By Eliana Rudee, Originally published in JNS
I’ve been in Washington, DC, this week for my brother’s graduation, the only graduation on the National Mall (President Barack Obama casually paid a visit above us by helicopter during the ceremony). Between graduation activities, we were able to visit some museums around DC. My favorite by far was the Newseum—a museum dedicated to the free expression of the press, as well as the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition.
Especially moving were the 9/11 galleries, which told many stories about the event that changed the future of U.S. foreign policy, security policy, and the world at large. Although I was only a child the day the two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, I remember my dad staring at the television and shaking his head, as my brother and I woke up for school. But we never went into school that day.
The photographs in the gallery were incredible and tragic at the same time. One showed a man diving perfectly headfirst, right into the ground, after making the choice of how his life would end. This photo struck me in its paradox: the perfect and serene-looking dive, heading directly towards his death. The man at the epicenter of terror likely had no idea what had just occurred in the World Trade Center, but made the decision to jump out of the window rather than wait to see his fate by staying in the burning tower. I tried to imagine what was going through his head as he dove downwards, with his foot bent as if he were Superman. Another photograph showed a woman, caked in dust, with pure fear in her eyes. She looked almost unreal, like a doll, but the expression on her face was anything but unreal: it was the face of shear terror. A third photograph showed debris falling as one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed. A video explained that this was the last photo of the photographer, Bill Biggart, who was later found dead in the rubble.