Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sometimes the Pain Is Too Much

I read recently in the Poughkeepsie Journal that the father of a murdered college student from Hyde Park committed suicide. I was very saddened to think of the grief that family has had to bear already, and now this.

I imagine that this father just couldn’t take it any more: constantly thinking about his daughter’s murder, about the upcoming trial of her alleged killer, the “what ifs” running through his mind, trying to comfort his distraught family. Sometimes the pain is just too much.

We can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to have such a tragedy in your family. Let me suggest that when we read about something like this in the newspaper or hear about it in the news, we stop and say a quick prayer for the people involved. Better yet, write down something on a prayer list and pray for them whenever you pray for the concerns on that list.

We might feel tempted to denounce that father for abandoning his family, but let’s not be too quick to do so. Sometimes the pain is more than anybody can bear. It certainly was in this case. I can’t believe that God, knowing such pain, will condemn him when be comes before the judgment seat. I believe God will wipe away his tears and welcome him to that place where there are no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering.

Finally, as a pastor I receive many prayer requests concerning terrible things people are going through, often health-related. The human body is a masterpiece of design and engineering, yet things do go wrong. When they do, it can be awful. So those people need our prayers too: for healing if God wills it, but also for peace, acceptance, strength, and comfort for all concerned.

In God We Trust? (Part 3)

In earlier posts I presented the sermon I gave on the Sunday after 9/11/01. On 9/11/11, the tenth anniversary of the terrible events of 9/11/01, I gave a sermon that I’d like to share with you. This is part 3 of that sermon. I hope this post helps you in some way:

e. Nancy Yambem Example

If we look to God and follow his plan for us, God can, and usually does, have some sort of good come out of an ordeal. Nancy Yambem is an example of some good coming out of tragedy. In the heartbreak of 9/11, her faith was tested and became stronger as she realized she had to depend on the Lord to get her thru the unimaginable pain of losing her husband on that terrible day. Her faith was made so strong that she was able to forgive those who killed her husband. Such forgiving comes from God, and the good news is that relieves us of a lot of baggage.

In addition, Nancy now leads a bereavement group here at the church, and she has helped people to come to terms with their loss. I recommend her group if you have recently suffered the loss of a loved one. Of course to live according to God’s plan, we need to be plugged into God through prayer, worship, and Bible reading so we can discern his plan for us.

V. Christ Is Our Hope

In addition to trusting God in the midst of a trial, we also should look beyond our present circumstances to a much better future. That better future may, or may not, be in this life. But we do know that as followers of Jesus we are assured of eternal life in heaven, and for that we rejoice. We obviously aren’t exempt from trials in this life, but we have Jesus – who himself endured suffering on this earth – to help us thru difficult times. We have the confidence that he loves us and that he is greater than any of the challenges or disappointments that we face. The Cross is proof of his love for us, and the Resurrection is proof of his power over evil. In addition, we have hope in Jesus because he promised us in Matt 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” NIV

The Good News is that anybody can be a part of his family – just come to him in faith. So why not put your trust in Christ today, and he will help you get through this life and give you eternal life in the hereafter.

VI. Conclusion

1. We Groan

With all the bad news and uncertainty, I can’t help but sometimes feel depressed and pessimistic about the future. Along those lines, Second Corinthians 5:4a says, For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden… (NRSV)

Why do we groan? Because this world has problems, injustice, wars, strife, illness, natural disasters, and grieving, as we all know. One of the big questions of life is, “Why is this world like that?” It’s because we live in an imperfect world, subject to the laws of nature that can sometimes cause destruction, and human sin, which causes suffering. We long for peace, security, contentment, and comfort, but they are elusive, because this is earth, not the Garden of Eden or heaven. When we all get to heaven, there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, but for now, we have to endure trials from time to time.

2. Wrong Solutions

In our trials, we often look for worldly answers, or we try to escape it all through diversions. We expect politicians or the government to be our saviors when they can’t even agree on how to fix the mess we’re in. Humans don’t have the answers, but God does. That’s why we need to look to him, both individually and as a nation. We have to realize that life is too difficult to handle on our own, and there are issues of life that cannot be fixed with human efforts.

