In 2005 I wrote Writing the Sacred: A Psalm-inspired Path to Appreciating and Writing Sacred Poetry, and was subsequently a contributing author to The Nature of Poetry. For those familiar with my earlier work, there may be some surprise I would publish Unanswered Questions: What the September Eleventh Families Asked and the 9/11 Commission Ignored. As a writer and instructor of poetry, journal writing and memoir, the thread of connection is in the power of narrative.
Many books have been published discussing the attacks of September 11, 2001. Of these, many have been steeped in arguments about the explanations the Bush Administration gave regarding how and what happened on that awful day. The laudable approach of many authors has been to delve into debates about these claims, and are a feature of more left-brain approaches to writing about current affairs, politics and history. However, I knew that many of the people who’d attended my writing workshops would find these books too dense, academic or iron-clad from the outset. I needed to write a book that told a story, and let the reader draw their own conclusions.
There have been some books by the families who lost loved ones. These include first-person accounts such as Kristen Breitweiser’s Wake-Up Call: The Political Education of a 9/11 Widow, and Manhattan Janette MacKinlay’s Fortunate: A Personal Diary of 9/11. Other authors, such as Bob Kemper in Rubble: How the 9/11 Families Rebuilt Their Lives And Inspired America, draw on interviews with the families.
Among the families devastated by the attacks and their personal loss, there were some who began to lobby their government and seek answers and accountability. About 300 had a rally at the nation’s capitol on June 11, 2002, asking for an investigation into the attacks. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) were among the politicians who were most supportive of the families’ quest. And after 14 months the 9/11 Commission was established by President George W. Bush in November 2002. And the Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Independent Commission (FSC) was there to monitor the proceedings of the inquiry, with a formal liaison with two 9/11 Commission staff.
Members of the FSC researched thousands of news articles and amassed many hundreds of questions for the 9/11 Commission. As the inquiry began in earnest in March 2003, some of the 9/11 Commissioners told the press that the families’ questions would be providing “a road map” for how to get to the bottom of what happened so that, as Kristen Breitweiser remarked “no one will ever have to walk in our shoes.”
In Unanswered Questions I am interested in each of the dozen members of the Family Steering Committee, and take time to introduce readers to the family members each of the FSC lost, and feature quotes from them so that the reader gets to appreciate the urgency and the varied perspectives of these American citizens.
Layering the first-person accounts, oral testimony of family members to the 9/11 Commission and in other settings, their press releases, as well as FDNY statements to the media, and reporters live at the WTC on the day of the attacks, I leave it to those who were closest to the devastation to speak for themselves. In writing Unanswered Questions, I wanted to let readers contemplate some of the FSC press releases, and their unanswered questions the 9/11 Commission ignored. I wanted readers to think about what they were reading, but not spend time editorializing about what they were reading.
Books are one place where an individual’s private space provides freedom to be informed, to think and to decide. While I want readers of Unanswered Questions to think about the historical fact of the Family Steering Committee’s efforts to get to the bottom of what happened surrounding the attacks of September Eleventh, I wanted readers to make up their own minds. While there is a lot of discomforting information I detail across my chapters that question the official account.
As for members of the FSC and the families more generally, there are some who trust the government account of a surprise attack, others who suspect a cover-up regarding Saudi Arabia or something else, and some who suspect complicity on the part of the US government. Readers will reach their own conclusions, or live with the myriad oddities of this story and chew on them for some time.
Family Steering Committee member Lorie Van Auken, whose husband Kenneth W. Van Auken died in the North Tower, said after the inquiry: “We always said if there are conspiracy theories out there then it is the government’s fault because they did not ever really explain, or show, or want us to know what happened. We lived it and nothing really ever made sense, ever. It just wasn’t’t conducted the way that something should be conducted if you want to get to the bottom of something, to learn what happened.”