Usually, before I recommend any media or news content to my students, I think carefully about why I want to share it. What is it in the content that I think is instructive or revealing about human behavior or the functioning of media organizations? I like to have a reason.
This time I’m not sure. The content is extraordinarily painful to hear, and it chronicles tense moments on a catastrophic day. The 10th anniversary oif 9/11 might or might not have been a good time to release these tapes. But, with full caution that you think carefully about whether or not you want to hear the conversations that were recorded, I want you to know about today’s New York Times feature The 9/11 Tapes: The Story in the Air. (Subscription probably required)
While so much about those events has been exhaustively researched, somehow the actual conversations between personnel on the hijacked planes and officials on the ground remained unreleased until this week. They almost, as you will read in the accompanying story, were never heard at all. Take a look at the text accompanying the audio files in the Times story and, only if you feel comfortable, listen. Certainly, if you had some contact with these events that led to a painful aftermath and recovery, speak to someone you trust before you listen, even if you are curious.
It took me 4 hours to decide whether or not to listen. Enough of my writing and research has dealt with catastrophic situations that I no longer feel any obligation to see and hear each and every item remotely related to the diverse horrors that mark our age. I am absolutely comfortable protecting myself from profoundly disturbing episodes, and you should feel the same way.
This time, though, my marginal proximity in Manhattan to the events of that day, and what I felt in some strange way was a way to pay respects to those forced to act spontaneously in such horrible circumstances, led me to listen.
If you do, and if you feel up to it, I would be deeply grateful for any observations you have about the audio files and, indeed, about the larger decision to make them public.
Finally, and I repeat this again and again during the semester, please know that I share this news story and audio ( and much content about human beings acting in extremis) as a way to struggle to understand who we all are as richly complex human beings.
This wasn’t theatre.
It was life.