9/11/2001 wasn’t the end of Bubble 1.0 even though it seems that way in hindsight. By the time the hijacked planes were flown into the Twin Towers the NASDAQ had fallen from a high of over five thousand to less than two thousand. Bubble stocks which had traded over a $100 were struggling to stay over $1.00. Many of the high-flying companies were simply gone.
Pointed evidence that the boom in air travel had already ended was that the four widebody jets used as weapons only had a total of 265 people on board including crew. Two years earlier in the midst of the boom they would have been nearly full.
But 9/11 does mark the end of an era. Certainly no one who was close to the atrocity and its aftermath is the same. Many of the rest of us were changed as well. Our world is different, less exuberant, even grim. The attack on the USS Cole in 2000 was a warning but not until 9/11 did we understand how religious extremism and implacable hatred could be combined with meticulous planning and oil money to create horror and the seemingly ineradicable threat of more horror. The choice of targets – the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the massive monuments to American hegemony and the boom that America led – was stunning in its symbolism. The bodies falling from the burning buildings were a gut blow of all too comprehensible human dimensions.
In at least the short term 9/11 bought out the best in many people. George Bush’s short speech in which he said there was no distinction between terrorists “and those who harbor them” was the best of his presidency. He was a much better President in the aftermath of the attack than he had been before and would be later. The heroism of the “tower runners”, the police and firemen who run into and not away from burning buildings, won’t be forgotten soon. There were many ordinary heroes and some villains in the smoky stairways of the stricken buildings. I still choke up when I think about the mighty armada of doctors and nurses who massed immediately on the Jersey shore waiting to treat survivors who never came.
Because 9/11 was the pivot point of an era, was the official end, at least for a while, of irrational exuberance, the chapter on 9/11 is also the pivot point of my book hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble. Serialization of that chapter starts today at www.hackoff.com and I think it may stand on its own as a short story although I didn’t write it that way. I’m blogging about it both because it was such a hard chapter to write and because I want to explain what is fiction and what I think is fact.
The protagonists who readers are already familiar with – CEO Larry Lazard, CFO Donna Langhorne, and CTO Dom Montain as well as the bankers and competitor they meet with in the South Tower on 9/11 to discuss a merger are all fictional as are the Larry and Dom’s experience in the stairwell. Not autobiographical either; as I posted earlier, I was in Boston meeting with a much more worthy competitor in a preliminary discussion of a merger and had been in the air and seen the Twin Towers that beautiful Fall morning but was nowhere near the actual events.
The hijackers are all too real. I couldn’t have and wouldn’t have invented them. Almost everything I’ve written about them comes from the report of the 9/11 Commission (available here and well worth reading) although I got my first outline of the events, very much in agreement with the Commission report and well-organized, from wikipedia. I did invent the last discussion between Ziad Jarrah and his fellow hijackers just before heroic passengers fought their way into the cockpit and brought the plane down in Pennsylvania short of still-undefended targets in Washington, DC.
I also invented the last few minutes of passenger Daniel Lewin and his attempt to foil the hijacking of the plane he was on. It seemed consistent with his service in the Israeli army and what I knew about him (I knew him slightly). I’m not the only one making up stories about Lewin. I was horrified to find this morning that the third entry in Google under his name is:
Zionist Commando Daniel Lewin Orchestrated The 9-11 Terrorist Attacks. His Troops Stole Arab Identites While Mossad Agents In Hollywood,”
The communications of the brave flight attendants and passengers with the ground, the conversations from the cockpit, dialog of air traffic controllers and the military, the discussion between the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense in which it is clear that no one knew whether the pilots of American fighters had actually been given orders to shoot down planes being used as weapons, all of these are straight from the Commission Report.
Banker George Harcourt from Princeton is fictional. The cars that gathered dust in the Princeton Junction station when their owners didn’t return are all too real. Sister Fran and the good-hearted staff at Stuart Country Day are, fortunately, real.
The chapter is called The Half Life of Surprise. Within the space of an hour, information flowed through an informal network of cell and seatback phones on the first three hijacked planes and was relayed through news channels and then to the phones of the passengers on the fourth plane. These passengers knew in time to act that the rules had changed, that submitting to hijackers was no longer an option. “Let’s roll,” said Todd Beamer of Cranbury, NJ on board United 93. Good thing because formal military and FAA communication, actually performing pretty well in the fog of war, had sent the fighters that could have defended the capitol out to sea.