Friday, September 14, 2012
To Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham, a distinct era in this country can be bookmarked by the words of an American Airlines flight attendant.
“I see water. I see buildings. I see buildings! We are flying low. We are flying very, very low … Oh, my God, we are flying way too low!” went the in-flight call from Madeline Sweeney, aboard American Airlines Flight 11, to an airline manager. Sweeney’s words were the last communication from the jet before it struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
“These words opened a chapter in American history,” said Meacham, the keynote speaker at Rider’s annual 9/11 commemoration on September 11 in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater. The executive editor at Random House and a former editor of Newsweek magazine, Meacham presented his perspective on how the world has changed and what have we learned in the years since.
“The attacks were meant to shatter our sense of ‘nation,’” Meacham explained, careful to differentiate partisan identities from what he called our common sense of national identity. “They failed.”
Meacham recalled how even the United States’ stark partisan divide was initially erased as the reeling nation drew together against a common, if nebulous, enemy.
“The attacks changed us, all too briefly, into a unified people,” he said, lamenting the temporal nature of the accord and the current, ugly state of national politics. “We owe it to those who died to reclaim that unity.”
An accomplished historian with a deep knowledge of politics, religion and current affairs, Meacham won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2009 for his book American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, detailing the presidency of “Old Hickory,” the nation’s seventh chief executive. His forthcoming volume, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, is due to be published by Random House in November.