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Reflecting On 9/11 In The Face Of Another National Crisis16:21
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The Boston Logan International Airport 9/11 Memorial is illuminated in Boston. The two passenger jets that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 flew out of Logan International Airport. (Steven Senne/AP)
The Boston Logan International Airport 9/11 Memorial is illuminated in Boston. The two passenger jets that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 flew out of Logan International Airport. (Steven Senne/AP)

Nineteen years after 9/11, we face another national crisis: a pandemic that has caused over 190,000 deaths in the United States.

We spend some time thinking about each tragedy in context of the other, and take listener calls with Mitchell Zuckoff, professor in narrative studies at Boston University and author of "Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11."

Interview Highlights

On how we've responded to the two crises:

"We're in this sort of ... incredible new crisis that's sort of unfolding more slowly, but just as all consuming as 9/11 was for those of us who experienced it. As others have pointed out, we're experiencing a 9/11 level tragedy every three days, with 3,000 deaths every three days in this COVID crisis. And so I'm thinking — I think as you are and I think a lot of people are — what is this going to mean for the national character? What does it mean for who we are as a people, who we are as a community, who we are as a country? And I think sadly, and tragically even, I think we have to conclude that we are a much different people. We're reacting differently, at least, than we did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11."

On how unified we were on 9/11 versus how divided we are on the coronavirus:

"[After 9/11,] everyone sort of lined up and said, this is no time for us to point fingers at whether the Republicans in power had kept us safe or whether it was an intelligence failure or what have you. Everyone came together, I think, and I think those of us who lived through it experienced it. And so there was this moment of national unity, and more than a moment — it lasted a while. I think we all know that we have not seen a moment of national unity here. We've seen a tremendous disunity. Disagreements over the science, disagreements over whether wearing a mask was an act of partisan approval for one side or the other. And so I think that has been an incredibly stark difference, and frankly, for someone who has studied 9/11 and is living through COVID, deeply disappointing."

"When we experienced 9/11 ... we gathered together, we huddled together, whether it was in classrooms or in our offices or in our homes. ... But now, we're incredibly disconnected by design, obviously, to prevent the virus from spreading further. But I think there's a feeling of isolation as this is happening."

Mitchell Zuckoff

"I thought there was a real parallel between, you know, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, you could not go near a fire station in New York without sort of encountering people, delivering cakes and coming to say thank you to the firefighters. And we experienced that here with the COVID crisis where we had the 7 p.m. people leaning out their windows to thank the health care workers and to clap for them as they change shifts. And yet now, I do feel that has started to go away. People have started to to move back into their own lives and their own concerns."

On the difficulty of experiencing today's crisis while isolated:

"When we experienced 9/11 ... we gathered together, we huddled together, whether it was in classrooms or in our offices or in our homes. And we were all connected in that way. We were all experiencing it together, even if it was via media. But now, we're incredibly disconnected by design, obviously, to prevent the virus from spreading further. But I think there's a feeling of isolation as this is happening."

On how COVID has created a prolonged mass casualty incident:

"I would have thought 200,000 deaths or whatever the number is, would make it clear to everyone just how we are all affected by this. But it does seem to be a disjointed effect where we all could identify with the 3,000 dead in 9/11, and for some reason by a factor of almost 70 times as many people, we are not. So I think it would be premature for me to say how it's going to affect us long term, but it bears study."

This article was originally published on September 10, 2020.

This segment aired on September 10, 2020.

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