3. Trust in God

Only Jesus offers us true peace and comfort, plus the assurance of a secure future in heaven with him. Only Jesus gives hope to those without hope. As I said before, God may not change our circumstances but he will help us through whatever problem or trial we are facing. We don’t have to face our problems alone.

So why not turn to him today? I know that when I feel pessimistic and down, I stop and realize that I have hope. I have hope because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, whose power uplifts. So let the wise words of Proverbs 3:5-6 be our guide:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In God We Trust? (Part 2)

In earlier posts I presented the sermon I gave on the Sunday after 9/11/01. On 9/11/11, the tenth anniversary of the terrible events of 9/11/01, I gave a sermon that I’d like to share with you. This is part 2 of that sermon. I hope this sermon helps you in some way:

IV. Trust in God

With this bad news and fear about the future, what are we Christians to do? Do we just resign ourselves to the possibility of a bleak future, or spend most of our time worrying, or lash out in anger?

1. Lamentations

Let’s look to the Book of Lamentations for some answers. In chapter three, Jeremiah admitted his profound sorrow. “I remember my affliction and my wandering… and my soul is downcast within me.”

Yet even in the depths of his despair, as his people were being carted away into Babylonian captivity, he could proclaim the faithfulness of God:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:19-26, NIV)

So the first thing we must do, difficult as it may sometimes be, is to look to the Lord for help and place our trust in him. Of course we know from experience that God may not change our situation, much as we’d like him to. God didn’t restore Jerusalem for nearly a century, but God did help Jeremiah to get through the sorrow and heartbreak, and he will for you and me as well. So God is faithful to help you deal with your situation, to accept it, and God will give his peace, as we read in Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NRSV
We sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” but do we really believe it?

2. Examples of God’s Work

This trusting God sounds good, but can we really have hope in our lives? Let me give you a few examples of God’s work in the world:

a. Marriage Example

At a party recently we met a couple we didn’t know but we had been praying for their marriage. They are doing very well and their marriage is back on track.

b. Illness Example

At another party recently we met a man we didn’t know but we had been praying for his health. He is now doing fine and is healthy enough to go back to work.

c. Job Example

For over a year we’ve been praying for somebody who needed a better job, and recently got one – in this economy, no less! We’ve also been praying for the financial situation of a family, and he is scheduled to get a raise, something rare in this economy.

d. My Example (Jer 29:11)

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God told the Israelites in Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. NIV

I believe we can claim that verse for ourselves as well, and I did that back in the 1980s when I was about to lose my job. The economy wasn’t as bad as it is now, but people weren’t hiring. I sent out a lot of resumes and got very few responses – I was getting desperate. Through my wife Sue and other people, I came to realize God had a plan for my life, so I prayed to God to reveal it and to get me a job as well.

God did come through with a job, on the day I got the pink slip, and he has been revealing his plan to me ever since, bit by bit. I might add that God’s plan contained a few surprises, like becoming a pastor. I know it was in God’s plan to have me appointed here as well, and for that, I’m grateful and pleased to be your pastor.

More in a future post.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In God We Trust? (Part 1)

In earlier posts I presented the sermon I gave on the Sunday after 9/11/01. On 9/11/11, the tenth anniversary of the terrible events of 9/11/01, I gave a sermon that I’d like to share with you. I hope this sermon helps you in some way:

I. Introduction

I remember my parents talking about the attack on Pearl Harbor. They would say how they vividly remembered where they were and what they were doing when they received news of the attack. I thought that was strange, and then the Kennedy assassination happened. Then I understood – these were defining events whose details are etched in your memory for the rest of your life. The same thing happened on 9/11 – I clearly remember everything about that terrible morning, as I’m sure you do.

II. Emotions of the Day

1. Feelings of Hopelessness

Besides clearly remembering the events, I also recall my range of emotions. I went from surprise to shock to sadness to anger to feelings of helplessness and even hopelessness, as I’m sure most people did. In a matter of minutes, the world as we knew it had changed drastically. Our sense of security, false as it was, was shattered.

