September 11th, 2008
08:51 PM ET

9/11: Cowards and courage

Editor's Note:
We are devoting many posts today to the anniversary of 9/11, with first-hand accounts, insight, and commentary dedicated to that day seven years ago that changed our world.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/11/art.vigil.jpg
caption="New Yorkers gather to hold a vigil to remember the victims of the 9/11 attacks."]
Gary Tuchman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

For seven years, I have marveled at the utter cowardice of the 9/11 hijackers. Could there be anything lower than knowing you're going to die, and deciding that you want to take as many innocent human beings who have families, hopes and dreams with you? It also astounds me so many people did and still do consider Osama Bin Laden a hero.

Certainly, it's a terrible disappointment the guy hasn't been brought to justice. But really; if he is still alive, he's too afraid to stick his face out in public. It's all part of the cowardly terrorist tradition.

Now, let's talk about the courageous. . I started meeting them seven years ago, when I watched rescuers search for survivors at the World Trade Center site as fires raged and tons of metal from the ruined complex hung precariously.

Rhona Chambers, the registered nurse who took me to the fallen towers in the hours after the disaster and showed me how and she and so many others risked their lives to try to save others. Genelle Guzman, the last survivor pulled out of the rubble; more than a day later, who thought she was going to die pinned by wreckage in the dark.

Claudia and Bob Capello, who lost their beloved son who worked in the World Trade Center. Their kindness to this reporter in the confusing days after 9/11 can only be described as inspirational. And then there is someone I knew longer than the rest. As I spoke on camera from Ground Zero in those initial horrifying days, I was surprised that as a former New Yorker, I didn't know anyone personally who died. But I was wrong.

My friend Diane Inghilterra, who worked with me early in my TV career had a 2 year old son named Sam and a husband named Louis who had the day off on September 11th. But Louis decided to go into his office anyway that morning in the World Trade Center to get some work done so he could enjoy a few days off with his family without worrying about paper piling up on his desk.

It was several days later that I found out from a mourning Diane that Louis was killed and that she too was a widow. Today, her son Sam is 9 and is just starting to truly understand what happened to his father. Diane is living through much of the initial torment all over again. To all the single 9/11 parents like Diane: you are the heroes. To call the people who caused such pain "heroic" and "brave" is not only infuriating, but ignorant.

soundoff (92 Responses)
  1. Alex

    It always seemed to me that the people who planned and executed the attack on September 11, 2001 sought to reflect the injustices they have experienced from the hands of the American people. They are outraged out America's shameless exploitation of the world and its resources. I think that it would take great courage to take one's own life, let alone the lives of others. It takes very little, however, to sit behind the high walls of our country and to send out our children to fight an enemy that is no person or group, but an ideal that they hold to be true and that we reinforce every day by continuing to impose our culture on others the world over. It takes very little courage to stamp out a small flame, but the action is motivated by fear. And fear is what we have become. Every time we say we are brave and they are cowards and we are right and they are wrong and we are sane and they are crazy is a terrible, terrible self-deception.

    I suppose this will come off as unpatriotic, in the modern sense of the word. Unfortunately, patriotism comes closer and closer to lining up with nationalism every day in the eyes of the government, the media, and, therefore, the people.

    I wish we would all... grow up.

    September 12, 2008 at 1:33 am |
  2. Dave

    I'm sorry but how the hell is hijacking planes and flying them into buildings cowardly again? I understand how hurt and humiliated you may feel by those attacks but don't lull yourselves to sleep at night with false notions that these men were cowardly. Using this logic, then anyone who attacks anyone else is always a coward! You really believe this? Had they been Americans doing the same thing to a building in Baghdad you'd be calling them 'Steely Eyed True American Heroes'. Good to see the old American double standard is alive and well. Cowardly is sending an army to find one man and destroying 2 countries in the process, all in the name of making some money for your friends.

    September 12, 2008 at 1:20 am |
  3. Steven

    You know as much as Bush has done wrong, his speech for 9/11 was powerfull. WE as Americans are not afraid, we are the type to kick tail if you mess with our family, and family as being United as ONE. I had the honor today to raise the flag back up to the top, as I did this it represented even during tough times at half staff American always rises back to the top stronger than before and it always seems to fly a little higher and stronger with more color and pride than ever before. Never forget America, and remember who we are and what we WILL do when someone comes into our house and tries to push anyone of us around. That coward will have about 50 states full of pissed off people coming after them

    September 11, 2008 at 10:23 pm |
  4. Jennifer

    Thank you Gary for a wonderful blog post. You set it out perfectly and said what every rational person understands but needs to hear and read again.

