The way we recall the events of 9/11 is much “simpler and cleaner” than how the events actually unfolded, said Garrett Graff.
Because of that fact, Graff, a journalist, historian and national security expert, has written a book that recaptures what 9/11 was like to actually live. Graff spoke about his book, “The Only Plane in the Sky,” Wednesday night, kicking off Victoria College’s 2019-2020 Lyceum Lecture Series.
“We talk about 9/11 as ‘It began at this time, the second crash was at this time, the whole thing unfolds in 102 minutes,’” he said. “We know the totality of attack, we know the death tolls – so the goal with this book is to try and capture what 9/11 was like to actually experience and recall the emotion.”
About 130 people gathered at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts for Graff’s lecture Wednesday evening. The Lyceum series is designed to “bring the world to Victoria” by giving students and community members opportunities to hear the ideas, experiences and aspirations of noteworthy individuals.
Before the lecture, Graff said his talk would mainly focus on his book, which is listed on the New York Times best-seller list. The book, he said, is written as a panoramic narrative woven from hundreds of interviews with government officials, first responders, survivors, friends and family members.
Graff said his personal 9/11 story isn’t a special one – he was having breakfast in college when he heard that the second tower was hit – but writing about 9/11 changed his life.
“I was really emotionally unprepared for what writing about 9/11 would be like,” he said. “How intense that is, how heartbreaking so many of the stories are.”
Drew Herndon, 23, traveled from Austin to attend the lecture. He went to Victoria College and now works in Austin as a validation engineer at AMD, and said he wanted to attend because he’s always had an interest in computers and in cybersecurity.
“Everything we do is on the web, everything is online, and if it’s not secure, really bad things can happen,” he said.
Herndon said before the lecture he was interested in hearing Graff’s context of security. Graff serves as the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s cybersecurity and technology program.
“With all of his background and experience, I’m looking forward to hearing his perspective,” Herndon said.
Graff said the book grew out of a Politco piece he wrote about the people aboard Air Force One on 9/11. He said he wanted to write the book because, now, 18 years later, there is a generation of college students arriving on college campuses who don’t remember the day. There are American service men and women who are deploying to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan who were born after the attack.
“People are going to live their entire adult lives in a world created and shaped by the decisions after 9/11, and they have no emotional connection to it whatsoever,” he said. “I wanted to think about how we are telling the next generation about this day, which changed everything.”