WE REMEMBER: Eight years, already? We've talked in years past on this date about the cultural legacy of 9/11 and the alleged end to the age of irony. This morning, I thought I'd just cede this space to two of the men who helped us move forward:
David Letterman, 9/17/01 (video): ... The 20 years we’ve been here in NYC we’ve worked closely with police officers and fire fighters and fortunately most of us don’t really have to think too much about what these men and women do on a daily basis and the phrase "New York's Finest" and "New York's Bravest" you know, did it mean anything to us personally, first-hand, well maybe, hopefully but probably not, but boy it means something now doesn’t it, they put themselves in harm's way to protect people like us and the men and women from the fire fighters and the police department who are lost are going to be missed by this city for a very, very long time, and my hope for myself and everybody else not only in New York but everywhere is that we never ever take these people for granted absolutely never take them for granted.
I just want to go through this, and again forgive me if this is more for me than it is for people watching, I’m sorry but I just I have to go through this. The reason we were attacked, the reason these people are dead, these people are missing and dead, they weren’t doing anything wrong. They were living their lives, they were going to work, they were travelling, they were doing what they normally do. As I understand it -- and my understanding of this is vague at best -- another smaller group of people stole some airplanes and crashed them into buildings, and we’re told they were zealots fueled by religious fervor, religious fervor, and if you live to be a thousand years old will that make any sense to you, will that make any goddamn sense?
(Dave takes a deep breath to prevent himself from crying)
I’ll tell ya about a thing that happened last night, there’s a town in Montana by the name of Choteau. It's about 100 miles south of the Canadian border and I know a little something about this town, it's 1600 people, 1600 people and it’s a – an ag-business community which means farming and ranching and Montana‘s been in the middle of a drought for, I don’t know, three years and if you got no rain you can't grow anything and if you cant grow anything you can't farm, if you can't grow anything you can't ranch because the cattle don’t have anything to eat and that’s the way life is in this small town. 1600 people, last night at the high school auditorium in Choteau, Montana they had a rally -– home of the Bulldogs by the way -- they had a rally for NYC and not just a rally for NYC but a rally to raise money, to raise money for NYC and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the spirit the United States then I cant help ya, (Dave tears up) I’m sorry.
And I have one more thing to say and then thank god Regis is here so we have something to make fun of. (Audience laughs) If you didn’t believe it before and it's easy to understand how you might have been skeptical on this point if you didn’t believe it before you can absolutely believe it now, NYC is the greatest city in the world. (Audience applauds) We’re going to – we’re gonna try and feel our way through this and we’ll just see how it goes take it a day at a time, we’re lucky enough tonight to have two fantastic representatives of this town, Dan Rather and Regis Philbin and we’ll be right back.
Jon Stewart, 9/20/01 (video): They said to get back to work. There were no jobs available for a man in the fetal position under his desk crying, which I would have gladly taken. So I came back here.
Tonight’s show is obviously not a regular show. We looked through the vaults, we found some clips that we thought might make you smile, which is really what’s necessary, I think, right about now. A lot of folks have asked me, "What are you going to do when you get back? What are you going to say?" I mean, what a terrible thing to have to do. I don’t see it as a burden at all. I see it as a privilege. I see it as a privilege and everyone here does see it that way. The show in general, we feel like is a privilege. Just even the idea that we can sit in the back of the country and make wisecracks, which is really what we do. We sit in the back and we throw spitballs, but never forgetting the fact that is a luxury in this country that allows us to do that. This is a country that allows for open satire, and I know that sounds basic and it sounds as though it goes without saying - but that’s really what this whole situation is about. It’s the difference between closed and open. It’s the difference between free and burden and we don’t take that for granted here by any stretch of the imagination and our show has changed. I don’t doubt that. What it’s become, I don’t know. "Subliminable" is not a punch line anymore. One day it will become that again, and Lord willing, it will become that again because that means we have ridden out the storm.
But the main reason that I wanted to speak tonight is not to tell you what the show is going to be. Not to tell you about all the incredibly brave people that are here in New York and in Washington and around the country. But we’ve had an enduring pain here - an endurable pain. I wanted to tell you why I grieve, but why I don’t despair…I’m sorry. Luckily we can edit this. One of my first memories is of Martin Luther King being shot. I was five and if you wonder if this feeling will pass…When I was five, he was shot. Here’s what I remember about it. I was in a school in Trenton. They shut the lights off and we got to sit under our desks and we thought that was really cool and they gave us cottage cheese, which was a cold lunch because there was rioting, but we didn’t know that. We just thought that “My God. We get to sit under our desks and eat cottage cheese.” That’s what I remember about it. That was a tremendous test of this country’s fabric and this country’s had many tests before that and after that.
The reason I don’t despair is because this attack happened. It’s not a dream. But the aftermath of it, the recovery is a dream realized. And that is Martin Luther King's dream. Whatever barriers we've put up are gone even if it's momentary. We're judging people by not the color of their skin but the content of their character. You know, all this talk about "These guys are criminal masterminds. They’ve gotten together and their extraordinary guile…and their wit and their skill." It's a lie. Any fool can blow something up. Any fool can destroy. But to see these guys, these firefighters, these policemen and people from all over the country, literally, with buckets rebuilding. That's extraordinary. That's why we've already won. It's light. It's democracy. We've already won. They can't shut that down. They live in chaos and chaos… it can't sustain itself. It never could. It's too easy and it's too unsatisfying.
The view from my apartment was the World Trade Center and now it's gone. They attacked it. This symbol of American ingenuity and strength and labor and imagination and commerce and it is gone. But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty. The view from the south of Manhattan is now the Statue of Liberty. You can't beat that.
So we're going to take a break and I'm going to stop slobbering on myself and on the desk. We’re going to get back to this. It's gonna be fun and funny and it's going to be the same as it was and I thank you. We'll be right back.