2. Pearl Harbor Comparison

Coincidentally, the attack on 9/11 happened a few months short of the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the case of Pearl Harbor, terrible as it was, the attack was a military operation with a strategic objective, plus there was a clear enemy – Japan. With terrorism, civilians are targeted and there’s no strategic objective. How can you prevent attacks by fanatics willing to die on suicide missions? As a result, we have a sense of frustration, helplessness, and even hopelessness when it comes to terrorist threats. In the face of terrorism, as well as crime, economic downturns, personal loss, and natural disasters, we often feel helpless and hopeless.

III. Various Disasters

1. Jeremiah’s Feelings

This morning we read from the Book of Lamentations, written by the prophet Jeremiah 2,600 years ago. His beloved city of Jerusalem had been completely destroyed by the Babylonians, and the world as he knew it had come to an end. Even God’s beautiful temple, built by King Solomon, was leveled by the enemy, and the sacred temple vessels were taken to a pagan land. Even in translation from an ancient language, his emotions come through.

On 9/11 and the days following, I could identify with how Jeremiah felt. In that next Sunday’s service following 9/11, I used passages from Lamentations as the Scripture reading because they seemed appropriate. Although a whole city had not been destroyed in 9/11, a major landmark had been, plus nearly 3,000 innocent lives were needlessly lost. Some of those lost were co-workers of mine, so it was very personal.

Life as we knew it had been changed forever, and I think we learned that safety in this world is really an illusion. Obviously we must do everything we can to protect ourselves against attacks, including putting up with some inconveniences at the airport. But thanks be to God, we haven’t had another attack on American soil since 2001.

3. Other Tragedies

a. Natural Disasters

Sadly, though, we’ve had some devastating natural disasters.

I mention natural disasters because the destruction from Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee is still fresh on our minds. With the stream next to the parsonage overflowing during Irene, we were concerned as we watched the water creeping ever closer to the parsonage. Although we didn’t get any water in the house, I can sympathize with those who did – we came close!

b. Uncertainty about the Future

Even as 9/11 fades into a 10 year old memory, there’s still tremendous uncertainty about the future: uncertainty about the country, the economy, our personal situations, and where the next natural disaster will strike. Many people I talk to are pessimistic and have feelings of fear and hopelessness, because things seem to be going from bad to worse.

More in a future post.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sermon on 9/11/01 – Part 3

In two earlier posts I recounted the sermon I gave on the Sunday following the events of 9/11/01. I entitled it “Lessons from Pearl Harbor”. This post has the conclusion of that sermon.

Where Was God?

You may still ask, “Where was God in all of this?” I saw God many times as I watched TV this week.

•I saw God in the firefighters who ran into a severely damaged building to try to save lives, losing their own in the process.

•I saw God in people helping their co-workers to get out of the building.

•I saw God in the dedicated rescue workers who went on past the point of exhaustion in the hope of finding somebody alive.

•I saw God in the reaction of Americans, who lined up to give blood, who sent in donations, who gathered at churches and synagogues to pray and comfort one another.

•I saw God in those people holding candlelight vigils and mourning over the loss of life of people they didn’t even know.

•I saw God in the encouragement people were giving to the rescue workers, including local merchants giving food and drink to them without charge.

•I saw God in those who called for us not to take out our anger on Americans of Middle Eastern descent or those who practice the Muslim religion.

•I saw God in Washington, DC, as those of all religions and political persuasions gathered in the National Cathedral as one to worship God in all of this.

•I saw God in the moving memorials held in Canada and countries throughout the world, honoring the victims and upholding the United States in this time of crisis.

Where was God in all of this? He was in each one of us.

What Happens Next?

Our job is just beginning. We don’t know what the future holds. The most important thing we can do is pray for our national leaders.

We should pray that our national leaders:
-Will be open to God’s leading and follow His wisdom.
-They will maintain a spirit of unity consistent with God’s direction to them.
-They won’t be driven by emotions or hatred.

We should also pray for leaders around the world, that:
-Those harboring terrorists will shut down the camps, & give them over to justice.
-Nations will back up their claims of support for the US with appropriate action.
-The community of nations will have a spirit of unity and mutual support.
-Terrorism will be stopped dead everywhere through the determined efforts of every nation’s leadership (incl Northern Ireland and Israel).
-Pray in particular for Pakistan, which will probably be on the front line of any action and without whose support, our job will be more difficult.

