It was 2:45 p.m. on Old Campus, three hours before the Counting Crows started to play, just over two hours after the United States began bombing Afghanistan.
Twenty-six days had passed since the warm, sunny morning the World Trade Center disintegrated before the eyes of millions of horrified viewers. On the chilly afternoon when the United States went to war, few people even noticed.
While the news spread, clocks around campus ticked off the seconds — leading up to a concert, a football game and into uncertainty.
“President Bush says U.S. military has begun strikes against terror camps in Afghanistan.” — AP 1300 EDT
2:45 p.m.: Even those who had heard the news had little notion of what to do about it. Emily Wills ’04 sat with Abigail Vladeck ’04 on the High Street fence, clutching a blank piece of poster board.
She was going to have a letter signing campaign for the Yale Coalition for Peace. The poster board was supposed to bear the organization’s name. Wills no longer knew what to write.
“I called Abi about something and she said, ‘You do know we’re bombing Kabul, don’t you?'” Wills explained.
“I was feeling homesick, so I called my mom,” said Vladeck. “I could hear noises in the background, and she never listens to anything, so I asked what’s going on? She said we were bombing Kabul.”
2:55 p.m.: Outside Phelps Gate, the Whiffenpoofs are wearing black tuxedos with red, white and blue braided ribbons on their lapels.
Even the Tercentennial had not been left unscathed by that Tuesday morning in September. The Whiffs are waiting to go to a benefit concert for Sept. 11 victims. Four or five are practicing and harmonizing as others are talking in small groups. While at the forefront of their minds, the news was not going to alter their day.
“This doesn’t change the spirit of what we’re doing,” Shane Braunstein ’02 said. “This is not about the reaction of the government. It’s about the good we can hope to do.”
“We might do the Star Spangled Banner,” said Andrew Osarchuk ’02. “We’re doing Shenandoah, which is kind of American and bittersweet. We’re trying to do chiller stuff.”
3:00 p.m.: A couple hours before the Counting Crows take the stage, Old Campus is nearly empty.
Nabilah Siddiquee ’05 is sitting on a bench outside Lawrance Hall, a copy of “The Sun Also Rises” in her lap.
“Are you serious?” she said. “I guess I’ve got to go read the news to see why this happened.”
Rachel Shipp ’05 sat in front of Lawrance — an American flag flaps above her.
“No, I haven’t heard,” she said when asked for a reaction to the news of the U.S. airstrikes. “I want to say yes, though. I kind of figured.”
It was not going to spoil her Tercentennial concert.
“I think people are excited about the concert for right now,” she explained. “They’re not thinking directly of bombing Afghanistan. It’s good people are just continuing with the festivities.”
Others were more distressed — or at least surprised.
“Are the trains still running?” one pre-frosh asked. “How far are we from New York? What is the range of nuclear missiles?”
Her host was still stunned.
“S, you’re fing kidding me! It would have been nice for them to tell us,” he said.
“I think it all sounds strange, exactly like Vietnam.” replied the pre-frosh. “The president asks Congress for the powers so he can do anything he needs to retaliate; the government is convinced all the Afghanis don’t like the Taliban — where have I heard this before?”
Her host has regained his equanimity. “Yeah, and there’s a concert, too!”
3:23 p.m.: On steps of Dwight Hall; Emily Wills is sitting with a friend, still holding the blank poster board. She still doesn’t know what the Coalition for Peace is going to do; she said she expects it will be a day of many conversations, rather than actions for the group.
“It’s a beautiful blue sky day. No one’s watching CNN.”
Kids are running around Old Campus, playing tag near Cardinal Woolsey.
4:36 p.m.: Caitlin Lonegan ’04 was sitting on a blanket about 40 feet from the stage. She unpacked picnic food from her bag and set up a plate of brie, apples and peaches.
“I’m scared, I’m very scared,” she said. “I don’t understand what the end is, what the marker is that’s supposed to tell when our mission is complete.”