    September 11, 2008 at 10:14 pm |
  5. Sam Lee

    This is to Brenda Harris and other peopel who think that just cause you elect Obama, that islamic terriosts will lay down their arms and follow us because we extend an olive branch to them.

    We need to be careful when we respond in force. But just cause you elect Obama, that won't mean we won't have people who hate the US and would do everything to destory us.

    September 11, 2008 at 10:13 pm |
  6. Tim

    Some of the other comments I've seen touch on this, but I don't think it's cowardly to die for a cause you believe in, regardless of whether you're on the side of right, or the side of wrong.

    I guess it's P.C. to call them cowards though.

    But it's still sloppy journalism.

    September 11, 2008 at 10:12 pm |
  7. Annie Kate


    You are absolutely right – the terrorists were cowards and arrogant as well. To take so many people with them on their suicide mission is not the act of a cause that is legitimate. I'm glad you wrote this – and told us about some of the real heroes that you met that day.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    September 11, 2008 at 10:11 pm |
  8. Greg Raven

    Our agency is across the river from the Pentagon. When it got hit, we heard and felt the windows rattle. As we ran to the river side of the building, the senior most Air Force NCO in our office grabbed his back back and literally knocked co-workers out of the way to leave the building. Although much older and long since removed from the military, I have not been able to shake that memory from my mind. Granted, with all that was going on, the heroics and sacrifice of many, many others should more than out way what this individual did. However, as a combat vet and American, I was saddened beyond description. I lost a very good friend that day in the Pentagon...I also lost something else that I struggle to regain. I do not damn the NCO Corps nor the Air Force. I wonder which part of the oath this man once took where he pledged to defend the United States of America that he couldn't, wouldn't, or didn't remeber?

    September 11, 2008 at 10:09 pm |
  9. R. Slick Willie

    So they weren't cowards? It's an idea worth debating. I would argue flying airplanes into buildings to kill innocent people doesn't really provide enough information to settle the question. Instead, put me in direct control of deciding when and by what method they would die – their reactions in that scenario would be a better determinant of whether or not they are cowards.

    September 11, 2008 at 10:08 pm |
  10. Jamie

    @ Jeremiah.

    Well said commentary. I must agree that it is incorrect to call these terrorists "cowards". You can call them evil, insane, misguided, sheep, whatever. They are taught hatred from the moment they are able to walk and talk. The ones who twist religion to commit murder by inciting others to kill and be killed while they sit and watch from a safe distance are the cowards.

    I find that one of the images that stuck with me the most from that awful day were the live action shots and photographs of people jumping from the burning buildings. It horrified me so, and still does to this day.

    However, I also feel that being involved in the "war on terror" will ultimately doom our country, for violence only begets more violence. God will judge them & us the way He sees fit, whether in our lifetimes, or after our deaths. No one will escape judgement.

    My heart aches for all who lost loved ones on that horrible day......

    September 11, 2008 at 10:04 pm |
  11. Dan

    The 9/11 Hijackers weren't cowards ? "It takes a lot of nerve to die for something you believe in..." Give me a break ! It takes a lot of nerve to die for something you believe in, if you aren't crazy to start off with.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:54 pm |
  12. L. Hartmann

    Human beings are capable of incredible acts of evil, unfathomable, abominable, incomprehensible acts. This was one such act. Coward or not, propelled by a belief or not, human beings should be evolved enough to NOT KILL OTHER HUMAN BEINGS. But, I refuse to focus on the evil. Instead, I look for the good. Humans are also capable of incredible acts of goodness. So many New Yorkers, ordinary citizens, firefighters, police officers, EMT's, port authority cops, pulled together in collective shock and fear and offered up the very best that humanity has to offer. Brave, brave souls remained in those buildings, trying to get as many people as possible out. Brave, brave souls ran into those buildings, not knowing if they would make it out alive. They made the ultimate sacrifice and paid with their lives. Watching these terrible events unfold again brings back a lot of painful memories. But I feel it is necessary to watch it all over again because for me, it represents a kind of way to honor those innocent people that died. I promise that I will never, ever forget this. Never. Never. Never.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:51 pm |
  13. Corey

    You can call the 9/11 hijackers a bunch of bad names, but "cowards" is not one of them. Whatever their beef with America, right or wrong, they sacrificed their own lives for what they believed in.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:45 pm |
  14. Heather

    First of all, God Bless each one of you who were forever effected by that tragic day. My heart goes out to each and every one of you who lost someone you knew and loved.