We should also pray for the nation in general, that:
-No more terrorist attacks will occur on our soil or against our people anywhere.
-We will have a spirit of reconciliation and love for one another after seeing how ugly hatred can be.
-We as a nation will turn back to God and revival will take place.

We must realize that God will not support us just because we are Americans. I don’t believe God supports one nationality over another. He will support us if we are his people, called by his name, dedicated to him and committed to him.

Our money says “In God We Trust.” Now is our time to prove it.

Prayer is effective and is our main weapon against the evil we are fighting against, because that evil is of a spiritual nature. Ephesians 6:10-13 tells us that our struggle is a spiritual one:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

I repeat: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We may talk of military action, and that is certainly one weapon we may use, but the most effective weapon we have is trust in God and prayer. The best thing we can do in this time of national (and even international) crisis is pray to God and put our trust in Him.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sermon on 9/11/01 – Part 2

In an earlier post and this one is the sermon I gave on the Sunday following the events of 9/11/01. I entitled it “Lessons from Pearl Harbor”.

Current Attacks Strategic Failure

Do I believe the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were strategic failures?
Yes I do.

Certainly they were successful in their execution and in causing short-term disruption. But from a long-term strategic viewpoint, I believe they will be shown, just like Pearl Harbor, to have been failures, by the grace of God. I’m not sure why these attacks were carried out, but by almost any measurement, they will be determined to have been strategic failures.

1. They caused an interruption in the heart of our financial district, but there won’t be serious long-term effects. Life will go on pretty much as before.

2. They caused a disruption of business and commerce, but I am guessing that the effect on the economy will be relatively mild. Increased spending for the military may actually help the economy.

3. They have united America in a way not seen for 60 years. Philosophical and political differences have been set aside and a spirit of unity prevails. If the objective of those attacks was to discourage Americans, they did just the opposite.

4. Much of the world has rallied around the US in an unprecedented show of international solidarity. The war against terrorism will be a united front because countries now realize all are vulnerable.

5. It will make the US more sympathetic to Israel and more supportive of its struggle against Palestinian terrorism.

Why were the recent attacks strategic failures? Again, I believe God will protect us from serious long-term harm so that we can be used as his instrument to fight against this new evil.

Although the death and destruction is more than we can bear, it may have been the only way we could be united as a people and have to resolve to do what only the US can accomplish in the world.

So the reason for the history lesson this morning is to show that God’s sovereignty always prevails, and ultimate good can come out of disasters, terrible as they are.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sermon on 9/11/01 – Part 1

As a pastor, you had to talk about 9/11 that next Sunday. Since my congregation at that church was older, most of them remembered Pearl Harbor. Therefore, I decided to draw parallels between 9/11/01 and December 7, 1941, which was a few months short of being 60 years ago. I also attempted to answer the major question on most people’s minds: “Where was God?” In this post and the one to follow is the sermon I gave on the Sunday following the events of 9/11/01. I entitled it “Lessons from Pearl Harbor”.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, is another date that will live in infamy. Many of you were alive at the time of Pearl Harbor, and I’m sure you recognize many of the emotions associated with Tuesday’s events. Since some are calling this a “Second Pearl Harbor” I would like to draw some comparisons to that event 60 years ago.

I find it interesting that after 60 years there is still strong interest in the Pearl Harbor attack as we see by the recent popular movie called “Pearl Harbor.”

•Both Pearl Harbor and the recent acts of terrorism were unprovoked, and both caught the US by surprise.

•Both took place in the morning, and both involved aircraft. The first bomb at Pearl Harbor fell at 7:55 and the first plane hit the WTC at 8:45.

•Both involved substantial property loss. At Pearl, 18 ships were sunk or seriously damaged, plus damage to buildings. In NYC, the entire WTC complex and many nearby buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged.

•Both involved a substantial loss of life. At Pearl, 2,403 men and women lost their lives, all but 68 were military. We don’t know the death toll yet, but I estimate Tuesday’s attacks will probably result in 6,000-7,000 deaths. (266 in airplanes, 200 at Pentagon, and 5,500-6,500 at WTC) Most of these deaths were civilians.

