David Eisner

On September 2001, David Eisner was senior Executive at AOL Time Warner in New York. On the morning of 9/11, he was flying to NY and landed at around 8:30. As he drove towards his office in Manhattan, he saw smoke coming from the World Trade Center. He spent the rest of the day working with first responders by providing them with Blackberry’s, the only communication technology working at the time. He remembers seeing the collapse of the first tower on TV and simultaneously out of his office window. He says he knew then that “this was going to change us.” Eisner is the President and CEO of the National Constitution Center.
(Image credit: Fragment of plane that hit  World Trade Center on 9/11
Courtesy of the International Spy Museum, Washington, DC.)

Here are some of his observations.

Witnessing a horrible day in Manhattan and DC

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“My family was safe in Maryland. So when I finally called my wife late that night, to say that I was having a hard time getting out of the city but that I would try to take a train, she was really mad at me. From her perspective all she knew was that I got on a plane to New York that was supposed to land at the same time that these planes hit the World Trade Center and she never heard from me all day. She was right to be mad.

I’ll tell you it was a very surreal day in New York and walking around in the city where, even hours after the towers fell, this ash was falling everywhere. W wherever you went, your body and your hair were covered with ash, there were all these people walking up from the disaster area that had their faces covered and were wearing these suits. It was a very Fellinesque atmosphere in Manhattan.  I finally managed to get on a train going back to D.C. and I had only just begun to relax from seeing this horror in Manhattan when from the train- actually from the car after the train- I saw the glow from the Pentagon because we lived at the time around there and I had to take the parkway up So I actually saw on that day both what happened in Manhattan and what happened at the Pentagon. It was really really a horrible day”.

Fostering civic engagement among the young

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I think 9/11 did change us in a lot of ways. We saw a huge coming together of America over the next several years. We saw big spikes in volunteering and civic engagement, we saw much higher levels of connectedness between family members and within communities. What’s really interesting is that the older folks, over a period of years, relaxed their commitment to civic engagement and it came down to be close to normal. But there was a younger generation, the folks that were not cynical, the folks that did not have any experience before this, that became involved in civic engagement. They continued to be a generation of very civically engaged people whose first sense of civic identity was formed around the crisis of 911.

That’s one of the great things that, I think, came out of this. You know the old story about the question, “how do you empty a beach of sand into the ocean?” The answer is one spoonful or shovelful at a time, and my experience at the time, and ever since, has been that when people look at the big breadth of the challenges in this world, it can often feel too big to stand up and do something. Yet, there are people all around us who are standing up and doing something every day. They’re having their voices heard and they’re volunteering and trying to make the world better; they’re not overwhelmed, they know that they’re putting one foot in front of the other”.

Learn about the National Constitution Center’s “Day of Remembrance on the 10th Anniversary of September 11th.”

Produced and edited by Elisabeth Perez Luna


3 Responses to David Eisner

  • Chas Andrews

    When I first heard about this option to tell “our story” of how our lives were impacted by 9/11 I was initially reluctant to share. Mostly because I felt that how I remembered 9/11 (or 911 as some people initially referred to it) was an unflattering and offensive string of memories to bring forward.

    I was thirteen when 9/11 occurred, in the middle of Junior High School, in a small town in the gray area between suburban and rural Pennsylvania. There were changes after 9/11–but they originated from particular people and the majority of the changes were not for the better–but rather for the worse.

    The first thing I think of when I hear 9/11 is a girl my age making a comment just before the class bell rang for Algebra I would begin. She said: “Well there goes the New York skyline.” She meant the phrase sarcastically, but she didn’t know how right she was. After she had released the ball, it began rolling with the rest of the class riffing on how the pilot must have been blind, and that this act would bring those insufferable New Yorkers down a peg or two. At this point all they had heard were rumors that a plane had crashed into one of the towers–there was no Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, or Terrorists in the picture. All I could think of while my peers turned everything into a rude or lewd joke, was of all the people in the planes, who probably had died upon impact & their poor families. The fact that my peers didn’t think of that made me a little angry on the behalf of people I didn’t even know.

