Editorial printed in The Dallas Morning News
Nancy Cain Marcus
September 4, 2002
This time last year I had just moved to New York to serve as a United States Public Delegate to the United Nations. My first day at the US Mission to the UN would be Monday, September 10, a day devoted to orientation for delegates, reporting officers, and area advisors to the 56th Session of the General Assembly, which was to open ceremoniously the following morning at ten o’clock across the street at the United Nations Headquarters. I was looking forward to becoming acquainted with the complexities of UN proceedings and to learning my way around. But my second day on the job was September 11.
I arrived at my office at the US Mission to the UN after the first airplane crashed into the first Twin Tower, but before the second Twin Tower was hit. My taxi driver, a courteous Asian man, and I wondered together what all the paralyzing traffic, commotion, and sirens were about, and it was just as I was stepping out of the cab that we heard on the radio that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We both assumed it was a dreadful accident. I entered the building and hurried to my office. Within one minute—or it may have been 30 seconds—of arriving, I followed instructions given to all employees to gather on the top floor of the building. Within the few minutes while we were gathering, an experienced older ambassador speculated correctly in conversation with me about precisely who and what were behind these hideous acts. The name Osama bin Laden was maybe only slightly familiar to me then; the Taliban I knew only dimly as the group that had destroyed all the religious icons in Afghanistan; and I don’t believe I had ever heard of the Al Quaeda network. Suddenly, I noticed that the pleasant young man who the day before had politely addressed us about security procedures revealed a different character. It was both alarming and assuring to see that he was bearing weapons and that his friendly demeanor of the day before had changed into an intense steely focus and a dead-serious resolve.
Ambassador James Cunningham, an experienced career foreign service officer who was Acting Chief of Mission, soberly disclosed to the entire staff what little information he had, which was that it appeared the United States was under a major terrorist attack. I was told by another diplomat that Ambassador Cunningham had already been on the phone with both the President and the Secretary of State. The briefing was interrupted by a loud speaker giving repeated instructions to follow evacuation procedures—the steps of which had been covered in the first day of orientation. We all took the stairs down floor after floor and quickly departed the building. Once outside we could see our colleagues at UN Headquarters being evacuated at the same time.
The 36-block walk back to my apartment was eerily quiet. The uncanny silence—without the honking of horns, without the piercing sirens of one hour before—was punctuated with the sounds of F-16’s flying over Manhattan. It felt at once dangerous and strangely calm. People were pouring out of office buildings, and the sidewalks were crowded, but most people were hardly saying a word to each other. Instead, just about everyone was on a cell phone, trying to find someone who was out of reach. Few had much luck, but people just kept walking and dialing. The F-16’s continued to patrol the skies all day and all night, and an acrid burning smell wafted in and out.
The General Assembly of the United Nations, delayed by only one day, began on September 12. The tone of the diplomatic community was gravely sympathetic, and within 24 hours of the attacks in New York, the United Nations Security Council adopted the now renowned Resolution 1368, condemning in the strongest terms the terrorists attacks of the previous day in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and calling on member States to bring the perpetrators—and whoever might aid, sponsor, or harbor them—to justice. The adoption of this resolution, and the fact that the General Assembly affirmed it on September 12, were of no small significance. On September 28 came the adoption of Resolution 1373, requiring every UN member to take action against those who finance terrorist activities, a crucial component of the War on Terrorism. These resolutions had teeth in them, and the 189 member nations were largely united in these actions, making for an historic moment at the UN.
Much transpired, as history now records, in the weeks and months that followed. Looking back on that defining day of September 11, I feel fortunate to have been there in solidarity with New Yorkers, with all Americans, and with the many foreign diplomats who worriedly but earnestly wished us well. Though I cannot explain it, I can honestly say that, in spite of frequent rumors and official threats throughout the fall, I never felt a moment’s fear. It was as though a grace had come over me, and all emotions were over-ridden by deeply protective instincts and a heightened sense of duty. One year later those instincts endure.