•Both attacks were personal to Americans. Hawaii was an American territory and the attack was against our military installations there. Many knew servicemen who lost their lives or were in Hawaii at the time.

Tuesday’s attack was even closer to home, and involved ordinary people at work, like any one of us. Many people were personally touched by these attacks, knowing people on the airplanes or in the buildings. My company had an office at the WTC. We lost 5 employees. We could see the burning buildings from our office in White Plains, knowing we had people there.

•Evil as it was, the Japanese had a strategic objective in attacking Pearl Harbor. Their objective was to neutralize our Pacific fleet so it would be out of commission for several years. This would allow the Japanese to continue their conquests in Asia without US interference. The US had become increasing hostile to Japan and had initiated trade and oil embargoes against it.

For the life of me, I can not find any strategic objective to an attack on civilian buildings such as we saw on Tuesday. That’s what makes Tuesday’s attacks senseless and diabolical.

Pearl Harbor a Strategic Failure

Interestingly, from a strategic point of view, the Pearl Harbor attack was a failure.
It failed in four ways:

1. The most important naval weapon, the aircraft carrier, was untouched in the attack. Not a single carrier was in port at the time. Within a few months our carriers had engaged the enemy in significant naval battles.

2. The second most important naval weapon, the submarine, was also untouched by the attack. The sub base at Pearl was only moderately damaged and was soon back in operation. US subs were attacking Japanese shipping all over the Pacific.

3. The enormous fuel depot at Pearl was completely untouched. Even if no ships had been sunk but the fuel depot had been destroyed, our fleet would have soon been rendered useless for a substantial period of time.

4. The Pearl Harbor attack united Americans as never before. I suspect the Japanese wanted to demoralize us, but the effect was just the opposite. We were resolved to defeat an enemy that was devastating Asia and had now hit our home shores.

Why was Pearl Harbor a failure to the Japanese? I believe it was because God protected us so that we could be instrumental in defeating the evil of Nazi and Japanese expansionism. Without the involvement of the US, I don’t believe these evil expansionist empires could have been stopped. Because of US involvement in the war, Europe was eventually liberated and large parts of Asia were freed from the harsh rule of the Japanese Empire.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thoughts on 9/11 – An Historical Perspective (Part 5)

Certain momentous events “shock” the American public. They were generally unexpected, sudden, and had a significant impact on the country. In three earlier posts I explored some of those shocks that have happened during my 60+ years of life. In my last post I began to share my recollection of the biggest shock of my lifetime, the attacks on 9/11/01. This post is a continuation of that recollection.

After a little while, somebody mentioned that one of the World Trade Center towers had collapsed. I never thought of a collapse, just severe damage. I felt that if the building could survive a direct hit from a large airplane without toppling over, it wouldn’t collapse. However, the intense heat from a large amount of burning jet fuel resulted in the softening of the structural steel. Moreover, the outside steel was more than decorative. It was also supporting. Those vertical supporting steel beams had been breached by the planes, ultimately resulting in collapse. I looked out the window and saw a huge amount of brownish smoke and dust rising from lower Manhattan in a wide inverted cone.

I went into the other office to watch the television, and saw reruns of the collapse. It was at that time that I found out that it was tower two that had collapsed: the tower with our employees in it. It was the second tower hit but the first to collapse. Shortly after that the second tower collapsed. I went back into our office, and the employees were very upset. Some of the women were crying, knowing they had probably lost friends and co-workers in the disaster. I realized I needed to do something as a part-time pastor, so I went into our CEO’s office and asked if I could have a time of prayer for those employees who would like to participate. He agreed that it would be a good idea.

We gathered the employees in the accounting area and I said a prayer and then we had a moment of silence. I finally reached my wife Sue and told her to turn on the TV, that we were under a terrorist attack. After a little while I went home to be with her since she was very upset and was crying. I knew I wouldn’t get any work done in the office, and I had done all I could do to comfort my co-workers. The office closed shortly after I left. Either just before leaving or while I was on the way home I found out that a plane had crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania. I suspected at the time that it must have been headed for Washington and either there had been a struggle on the plane or it had been shot down by the Air Force (which was an initial rumor).

