A few days ago, one of our sons “interviewed” me for a school project, titled “Where were you on September 11, 2001.” The memories are still vivid, 15 years later. How about yours?
For some perspective, here is an excerpt from my September 2001 column for Arkansas Business (titled “A Year From Now?”):
The first time I saw New York from the World Trade Center was in 1987. A graduating MBA student, I was riding high on a strong job market. Several banks had courted me to New York during the recruiting process, and a VP with Chase Manhattan invited me to dinner at Windows on the World, a very nice restaurant atop one of the towers. It was a beautiful, clear night and the view was spectacular. I remember trying to be cool about the whole experience and avoid the open-mouthed Gomer look that would reveal me as Not Ready For The Big Time.
Still, I was awfully impressed. Those towers, 100-plus stories of glorious excess, symbolized American economic power. Maybe it was the stunning view that night that convinced this small-town Southern boy New York City was worth a shot (at least for a time). Those towers said New York and America were big, proud, strong, and about as permanent as you could get.
I remember thinking I must have come to New York City at the absolute worst time. Only weeks after I had moved to the Big Apple to start work for Bankers Trust Company, Black Monday arrived. On that one scary day–October 19, 1987–the major stock market indices fell about 22 percent, and we began to fear for not only our jobs but the future of the country.
Shortly before Black Monday, a lot had been made of the supposedly brittle foundation of the stock markets and the American economy. Most of the rise in stock values was attributed to so much paper shuffling–mergers, takeovers, divestitures, restructurings. We weren’t creating anything, the thinking went, just lining the pockets of a few slick corporate raiders and bankers.
And then there was the matter of the Japanese. It was widely assumed that the Japanese work ethic, corporate cultures and lockstep partnership between industry and government would prevail over the messy, I’m-out-for-me mentality of the United States. On Black Monday, it seemed that America’s shortsightedness had come home to roost.
But a funny thing happened on the way to American economic ruin. Corporations whose market values had gone into the tank rushed to buy back their own shares. The stock markets made up the lost territory in just over a year. It turned out the many firms had been doing much more than shuffling paper–they had been learning new processes, investing in new technologies and becoming more productive. Consumer confidence, briefly shaken, returned. The recession (or even depression) that had been feared from Black Monday never happened.
Anyone care to compare Japan’s Nikkei average to our S&P 500 over the past 14 years?
America and its economy are remarkably resilient. Our way isn’t perfect, but it works. It will continue to work this time, too.
By the time this column is out we will have started to, as President Bush has implored, get back to business. Corporations nationwide have responded to the attack in wonderful ways–providing money, donating goods, sending people to help in any way possible. It’s been nice to see.
I hope that a year from now, once the shock and anger and passion subside a bit, we’re still holding onto our resolve. When someone says the danger is past, politely remind him that the terrorists who attacked us are a patient lot. We have to keep our edge.
If you have young children or grandchildren, then perhaps today is a good day to share with them your memories of September 11, 2001–and why their generation will have to maintain a strong resolve as well.