Nation of Hereos

The Windows on the World dining room on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower as it looked in 1976. (Photo: Burt Glinn)

Not long after 1976, a group of us, including the bride and the groom, escaped to Windows on the World from a boring wedding reception in Long Island. We were all a little drunk and more than a little silly. The last thing that we had on our minds, like most Americans then, was the possibility of a brutal attack by foreign nationals.

I recalled that night on a sunny September morning in 2001, when I turned on my computer to work on the novel that I was writing and was startled to see thick, black smoke coming from the North Tower. I assumed that hackers had taken over my home page, The Washington Post, but, just in case, turned on the TV. I spent the rest of the day with my 86-year-old mother, who had come to live with me in Maryland. She could not stop crying, having seen so many European cities burn during two world wars. I never added a word to that novel.

The novel, my first, had the working title Nation of Immigrants, Nation of Hereos. It was written from the perspective of a protagonist who, like me, was not only a Defense Department consultant specializing in what subsequently came to be called WMD countermeasures but was also a former displaced person. Like me—and far more than our native-born colleagues could conceive—she sensed that America was on a collision course and could not remain unscathed for long.

Had actual terrorists not attacked the Twin Towers, I might have been able to show you a sample of the finished product. As it is, a partial draft remains right where it belongs, on a crashed hard drive. Completing such a novel would have been pointless and exploitive.

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