I knew that the World Trade Center had 40,000 – 50,000 people typically in the buildings on a work day. Knowing how fast they collapsed after being hit and how long it takes to evacuate such large buildings, I figured that at least 20,000 people had been killed. Once we got reasonable estimates of the casualties I couldn’t believe that less than 3,000 people died there. Similarly, I suspected that several thousand had been killed at the Pentagon, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that less than 300 died there. Certainly that was God’s grace, limiting the number of casualties. While that is small comfort to those who lost loved ones, it does show, I believe, that God is at work, even in the midst of tragedies, even if he chooses not prevent them from occurring.

As with the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963, all television programming for the next few days focused on the events of 9/11. There were no commercials and no regular programs. The planes hitting the towers and their subsequent collapse were replayed endlessly. Interviews with government officials and new information were broadcast and repeated. We were all hungry for information and were looking for answers to our questions. Who did this? Why? Why didn’t we know this was coming? What could have been done to prevent this?

As a pastor, I was asked by the company to conduct a memorial service on a conference call to the company’s 40+ offices in the U.S. and Canada. I believe it was early the following week that I conducted an interfaith service on that conference call.

As with Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination, people who lived through these attacks will remember vividly where they were when they got the news. Moreover, I will never forget what I saw out our office windows. Even though the events were 40+ miles away, I vividly remember what I saw in the distance. I remember the small plume of smoke, then the larger one as the second tower was hit, and then I remember the enormous wedge-shaped cloud of smoke and ash rising from the scene after the collapses that appeared to cover all of lower Manhattan. With television showing us these events live and in many reruns, those images will be in our minds for as long as we live as well.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thoughts on 9/11 – An Historical Perspective (Part 4)

Certain momentous events “shock” the American public. They were generally unexpected, sudden, and had a significant impact on the country. In three earlier posts I explore some of those shocks that have happened during my 60+ years of life. I’d now like to share my recollection of the biggest shock of my lifetime, the attacks on 9/11/01.

On September 11, 2001, I arrived at work around 8:30 at my office on the fourth floor of 100 Manhattanville Road, Purchase, New York. The building is on a small hill in Westchester County and from our windows we could see the skyscrapers of Manhattan in the distance. At around 8:45 or 8:50, somebody in the office said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Since we could see the towers in the distance from our office windows, I went to the window to look. On the horizon I saw black smoke coming from one of the towers. The smoke wasn’t rising up but was blowing sideways parallel to the ground in an easterly direction. It was not an enormous amount of smoke, but it was clearly visible from even 40+ miles away. Looking down towards the towers, I was surprised to see that the weather was clear with no fog or haze. I wondered how a plane could have hit the building in such clear weather. It didn’t make any sense. At that time we didn’t know whether it was a small plane or a large one, although I suspected it was a small plane that had veered off course.

One of my co-workers (Cheryl) called our offices on the 93rd floor of Two World Trade Center to find out what was going on and if it was their building that had been hit. Cheryl reached one of the employees and learned that their building had not been hit: it was One World Trade Center that was hit. We were relieved to hear that. The employee told Cheryl that the announcement through the PA system was telling everybody not to evacuate the building, but to stay put. Our employees remained in the building.

I tried to get some information from the Internet but couldn’t connect with any of the news sites that I could think of. AOL only had a headline that a plane had hit the WTC but no details. I tried to call my wife, Sue, at home, but her line was busy.

A few minutes after hanging up with our employees at the World Trade Center, we heard that the other tower had been hit by an airplane. All of a sudden it became very clear: this was a terrorist attack and not some terrible accident. We also realized that our employees were probably doomed. Since they were so high up in the building and the plane had hit just below them, we believed that if they hadn’t been killed almost immediately by the impact and resulting fire, they were trapped with no way to escape the heat and smoke. I went to the window and saw much more black smoke pouring from the buildings.

Somebody said there was a television in the offices of a neighboring company on our floor, so I went over there and watched the smoking towers for a few minutes. When I went back to our office, nobody was working. Everybody was distracted by these momentous events taking place.

