Tag Archives: 9/11


Today, I’ve deliberately stayed away from the televising of the memorial service, but in the last two weeks, I’ve watched three programs about the event. 

One was actually a series of several episodes on the Discovery Channel called “Rising”, about the building of the 9/11 Memorial.  It’s an unbelievable feat of construction, architecture, design, art, human imagination and the human indomitable spirit.  It focuses primarily on the construction challenges, and I found these fascinating.  Plus focusing on the mechanical aspects allows you to temporarily put aside the emotional aspects of 9/11–but not entirely. 

In one episode, one of the construction supervisors is permitted to visit the plant where the names of the victims are being engraved on bronze plates.  These plates are on the edges of the two reflecting pools.  These two pools are squares which sit on the footprints of each tower, and waterfalls cascade down each side of the cube.  This supervisor was playing a critical role in getting the pools completed in time for today’s memorial service–and they were successful.  He is allowed to start the engraving machine, then watch while it engraves the name of…his little brother, who died on 9/11 and whose remains have never been found.  When the engraving is done, they wash the metal with water to cool it down.  He touches his brother’s name through the water and says, “This is my brother now”.

The second program I watched was on The Learning Channel, and was called “Heroes of the 88th Floor”.  It focuses primarily on the survivors, who are somewhat of a forgotten group.  The trauma they experienced was extreme.  In one scene, they interview a subway train driver (who to my surprise, are still called “motormen”).  His train was under the South Tower at the moment the plane hit, which he could feel–it shook the train.  At the next possible moment, he stopped the train and ordered everyone off.  Then he left himself, abandoning his train.  This is probably unprecedented.  He had no idea what was happening, but somehow he had a sense of doom.  Since that day, he has been unable to work, due to PTSD.  There are many varied stories on this note.    Firefighters who were blinded and insisted on returning to work as soon as they were medically cleared, and many others like the motorman.  I think it’s wrong to judge who is “braver”.

Finally I watched an overview special on NBC News Friday night, narrated by Tom Brokaw. 

One of the things these programs have in common is the inescapable video of the plane hitting the South Tower.  (To my knowledge, there is no video of the plane hitting the North Tower.  So at first, they didn’t even know what happened.  It may have been an internal explosion.)  Fortunately, although it was mentioned, there was no footage shown of people jumping from the towers.  Those photos, more than those of the planes hitting the South Tower, are etched in my memory as the the real horror of 9/11.  I can’t bear them. 

I asked my good friend who is a doctor whether he would have stayed or jumped.  He said he would have jumped.  I would have stayed.  That’s a very bizarre conversation to be having. 

That day, they shut down and evacuated the two tallest buildings in Tallahassee–the Capital and the Education building.  I thought, how silly.  What terrorist would want to target Tallahassee?  Then it dawned on me:  The governor (Jeb Bush at the time) is the President’s brother.  At the time, who knew what the motivation was, or who might be targeted?  You didn’t have to be in New York or Washington D.C. to be plunged into fear. 

All that said, the main reason I’ve avoided it today is that the emotional impact is high, but that isn’t the main reason.  It’s that the constant repetition tends to dull that impact.  You start to get numb.  It’s inevitable.  It’s like hearing that another suicide bomber or IED killed X number of people in…fill in the country.  And I don’t want to become numb. 


This is not a political post, so everyone who planned to get mad and disagree with me can stand down. 

Every night since the earthquake I’ve been watching the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, which I often do anyway, but now I’m glued to it.  I now refer to 6:30 P.M. EST as the Crying Hour.  It’s only a 30 minute broadcast, but it takes me another 30 minutes to recover.  And then I say to myself, aren’t you the compassionate one?  You cry for an hour and you’re done until tomorrow.  And that has helped…how? 

The images on CBS News, which is not known for being sensational or particularly explicit, are horrific.  Last night was the final straw, so to speak.  A scene that will forever be burned into my brain and will always be the symbol of the earthquake for me.  I was reminded of 9/11, when the incessant pictures of the planes flying into the buildings were not what stuck with me.  It was the picture posted in the New York Times (they eventually took it down) of two people holding hands, jumping together from the 90th floor to their deaths.  I didn’t sleep for a long time after seeing that. 

