policy in which the first priority is to defend America.

The preamble to the Constitution reads, in part:

"We the people ... in order to form a more perfect union ... insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity...."

The key words here are "defence" and "blessings of liberty." The United States Government has a legal and moral obligation to defend our country against enemies, but to refrain from taking offensive action unless directly threatened.

People who advocate this type of patriotic foreign policy use a number of different terms to describe it: noninterventionist, antiwar, Constitutionalist, moral, anti-imperialist, etc. I prefer a term used as a pejorative by the dominant media: "isolationist." That term is often deliberately distorted to mean America should cut itself off completely from the rest of the world, economically and culturally as well as militarily. To me, "isolationism" means using our military to defend America from aggression: no Somalias, Serbias, Iraqs, or Haitis. Our strength must come from our moral might, not our military might.


While the government's military aggression has threatened the Constitution's requirement that the government defend America, the government's domestic crusades, such as the so-called War on Drugs, have systematically and dangerously diminished our liberty. The summer before last I reread Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which states that:

"...There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking the laws...."

This could easily apply to the War on Terrorism: consider the sweeping new powers Congress recently gave to President Bush. And it will only get worse as terrorism increases.

Reason and Sanity

Walking around New York City in the aftermath of the terrorist disaster is depressing. There are posters everywhere of missing victims whose relatives and friends are still hoping to find them. I see headlines in the newspapers everywhere that scream "WAR" and all I can think is: War against whom? Where is the country named Terrorism?

I fervently hope and pray that reason and sanity will prevail, rather than the knee-jerk emotional reactions of more bombing, killing and destruction. Avenge this act and then stop the killing. Isolationism is not a dirty word – it's a sensible and Constitutional policy for America.

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