At some point, and I can’t remember exactly when, word came to us that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I was shocked, since I believed that the World Trade Center had been the only target. It was clear to me that we were under a coordinated attack, and I wondered when this was going to end. What other landmarks had been targeted? How many more were going to die? What could our armed forces do to stop this? Were they going to start shooting down civilian planes?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thoughts on 9/11 – An Historical Perspective (Part 3)

Certain momentous events “shock” the American public. They were generally unexpected, sudden, and had a significant impact on the country. Two earlier posts explored some of those shocks that have happened during my 60+ years of life.

1990s – Terrorism and Saddam

The early 1990s saw another shock: the bold and unprovoked attack by Iraq on Kuwait. A positive shock was the quick defeat of Iraq’s large army, including the elite Republican Guard, by our forces. The war was carried out professionally and expeditiously with few American casualties. This may have been the first of the “high-tech” wars using different tactics: bombing to soften up the enemy prior to engaging him in battle, the use of high tech smart bombs and other ordinance, and the execution of a carefully pre-planned strategy developed in anticipation of such a situation. Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwartzkopf, plus Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and President Bush handled the war much better than President Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the generals (such as General Westmoreland) did in Vietnam. Some level of confidence in government and our armed forces was restored.

In 1995 the U.S. received another shock, this one not involving Islamic terrorists. Timothy McVeigh filled a truck with and explosive compound, parked it in front of a government office building in downtown Oklahoma City, and detonated it. The explosion blew off the front of the building and killed innocent men, women, and children. This was a shock to the nation that an American could hate the government so much that he’d do such a thing.

Other shocks in the 1990s happened in the Middle East and Africa against Americans. A building housing American troops was destroyed by a truck bomb, with a loss of life. The USS Cole was bombed by a small boat loaded with explosives that pulled up alongside it in a port in Yemen. Two US embassies in Africa were destroyed by powerful truck bombs. However, all of these happened outside of the United States and did not involve large loss of American lives. The Clinton administration did little to combat terrorism or support Israel in its battle against terrorism. I suspect this was perceived as weakness on the part of terrorists and made them bolder.

1993 – First WTC Attack

Even the first attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993 resulted in little response against the terrorists by the U.S. In this first attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the terrorists drove a truck full of explosives into an underground parking area. I’m familiar with that spot because I once parked my car there when I was attending several days of meetings in the WTC and stayed at the hotel there. As a result of the explosion of that truck, the hotel was weakened structurally and had to be torn down. Having such a bold terrorist attack in the U.S. by foreigners still didn’t wake us up to the dangers we now faced. It was about to become a whole new world for us and eventually Western Europe.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thoughts on 9/11 – An Historical Perspective (Part 2)

Certain momentous events “shock” the American public. They were generally unexpected, sudden, and had a significant impact on the country. This series of posts explores some of these shocks to the nation that I’ve experienced in my lifetime, ending, of course, with the events of 9/11/01.

1970s – Oil and Iran

In the 1970s there were some disturbing incidents such as the killing of an anti-war protester by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. The two oil crises demonstrated that the United States was heavily dependent on foreign oil, and was very vulnerable to disruption of the oil supply. Americans waited in lines at gas stations, something we aren’t used to doing. Although it was humbling and inconvenient, we didn’t learn from the two oil crises. Unfortunately we did nothing to end our dependence on foreign oil and the percent of oil we import from foreign sources has actually increased since the 1970s.

At the end of the decade, the attack and takeover of the U.S. embassy in Teheran, Iran, and the imprisonment of Americans in the embassy, was a shock to the nation. That was our first taste of radical Islam, and we were helpless to do anything about it. While our citizens were languishing as captives under these radical students, President Carter initiated a rescue effort by our armed forces. I presume he felt that if the Israelis could do it at Entebbe, we could do it in Iran. It failed miserably and several of our troops were killed. This failure of our high-tech armed forces was a further shock to the nation.

1970s – Nixon Resigns

The biggest shock of the 1970s was the resignation of President Nixon. This had never happened before. Between the mishandling of the Vietnam War by the government and the disclosure of the sleazy side of the Nixon presidency, the boomer generation developed a serious mistrust of government. Up until the time, the government was generally viewed as positive and beneficial, even if inefficient, wasteful and occasionally corrupt. After Vietnam and Watergate, there was generally a more negative view and mistrust of government. The government’s negative image wasn’t helped by the morally deficient Clinton presidency in the 1990s. Remember Monica Lewinsky?