In this case, Katie was visiting a makeshift hospital tent and came upon a 13 year old boy named Pierre, with a broken leg.  Both his parents died in the quake.  As Katie squatted down to talk to him, he grabbed her hands.  Then the hospital personnel began to wrap his leg with what looked like nothing more than an Ace bandage.  The boy began to cry and as the pain grew worse, Katie said, Just squeeze my hands.  Eventually he began screaming, and what he said was, “Why, God, why?”  I will see that little boy in my head for the rest of my life. 

The hospital staff asked Katie if she could try to find a plastic cast for the boy as she traveled from site to site, and she did try.  The answer was, We don’t have any either, and if we did, we would use them on our own patients. 

It’s so difficult to see the faces of people suffering from injuries and hunger and thirst, knowing there are supplies and medical personnel at the airport but they just can’t get to the people in enough time.  The help might as well be on the moon.  I feel like we are watching people die in prime time.  How cruel is it to survive the quake, then die anyway? 

I feel guilty.  I feel that I should be doing more.  But realistically, I can’t do anything at all.  Even if I were young enough and strong enough to go help physically, what the hell do I know?  So I sit here helplessly.  And that’s why Leonard Pitts, one of my favorite columnists, made me feel better with his post of January 14th entitled Cruel as it is, we somehow go on

While I am not a religious person, a quote from his article struck home.  Sometimes we really are helpless, which is not the same as being uncaring.  You may substitute the word “Fate” or “Disaster”, but what Pitts said was, it’s like the playwright said:  Your Arms Too Short To Box With God.

Reading With Fakename: The Bin Ladens, Part 2

Since I last posted about this book by Steve Coll–October 16th, only 15 days and it seems like a lifetime ago–I finished it, read a novel by an Irish writer, read a sort-of biography of Florenz Ziegfeld, and am now halfway through Jeffrey Deaver’s latest novel. 

The question I posed last time is, How do you become the world’s most evil man?  Hitler still trumps Osama Bin Laden, but Osama is at least a close second.  I also stated that I don’t believe you get there by ideology alone, that there are serious psychological issues at play, and I stand by that contention. 

Apparently the Koran says that a man cannot have more than four wives at once.  But a man can divorce a woman for any reason at all (such as, I’ve got four wives, and one of you has to go because I want to have sex with someone else, which means I have to marry them.)  The man is still expected to take care of the woman if she has a child by him;  not sure what his obligations are if there are no children, or if the woman is free to remarry if there are no children.  The man is required by the Koran to give a woman thirty days’ notice before he divorces her, which is the Koran’s version of “fairness”.

So Osama’s father, Mohamed, married Osama’s mother when she was 14 years old (approximately, since as I mentioned earlier, births are not celebrated in Islam, or at least in its extreme form).  Osama was born a year later when she was 15, and Mohamed divorced her before she was 18.  She and Osama lived in a huge compound with all Mohamed’s other wives and children, but held a lowly status. 

Osama seems to have worshipped his mother.  I can picture a scenario where it was the two of them against the world, so to speak.  Isolated and out of favor.  There is a particularly spooky quote, where someone says that Osama used to sit at his mother’s feet and “caress” her. 

Many of Osama’s older half-brothers, and even some of his half-sisters, were sent away to boarding schools all over the world–the U.S., Britain, Lebanon (considered the most “liberal” of the Mideast countries).  Osama went to boarding school too, but it had to be in Saudi Arabia.  It’s there, at approximately 15, that he came under the influence of a teacher who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.  In my opinion, it’s then that his rage and resentment and feelings of neglect came together under the cover of an idea.  The ideology never comes first–the aptitude for it does.  He was ripe for the picking. 

He later said himself that from 15 to 21 is the best age from which to choose people to wage jihad. 

His ideology is not at all uncommon in the Middle East.  Blaming Jews and the U.S. for all ills is rampant.  The difference is the lengths to which Osama was willing to go.  The Koran specifically prohibits killing women and children, for example.  When he was questioned about 9/11, which did just that, he was forced to weasel.  On one hand, as the upholder of “pure” Islam as he fancies himself, he couldn’t say the Koran was wrong.  And he couldn’t say the killing of women and children was accidental.  He had to say, Well, they are killing our women and children, aren’t they?  He is not a great, nor logical, thinker. 

In the end here, what you have is a curious combination of insecurity and megalomania.