    The only positive thing I can remember as a result of that day was the feeling of unity. There was no division of race, sex, social status or otherwise. We were all Americans bound together by the same grief.
    No matter what your political views, today is not a day to discuss them on message boards where the families are reading as they grieve for their husbands, wives, children, and parents. Today is a day to come together yet again as one. As Americans who suffered a great loss but stand strong together.

    God bless the families and the heros who saved so many others from the same tragic fate.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:41 pm |
  15. Ken Richards

    I've heard that moderate followers of Islam are peaceful and can't understand why so many people in the world hate them. The key to making people believe that is for the moderates to take control of the radicals and silence them permanently...in otherwords, clean up your own backyard. Those of us that have had family members and friends hurt or killed by radicals are inclined to believe that the only way to "get their attention" is to hit them first and hit them hard enough to make an impression...such as you would hit a stubborn mule with a board to get its attention, perhaps killing 30,000 radicals would indicate to the "crazy freeks" that the twin tower victims will never be forgotten and there is a fierce price to pay for attacking the USA.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:39 pm |
  16. Peter O"Donnell

    I see the moral relativists are alive and well.

    If we see the attacks as anything short of pure evil, then we can excuse anything, and probably will.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:30 pm |
  17. Jo Ann


    Thanks for reminding us about the courageous individuals you met while reporting on the tragedy of September 11, 2001. They and the victims should always be the focus of our remembrances of that day.

    It seems that this division in our country during this campaign has caused us to forget that we share the common bond of being Americans. Not African Americans, Irish Americans, Mexican Americans, we weren’t even Democrats or Republicans, we were just “Americans” and that is they way it should always be. Let’s try to remember that.

    Jo Ann

    North Royalton

    September 11, 2008 at 9:26 pm |
  18. Simon

    I agree with Anderson but at the same time, I don't.

    9/11 is such a terrible act and I am sadden and shocked by the thousands of lives lost. Bin Laden is definitely a coward for hiding himself in the mountains and caves. These terrorists with extreme views are answer for what they have done.

    But on the flip side, can we be equally as judgmental toward ourselves? How honorable are we to invade other counties with missiles from a far? Are we also not responsible for the innocent lives lost in Iraq? Don't Mr. Bush and this administration show equal cowardice by lying his way to an unjust war?

    You have posted stories of those who have lost loved ones from 9/11. While it is truly sad, how many stories of lost loved ones from Iraq do you know?

    It is not alright, in fact, quite cowardly and selfish, to kill innocent people living in other counties to protect our own freedom.

    Would you be willing to lose your freedom if it means killing an innocent man to get it?

    September 11, 2008 at 9:25 pm |
  19. LJ Roy

    Excuse me, but while it may be tragic that those 3000 people died on that one day, at least that many humans die EVERY DAY!

    In my mind, those who perform abortions (and that includes prescribing birth control pills because those can cause abortions as well) and destroy embryos "in the name of science" are as much a terrorist, killing innocent people (albeit unborn....even as a zygote). as Iraqis or whomever.

    Oh, the pilot on the first plane was the first cousin of a childhood friend of mine.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:24 pm |
  20. b

    ahh.. the day it all began

    what a sad day indeed

    September 11, 2008 at 9:13 pm |
  21. Jojo

    Yes, it was an enormous crime and a painful day. However, we as Americans have lost sensitivity to anything that is not American. Just think of over 100,000 Iraqis dead since Bush decided to invade that country on a bunch of lies he and his cabal concocted. 100,000 – that's 50 times 9/11 for a country with less than one tenth of the US population. That's equivalent to 500 9/11's. Just imagine having a 9/11 disaster every day for a year and a half and then you can imagine the sufferings that this country has bestowed on a country that never even provoked us and had nothing to do with 9/11.

    So who is the biggest terrorist? Bush or OBL?

    September 11, 2008 at 8:58 pm |
  22. Kristen Howell

    I tried to gently explain to my six year old son why the flags were flying at half staff today. I couldn't. Instead I focused on the bravery of those who stopped to help total strangers; that firefighters and police officers are the only ones running *to* a horrific burning structure while others are running *out.* My son thought quietly for a moment, then summed it all up better that I thought possible. He said, "God Bless those brave people, Mommy."

    September 11, 2008 at 8:53 pm |
  23. mark hoffman, Phoenix AZ.