Her fear is not for her own safety.
“I’m not affected on a daily basis, from doing work or play,” Lonegan said. “There’s not anything particular that affects my daily life. It’s scary. I feel completely removed and kind of false.”
4:44 p.m.: Michael Wall of West Haven stood with some Yale friends, handicapping the draft process.
It starts with 20-year-olds, he said. He is going to be 29.
“My mom called me crying,” he said. “She’s afraid I’ll be drafted. I’ll be in the ninth round. I want to sign up.”
3:45 p.m.: Sitting in her room, working diligently on her physics problem set, Shireen Cama ’04 was shocked to hear the news about Afghanistan. But a somber Cama says she still plans to go to the Counting Crows concert.
“Basically, I have classes and other obligations, and there’s not much you can do, so you have to go on with your life,” she said.
Cheers of “USA! USA!” echoed through the Atlanta Falcons’ football stadium at news that U.S. forces had launched strikes in Afghanistan. — AP 1613 EDT
On what is ostensibly a perfect fall day at the Yale Bowl, 19,996 sweatshirt-wearing students, fans and alumni seem to postpone full digestion of the news of war.
Some learn of the strikes from friends who arrive at the game after halftime, while others hear the news from parents on their cell phones.
Most simply hear it from those seated next to them, behind them, and below them.
Sam Asher ’04 sat with seven or eight of his friends just inside Portal 15, the lion’s share of his attention on the game at hand.
“Of course I give a s*,” Asher said, keeping his eyes on the field before him. “But what the hell are we going to do about it, here — now?”
Classmate Tyler Golson ’04 had little to say about the day’s events as he loudly protested a referee’s call.
“I just hope we don’t kill too many civilians,” he said.
Dan Goff ’04 was sitting with friends in the Ezra Stiles section of the Yale Bowl when his cellular phone rang. It’s his mother.
“I hear they’re patrolling above all the football stadiums,” she told him. “Honey, if you see an airplane, don’t be a hero — run!”
In a chilling response released less than two hours later, bin Laden vowed that Americans “will never dream of security or see it before we live it and see it in Palestine, and not before the infidel’s armies leave the land of Muhammad.” — AP 1635 EDT
5:30 p.m.: Lars Casteen ’04 picked eggplant from his mushroomless pan geos in the Silliman Dining Hall.
Casteen said he missed the Tercentennial parade. Instead, he was on retreat, earning his Exit Players t-shirt. He heard at 1:30 p.m., driving back to New Haven from Killington, Vt.
When he first heard on the car radio, he says he said, “Change it back to Dre.”
He would have rather heard “Natural Born Killers” than about the United States going to war.
7:45 p.m.: A note from Emily Wills sits on the Dwight Hall steps:
“Peace tablers — In the end I couldn’t stay out here. I’m home watching CNN. The letters, for what they are worth are in …”
A few minutes later, war makes an guest appearance at the Counting Crows concert.
“President Bush said that the last remaining bastions of un-American feelings are in the left-wing radical college students,” Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz tells concertgoers.
The “left-wing radicals” cheer, momentarily. It doesn’t take long before comments from the crowd — “What is he doing?” and “Just play a song” put an end to Duritz’s oration.
8:05 p.m.: Yale Coalition for Peace people stand in a circle, on the now empty Old Campus, talking about their “emergency plan.” They total 11.
One of the B-52s in Sunday’s raids recently had its nose section repainted with the legend, “NYPD, we remember,” the B-52 pilot said. — AP 2251 EDT
The Yale campus has been uniformed all week, so war is nothing new. There are stacks of empty E.R. Moore boxes outside Silliman dining hall. Two days ago, they were filled with blue gowns for Convocation, each with its own American-flagged map of America on the tag: ”Tailored in the U.S.A.”
— Staff Reporters Andrew Dervan, Janeen Hayat, Elise Jordan and Naomi Massave contributed to this report