So I have revised my opinion as to what we should do about him.  Like many if not most Americans, I’ve held that we should hunt him down like a dog and kill him on the spot.  Now I think that with any luck, it will be the Pakistanis who catch him.  Or the Egyptians, or the Saudis.  Preferably the Saudis.  If we do it, he will only become a martyr, which is what he hopes for and expects. 

It’s the Arab nations who should repudiate and humiliate him.  So he needs to be captured. 

You know, I have a little dog, a Basenji.  Basenjis are African hunting dogs, and classically, they are used in packs to drive small game (e.g., rabbits) into a net, previously strung by the hunters.  That’s what the U.S. needs to be now:  the Basenji.

Torture–Why Not?

I’m now perhaps a third of the way through Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side, which is subtitled “The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals”.  The book is about torture, but the idea that Americans don’t torture is not the only ideal she’s referring to. 

First, let’s take a moment to remember not just September 11th, but September 12th.  September 11th was the worst atrocity America has ever endured.  Pearl Harbor was perhaps the worst before that.  But even Pearl Harbor, secret and cowardly as it was, was at least an attack on a military target, albeit not one engaged in military activity at the time.  9/11 was the deliberate destruction of innocent lives by people who, it is said, have no regard for life–their own, their families, their countrymen.  But it’s more than that–they professed to believe that no American was innocent in some cases.  In others, the extent of remorse shown was that it was too bad that these people had to die.  These people are not religious fanatics.  That’s the sheep suit they are wearing.  They are criminals.  They are the embodiment of evil on earth.  Is there any American, including me, who, on September 12th, was not for hunting these people down and killing them? (I’m still for it.)  I thought that’s what we were doing when we went to Afghanistan.  Why did we fail?  Several reasons, but in one word:  Iraq. 

And now for September 12th.  I remember that day.  First, there was an eerie silence in the sky.  No planes.  Second, the state Capitol building in Tallahassee, which is the tallest building in the City and is across the street from my office, was closed.  The second tallest building, the state Department of Education, was also closed.  At the time I remember thinking, who would want to fly a plane into a building in Tallahassee?  Then I remembered–the governor is the brother of the President.  I remember the lingering horror and the anxiety.  Would there be another attack?

I think it’s safe to say that no one felt that horror and anxiety more than members of our government, who are charged with keeping us safe.  If extreme measures had been taken in the days following 9/11, it might not have been excusable but it would at least have been understandable.  But the decision to torture was crafted over a period of months when there had been no further attacks, and was a cold, clear-eyed, amoral decision. 

To justify it, you have to adopt the stand that anything goes in the name of “keeping us safe”, including becoming just like the people we say we hate.  There are many things I could comment on from this book, but at the moment I’ll confine myself to the question of Why not torture?

1.  Torture keeps us safer.  Wrong.  You end up radicalizing even the more moderate associates of our enemies.  How does it serve America and Americans to be seen as torturers?  “Beacon of hope and freedom”?  Yeah, that’s us. 

2.  Torture “works”.  As one person in the book said, torture will cause people to confess to something.  Whether or not it’s true is a different matter.  More often than not, the information is untrue, and acting on untrue information, which happened a lot, can be disastrous.  Case in point:  the connection between Al Quaeda and Iraq. 

I don’t see how anyone reading this book could come to a conclusion other than that the decision to torture was against both international and American law.  Of course, you could be like Dick Cheney, who was in essence the architect of the whole program.  He openly said, “We’re going to give them (the detainees) all the rights we think they deserve.”  That sounds a lot like revenge to me.  Cheney felt that international law, American law, the U.N., Congress, the Supreme Court, and fill-in-the-blank were unnecessary impediments to power where the power should be:  in the hands of the American president.  By which he really meant, the executive branch.  By which he really meant, Dick Cheney. 

It’s important to remember that the torture program was secret, known only to a few select people and to the CIA.  As details started to become known, there was plenty of opposition, and not just from weenie liberal bleeding-heart crybabies such as me (or so I am sometimes portrayed).  The military was opposed.  The FBI was opposed.  As one FBI agent put it, developing a relationship with a suspect, even the most despicable ones, ends up giving you more information and more reliable information, over a longer period of time.  “Besides,” he said, if you torture, “You lose your soul”.  If that alone isn’t reason enough to convince the pro-torture people that it’s wrong, I don’t know what would do it.