    Yes, it is amazing the power that something like religion can have over people. Most religions have their fanatical element. It is too bad that Islam-for most Americans-is the poster child for that problem. I've personally been on the receiving end of Christian fanaticism as well. Not a pleasant thing. Unfortunately, in this life, we probably will never understand why people do the things they do. But in the end, I know that God will reveal why so many of us had to be hurt and hopefully, those who did the hurting will be shown the error of their ways.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:38 pm |
  24. Patty Harris

    911 changed so many lives. I for one was sitting on the floor of a friends house, watching TV and packing for a trip that afternoon from Manchester, NH to Los Angeles. I had just turned the TV on at the moment the second plane hit. As the news told the events and I learned of the United flight from Boston to LA was involved, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had taken that flight many times and wanted to take it that day but my friends would not drive me to Boston so I chose Manchester. I almost took that flight. I will never forget.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:38 pm |
  25. Heather

    Okay Uma, thank you for the lovely psychoanalysis.
    I was refering to extremists. Uma,by the way I'm Jewish and I don't hate anybody. Hate requires caring and I don't waste my time on hate.
    This country was founded on the freedom of religion. Not the freedom to use religion to commit mass murder. I have friends from all religions.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:35 pm |
  26. Jana, Indiana


    This is really a good post. Thanks for telling us about the people you met during those dark days. It really brings it to a personal level for you with your friend loosing her husband that day.

    This is a day we should never forget.

    Stay safe in Texas covering hurricane Ike.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:27 pm |
  27. Kevin Balog

    Thanks, Brenda Harris, for making this a place to speak your political views rather than to honor those thousand of lives lost...

    September 11, 2008 at 8:26 pm |
  28. Mike

    Ok...stop the blind american propoganda...i live in new york and i was 20 minutes or so away from the towers in high school when it happened. Yes, there are plenty of american hero's to come of that awful event. But so many of the ignorant masses cant see that these terrorists are awfully brave as well...equally as ignorant no doubt, but brave as well. How many of you are willing to die in an attack for something you believe. Hardly any of us i suspect...but were mad and disgusted and we know their ignorance so we call them all sorts of names. These ppl are raised this way. Passed down from father and mother to children, ignorance breeds more ignorance if you are surrounded. You can call these people names but dont call them cowardly...since its nothing most of us could ever consider to do because we are too afraid to die for something we ourselves believe in. No im not a radical islam...i was raised roman catholic and im now agnostic because i thought for myself i and know that i dont know the answer. Anyway thats the take of a very open minded 23 year old

    September 11, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  29. CB

    To call someone who knowingly ends their life a coward, no matter how many lives they take, is insanity. They are a scary bunch to be sure. But to say they are cowards is low rent, low smarts, whatever. What they were is sheep. The coward is still sitting in a cave somewhere. Don't call the soldiers cowards. Call the one who claims to believe he has 40 virgins waiting for him, yet cannot commit to what they did, the ultimate coward. The sheep are dead. The shepherd is tending to his new flock.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:07 pm |
  30. cgsailor

    Well said...and cowardly is the right term. Courage is picking yourself up and dealing with life's issues day after day in an honorable way. These terrorists don't have the steel for that, all they can do is destroy others and what they have built.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:06 pm |
  31. Rachell

    I remember being in 2nd grade when this happened. The teachers told us nothing. I didn't learn about what had completely happened until the evening after the attacks, and the next day. I still can't believe I was at school, happy and laughing, when all of this happened...

    September 11, 2008 at 8:05 pm |
  32. Rosie

    What sadness, so much hate, so much williness to kill. If we, too, have the same mindset to solve our problem, by killing, or to answer acts of violence with more violence. Then how can we judge others who use killing, as a resolution, as being evil and placing no value on life. Many American lives has been lost in Iraq; a war that should never have taken place. How do we justify the killing of over 4000 men and women? Those on 9-11 was controlled by the use of religion, what are we being controlled by, regarding the killing of our sons and daughters in Iraq? 9-11 was a tragic lost to many, and a tragic horror to those who witnessed this act of a misguided few; but we are suppose to be more Christian minded.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:05 pm |
  33. I Want the Truth

    It was a day like any other for me. I was 19 yrs old. I remember someone telling me and looking as though okay whats the big deal. I had no idea what the towers were and what the problem was we blow up buildings everyday. For some reason I still did not quite grasp it. All students went to the common area and watched on TV. When I saw what was going on I was flabbergasted to say the least. Not because of what the building stood for, but to know that people were losing their lives in such a horrific way. No warning, no chance to say good-bye. That was the end of their days, and there was no amount of love from their families and friends that could change the situation they were in. I have a grave sympathy for all families involved. The one thing that the terrorist taught me that day was to get involved. To look everyday in the face as though it is my last and to make the best choices I can everyday with no regret. I thank those everyday who give their lives for me, and pray over their families that they learn how to carry on. I feel as though it is my duty to make this world better each day that I am here and I plan to do that the rest of the days of my life. Thank you to the families for giving your loved ones so that my family and I have a chance at freedom and peace.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:01 pm |
  34. Adam

