By Joan Ellis
Twelve years after Danielle Gardner lost her brother in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, she has made a chronicle of that day and its aftermath that is visually and emotionally raw.
This is the story of Cantor Fitzgerald, the powerhouse bond firm that lost two-thirds of its employees and its entire infrastructure in minutes.
The opening scene announces the statistics: Floors 101 – 105 belonged to Cantor Fitzgerald. Of 960 who worked for the company, 658 died in their offices. An employee describes the pleasure of working there, above the clouds where rain never came from above but fell downward from the clouds below, where water sloshed in the sinks as the building swayed above the city. These were offices above the world. Within two hours the towers were down.
Howard Lutnick, aggressive CEO of Cantor, was forced to become the emotional center for the company as he made a plan to help the families and save the firm. His wife and daughter created a crisis center at the Pierre Hotel that filled rapidly with families and friends still looking desperately for survivors.
On an ugly note, competitors pounced to take Cantor’s business. The company borrowed $1 billion dollars from J.P. Morgan knowing that if it weren’t paid back on time, Morgan would own Cantor. Lutnick’s focus on the company and his canceling of employment checks to the dead triggered a wave of rage that obliterated the appreciation families had felt for his initial response to them. They were in no condition to grasp where help might come from if no company existed. For a while, no one understood anyone.
When The New York Times wrote about the canceled paychecks, the story was taken by the press as permission to label Lutnick a callous villain. That publicity generated an outpouring of hate mail and verbal attacks.
Much later, after Morgan was repaid, he returned to the priority of the families by giving them shares of profits plus bonuses from the company he had struggled to preserve. Gradually, rage turned to appreciation and cooperation.
As a memorial to Cantor Fitzgerald, Gardner’s film is a valuable, often moving contribution to the historical record. What silences any audience though is the actual footage of the attack. The sight of two immense airliners, gas tanks newly filled, flying into those buildings was a furious announcement that war is no longer a matter of nations but of rogue bands of terrorists.
Using our equipment, the terrorists executed an operation that was malicious in intent and brilliant in execution. They destroyed nearly 3,000 innocent people and altered the lives of survivors and families forever.
They also changed the world situation in ways we are still trying to understand.
As the attention of the world focuses on the Middle East in 2013, we wonder in new bewilderment at the intricacies of the chain reaction triggered on a September day in 2001.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.
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