1980s – Shuttle Disaster

There weren’t too many shocks in the 1980s and 1990s. The big one in the 1980s was the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle shortly after launch in which all of the astronauts, including a civilian schoolteacher, were killed. What made this more of a shock than it otherwise might have been is that practically every school child in the country was watching the launch because of the schoolteacher on board. Thus millions of children saw the event live on TV and were somewhat traumatized by it.

The late 1980s saw a rare positive shock: the demise of European communism. Within a very short time, the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Eastern European countries were free of Soviet domination and could re-establish democratic governments. We patted ourselves on the back for having been instrumental in destroying communism, but conveniently forgetting that over one billion people were still living under harsh communist regimes in China, North Korea and Vietnam. Communism wasn’t dead, just defeated in one part of the world.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thoughts on 9/11 – An Historical Perspective (Part 1)

Certain momentous events “shock” the American public. They were generally unexpected, sudden, and had a significant impact on the country. Pearl Harbor was one of the big shocks of the 20th century, resulting in the United States entering World War II. It was a defining moment for my parents’ generation. The terrorist attacks on September 11 were significant shocks of a very young 21st century, and resulted in domestic and overseas initiatives by the United States. I have lived through a number of shocks in the second half of the 20th century, which I will recount before giving my recollection of what happened on September 11, 2001 as we approach the tenth anniversary of those terrible events.


The first shock I can remember as a child is the launching of the first artificial satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957. When Sputnik was successfully placed in an orbit around the earth, Americans kept asking, “How could the Soviet Union beat us?” There was much soul-searching and angst. What was wrong with our educational system that the relatively unsophisticated Soviet Union could beat us into outer space? The result was an intensified emphasis on improving American education, especially in the sciences, and increased spending on our space program. Ultimately we were the first to land a man on the moon in July 1969, one of the few positive events from the 1960s.

The JFK Assassination

Speaking of the 1960s, the next major shock, which was the defining moment for the boomer generation, was the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Anybody over the age of 6 at the time remembers where he or she was when he heard the news that the President had been shot. Everybody remembers being glued to the TV for the next several days as events unfolded: the swearing in of Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald (the alleged assassin), the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby on live TV, and the funeral of the President on that Monday. The nation was in shock, and realized that the end of an era had come.

Cuban Missile Crisis

An earlier event, while not a shock as I am defining it, was something that had the whole nation on edge and was perhaps a defining moment in US-Soviet relations. It was the Cuban missile crisis. It was a shock in that we saw the real possibility of having Soviet nuclear missiles right off our shores. This gave us a heightened awareness of our vulnerability to missile attack. After President Kennedy addressed the nation on TV about the crisis and the actions we were taking, we all went to bed not knowing if we would wake up to a war.

1968 – A Year to Forget

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the nation experienced a series of shocks in 1968. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the former president’s brother, was shot and killed in Los Angeles while campaigning for the Democratic presidential primary. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader, was shot and killed in Memphis. This sparked several days of serious rioting in many of our major cities, including Los Angeles (Watts section), Baltimore (where I was living at the time), Washington, and Detroit. With the assassinations and riots, it seemed the country was sinking into anarchy and had many people worried about the direction our society was taking.

To make matters worse in 1968 (an already disastrous year), a small spy ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo, was attacked and captured by the North Koreans in international waters. Its crew surrendered without a fight, valuable papers and equipment were captured by a hostile nation, and the crew was taken prisoner for an extended period of time. The United States was humiliated by this incident, and was shown that the mighty United States can be humbled by even a minor-league country such as North Korea. It is interesting to note that 33 years later, in the unfortunate year of 2001, the Chinese government did something similar with a U.S. spy plane flying over international waters.

Another incident in 1968 was the events at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Anti-war protesters demonstrated outside the convention hall and were brutally attacked by the Chicago police. Having seen images of peaceful anti-segregation protesters in the South being attacked with fire hoses and police dogs, it was a further shock to the nation to see the Chicago demonstrators so viciously attacked. Overall, 1968 was not a good year in the history of the nation.