The Story of 9/11: 'Death, a Sudden, Wholesale Death'

As we rancorously commemorate the ninth anniversary of the terror attacks upon America, as we wallow in loud and angry recrimination, perhaps it's worth remembering the words of Timesman Dan Barry:

"In its essence," Barry wrote on September 11, 2002, "the World Trade Center calamity is not about geopolitics, or security, or even terrorism. It is about death: a sudden, wholesale death whose aftershocks continue to rumble through the ground of the living, refusing to ease into memory's recesses in conformity with the natural order of things."

Those words have stuck with me through the years not only because they are so poignant and pointed but because they in turn encouraged me to write a column about 9/11 that I still hold dear. The piece is called "Look To The List." I wrote it on September 11, 2002, while watching the somber coverage from Ground Zero, and it's been re-posted repeatedly ever since at CBSNews.com. Here is a taste, the entree actually, for a new audience. All of the names below, and thousands more, have been recited, over and over again, in the years since the Twin Towers fell. 

Approximately 17 times more people died on Sept. 11, 2001, than died in Oklahoma City. It's not a competition, I know, but comparing the two tolls is another way of comprehending the enormity of the events last September in relation to anything and everything that had come before in our nation's history. And Wednesday's names resonate because they so clearly prove that the World Trade Center was, indeed, a place where the world met to conduct business. Unlike the names from Oklahoma City, the names from New York and Virginia and Pennsylvania were names representing virtually every corner of the world.

There were 13 Lees and two Lins. There three Wrights and five Wongs. There were siz Perezes and six Martinezes and five Ortizes and five Garcias and five Rodriguezes and a Rodrigues and four Suarezes. There was a Jawara and a Yanamadala and a Vamsikrishna and a Srinuan and a Singh and a Mehta and a Malahi and an Abad and an Ajala and a Baksh and a Carstanjen and a Dhanani and an Economos and a Foo and a Gopu and a Ho and an Iskenderian and a Jain and a Kawauchi and a Llanes and a Mardikian and a Narula and an Ogonowski and a Pepe and a Quackenbush and a Ranganath and a Salvaterra and a Takahasi and an Uliano and a two Vales and a Wang and a Yang and a Zampieri.

There were two Cohens. There was a Mohammed and a Hussain. No letter of the alphabet was spared. On September 11, 2001, 255 people with a last name beginning with the letter "S" died - alone more than the entire toll in Oklahoma City.

The names also reflect the nature of New York's marvelous Irish community, which for centuries has supplied the city with, among other things, many of its bravest (firefighters) and its finest (police officers). On Wednesday's list were 15 Murphys and 11 Lynches and four McCarthys and a McDay and a McDermott and a McDonald and two McDonnells and a McDowell. There were nine Kellys and a Kelley and a Kellett. There was a Fitzgerald and a Fitzpatrick and a Fitzsimons.

There were also 10 Joneses and eight Taylors and six Thompsons and five Adamses and five Campbells and five Josephs and four Allens and four Browns and a Browne. There were four Greens and two Greenes and a Greenleaf and a Greenberg and a Greenstein. There were 10 Whites and a Blackman and a Blackwell. There were 16 Smiths and 10 Williamses and seven Millers and six Gardners and six Nelsons and four Lyons and four Murrays and two Hoffmans and two Hoffmanns.

There were 64 people killed on Sept. 11, 2001, whose name began with the letters "Mc." There were 25 people killed on Sept. 11, 2001, whose name began with the letter "O'," from O'Berg to O'Sullivan.

There were four Simmonses and four Simons and a Simone. There were five Youngs and three Yorks and five Fishers and a Fischer. There were five Hughes and three Johnsons and two Ellises and two Sheas (and a Shay and a Shaw) and two Flaggs and two Fields and two Fazios and two Foxes and two Evanses and two Stans and two Byrnes and a Burnside and two Mays and a Mayo and two Spencers and a Spence and three Fosters and a Fosteris.

There were three Burkes and three Burnses and five Egans. There was a Judges and a Small and a Stone and a Stout and a Sword and a Felt and a Rabalais and a Gray and a Bay and a Bell and a Wall and two Temples and a Zion and a Washington and a West and an Urban and a Speer and a Salvo and a Riches and a Park and a Paris and a LaFrance and a Day and a Dale and a Booth and an Oswald and a Bright and a Blood and a Cain and a Hill and a Hunter and a Hurt and a Petti and a Petit and a Doctor.

Let this September 11th, let every September 11th, be a day of peace and quiet and respect for the thousands of people who died that day in 2001 and for the hundreds of thousands of other victims and survivors. Whatever "9/11" now means to the world, the day, and the conversation, belongs to them and to them alone. 

Presented by

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

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