    When we as Americans begin to call the terrorists 'monsters,' and describe them using words like 'inhuman,' I'm afraid that we begin to walk down a very dangerous path. When you portray your enemy as inhuman, the only purpose is to remove the guilt from killing them. We have to remember that 'terrorists' are not born, they are made.

    There is a reason that the attackers of September 11 did what they did. I'm not going to go into it here, and I'm certainly not going to try to justify it. But we cannot forget that no matter how horrible the actions that take place, there are real humans on both sides of this war. The civilians who died to US bombs in Iraq are no less heroic and brave than the ones who died in New York City on Sept. 11th.

    War is terrible, no matter what the reason, and no matter who's side you are on. As Americans, we must remember exactly what we're fighting against, and make absolutely sure that we never become that very thing.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:01 pm |
  35. ully

    sympathy to all family loose their fmaily and friends! dont be scared to terrorist! and believe to Mc cain who will bring homeland security!

    September 11, 2008 at 8:01 pm |
  36. pat

    I think people react strongly to 9/11 mainly because it was an attack on America and not so much the victims themselves. What about hurricane Katrina? In 10 years from now it will be just another historical fact among others. You people talk about cowards? What about Hiroshima? That was also truly coward.

    I totally rejects any form of terrorism and things like 9/11 affected me deeply but in the end, all the media around this is just another form of patriosm. Everybody seems to care about their own kind and to hell with the rest. Welcome to the age of internet and information where communication is as worst as ever.

    September 11, 2008 at 7:59 pm |
  37. Christy Rawlings

    This day is unfortunately, one of the only days we thank God we are Americans, and pray for the people who have died for no reason. We should thank God everyday, and celebrate being an American, and remember all who were lost that day, and all the other days that men and woman have lost lives for us all.

    September 11, 2008 at 7:55 pm |
  38. santos

    It bothers me that too many Americans seem to have forgotten that the Islamic terrorists value their death above living, and most certainly value their death over the Western value of life.

    The price of America's freedom and very survival continues to be a proactive vigilance against such an affront to humanity.

    September 11, 2008 at 7:55 pm |
  39. 12 year old

    Have you ever wondered about the people who were in the buildings and helped everyone remain calm, get them down the steps, sacrificed themselves for another to live?

    It's amazing to think about how we would give our seat to an elderly woman on the bus, but those people helped others by letting them go first out of the building, go ahead of them down the stairs, tell them what to do to get out of the crashing tower that became the most documented event in US history.

    Thank you for your time in reading this.

    September 11, 2008 at 7:54 pm |
  40. Diego

    I am wondering.....
    Weren't thos "cowards" the same people the US was helping in Afghanistan? Like Brenda Harris pointed out: what goes around
    comes around

    September 11, 2008 at 7:50 pm |
  41. jb neber

    To imagine the mindset of the 9/11 terrorist, you have to change the scene a bit - but it is indeed possible to walk in their shoes. For example, the TV series Battlestar Galactica enacts a similar scenario of the 9/11 terrorists but now you are the terrorist battling for against the evil empire. You blow up yourself up in public places killing many; you set off bombs anywhere possible - all in the name of the cause...your cause. you believe in a higher power that's greater than any collateral damage.

    Therefore, I'm not sure how you can say the terrorist were cowards when in their demented minds, they were sacrificing for their cause.
    Instead, weren't these men just practicing the same art of warfare that has been practiced throughout history? kill as many of the other side as you can and the last standing wins?

    Instead misjudging them as cowards, wouldn't it be more accurate to judge them as simply religious extremists who were selfish in their beliefs that those who weren't like them were evil - just like our own extremists, such as the anti-abortionist murderers or even the guy who kills his wife and family because he feels he owns them.

    i dont' consider them cowards - just unevolved, primitive and exactly like so many men throughout history.

    September 11, 2008 at 7:48 pm |
  42. Heidi Berg

    I know during that time i read the saddest story about one of the fire fighters going in and seeing person and in there had was a childs hand that was all that was left of the child .How much those firefighters go threw in those siduations and jurnalist's to.

    September 11, 2008 at 7:48 pm |
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