    The teachers suddenly came to life and began cracking down on other teachers who would want to turn on any televisions. I myself had a Computers teacher who decided not to deprive us of witnessing what he surely thought was history in the making. By that time, the second plane had hit the towers and my Computers class watched as people jumped out of windows and the two towers fell. The jokes stopped shortly after.

    In the day that followed there was nothing but a great big blur on everyone’s face. When I finally did come out of the blur I was waiting with baited breath to hear what the president–a man I hadn’t voted for in the mock election we had had the previous year, but was eager in that moment to try and reconcile–might say to help comfort those poor families. The two words that I remember coming loud and clear was “Go Shopping” with little emphasis given to the bereft.

    Slowly from that point forward it seemed that my community and the country seemed to enter a carnival world where everyone and everything was topsy turvy.

    Adults and parents of my peers who had previously been quite lax on parenting–leaving a bunch of 12 & 13 year-olds alone while they go off to a local bar to drink, preferring to be called by their first names rather than by any honorific Mr. or Mrs., and who had been rather aimless as adults–now all of a sudden became great windbags of safety, security, and unity. Everything they did was justified as increasing these three “holy” virtues that they hadn’t cared one bit before, nor I would argue they still do. Where before they’d encourage a more individualistic voice from their kids, they instead insisted on group think and unquestioning loyalty. This sudden switch caught many of my peers as not only being startling but also ingenuous. 9/11 brought to my attention the insincerity of the adult world I was become more aware of by the larger and larger amounts of bullshit they’d come up with. Eventually by 2005, their crusade became spent and exhausted by their own energies and they returned to old habits as the Long War & Katrina changed things again–but that’s a different story. Some of my peers were even worse, for they drank the Kool-Aid provided for them by their parents.

    Afghanistan was a confusing topic, for while I felt the need to get Bin Laden, I didn’t feel that all out war was the necessary way to do so–especially when it was advertised by those crusading adults with such catchphrases as “we’ll show those foreigners how to run a country” or “we’ll be in and out of there in a few months” or “We’ll Bring Democracy to the Middle East” or “we’ll nuke him out of his hole.” And after the war in Iraq began further things became even more confusing as “Freedom Fries” and “Freedom Toast” became menu items. It all didn’t add up–it seemed as though everyone had decided to take leave of their wits.

    It wasn’t until I opened my history book at the end of ninth grade and watched the 1955 movie “East of Eden” that everything began to make sense. I discovered such things as Poncho Villa, “Liberty Steak”, “we’ll show those foreigners how to fight a war”, “we’ll bring Democracy to Europe”, and “It’ll all be over in a couple of months.” Mark Twain is quoted as saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it has a tendency to rhyme. With the case of 9/11 it was Poncho Villa’s raid in New Mexico, the sinking of the Lusitania, and World War I all over again, with what looks like to me to be much of the same results. Only this time, we had our Roaring 20s before we had World War I.

  • Carol Cole

    Ten days after the 9/11 attacks, I drove around Philly and the suburbs and took photos of the flag displays on homes and businesses that had spontaneously emerged in a feeling of unity and patriotism. We should remember and be inspired by those positive feelings of coming together as well as the other emotions of those days. Sixty-four of these photos will be on display Sept. 10-11 at the Independence Visitor Center on Independence Mall and for the rest of September at the Center for Architecture 1218 Arch St.

  • Paul Simons

    I wasn’t in New York, only saw it on TV. Saw the second plane hit, saw people forced by the jet fuel inferno in the towers to jump to their deaths. Glad that the intelligence workers, the President, the Navy Seals, finally put an end to Osama bin Laden. I think we need to understand how easily people – in this case the perpetrators of the attacks – can be molded and manipulated to do horrible things, and to guard against that. If religion or religious leaders can teach us to think, reason, and have empathy and compassion, fine. If religion and religious leaders teach blind obedience, I have no use for it or them.

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