1. Archive

Chelsea Clinton speaks about Sept. 11 terror attacks

We've watched her grow up from afar, a sometimes gawky presence in her parents' turbulent life, a silent figure both famous and unknowable.

Now, finally, Chelsea Clinton speaks.

The 21-year-old University of Oxford student has written an intensely personal account of her reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks for the December issue of Talk magazine:

"I woke up that Tuesday morning feeling good about where I was in my life and happy about where I was going. Now that sense of security is gone, and since the 11th, for some moment every day, I have been scared. Not by a sense of immediate, immense danger, but by something more subtle and corrosive: an uncertainty about my place in the world _ where I am emotionally, psychologically, and sometimes even physically."

Turns out the young lady has quite a bit to say. She even mentions her former boyfriend.

Editor Tina Brown said that she had approached Clinton several times before but that after the attacks the former first daughter made the offer through her parents' agent, Robert Barnett. After an initial meeting about the focus of the piece, Clinton's draft _ written on deadline _ needed "a few tweaks and suggestions."

"It has a kind of clarity, conviction and honesty which really blew me away," said Brown. "She wasn't interested in spin or how did she look or how did she sound. She wanted to tell the emotional truth about that day. I definitely think she's a good writer."

It's hard to overstate the fervor with which Bill and Hillary Clinton tried to shield their daughter, who was 12 when they entered the White House, from the media glare. Even on overseas trips, whatever she said was declared off the record.

While the press largely played along, People published a cover story on how Chelsea was coping with the Monica Lewinsky scandal that infuriated the first couple.

"The Clintons did not want her to grow up with any of that dysfunction that comes from being a celebrity, and she didn't," says former White House spokesman Mike McCurry. "But she's a grown lady now and quite impressive, and fully capable of making her own decisions about writing an article."

Chelsea Clinton writes that on the morning of Sept. 11, she was staying with her best friend from Sidwell Friends School, Nicole Davison, at her apartment near Manhattan's Union Square _ not far from the World Trade Center.

When Davison called from work to say that a plane had crashed into the twin towers, Clinton tried to call her mother but the line went dead after an assistant answered. She "stared senselessly at the television," then headed downtown, where she heard a deafening rumble. The first tower had collapsed. On her way back to the apartment, Clinton learned that the Pentagon had been attacked.

She thought of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme.

"I am still unsure about what Humpty Dumpty represented to me on that day, because I do not subscribe to _ and I even resent _ the theory that America's arrogance, even indirectly, led to the attacks. It just seemed as though the world were falling down, like Humpty Dumpty."

In one passage, Clinton deftly makes clear her Democratic pedigree while embracing bipartisan unity. Venturing out again with Davison, "I was expounding on the detriments of Bush's tax cut as we approached Grand Central Terminal and were met with hordes of people running out of the station," some crying "Fire!" and "Bomb!"

"We all were crying. We all thought we were literally going to have fire rain down on us. . . . For a brief moment I truly thought I was going to die.

"Once we stopped running, I started praying. I prayed for my country and my city. I stopped berating the tax cut and started praying that the president would rise to lead us. And I thanked God my mother was a senator repre-senting New York and that Rudy Giuliani was our mayor. I have never reacted more viscerally to a leader, particularly not to one I had been criticizing just the day before for some insensitivity or other. . . .

"I realized that I had become a New Yorker. I expect now that I'll always be one."

Clinton burst into tears again _ tears of relief _ when her mother finally reached her by cell phone. When her father returned from a trip to Australia, she was anxious to bring him to Manhattan, knowing "he would want to connect with everyone who was confused and suffering, including his daughter." As they worked the area near Ground Zero, she answered some questions on camera, and "the reporters were clearly a bit surprised, as I had stonewalled every question anyone in the media had ever asked me throughout my entire life."

Still, Clinton was lonely and longed for her ex-boyfriend, whom she didn't name. "We had parted because of circumstance. I was going to England for two years, and he had one more year of college. It seemed to be the pragmatic and right decision for both of us at the time, and I now know that it was. But at one moment Thursday night I wanted the ease of being truly comfortable with someone, and I craved some good, long hugs. In general I am an incredibly self-reliant person. . . . He came, and that weekend I laughed for the first time since the 11th. That was the greatest gift he has ever given me."

Now in England, Clinton seeks to be around other Americans and finds "it is very difficult to hear America criticized right now." As for her life, "sometimes I have a certain clarity of purpose; other days I don't. I do not think it is out of place to divide my life into before and after the 11th."

Brown has long enjoyed a good relationship with Hillary Rodham Clinton, who helped her launch Talk in 1999 by granting an interview in which she talked about her husband's infidelities.