UQ Wire: Remembering 911 - What's Left Undone
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Remembering 911 - What's Left Undone
By Barbara O’Brien
This isn't real. That's what we all said. I said it too, as I watched from a high-rise building on West 17th Street and saw the mighty towers of the World Trade Center collapse and disappear into dust.
Two days later I was back in Manhattan, looking for what was real. I walked to Times Square and saw flags and expressions of raw defiance on construction sites. Lamp posts were festooned with home-made signs: Have you seen this person? Have you seen my wife? My husband? My child? Please? The faces on the signs were of robust, whole people. The faces were relaxed, full of trust, alive.
I took a 9 train to Chelsea. I had been on a 9 train Tuesday morning, when someone said a plane had struck the World Trade Center. How awful, we said. I hope not many people are hurt.
But on Thursday morning no one spoke, except for a man talking to himself. Its not unusual to find men talking to themselves in the subways, but they are usually homeless men who smell of urine.
This was a clean man in a good suit, and he wore a gold watch, and his hands shook, and he was talking to himself because he was terrified. He sat and muttered and trembled, and those standing and swaying around him, hanging on to the bars, left him alone. Whatever was real to him must have been terrible.
In the weeks that followed there was much speechifying and memorializing of This Terrible Thing, and much glorifying of the dead and the living and the flag. I looked for a transformation from what we had been before to something better and grander. But it didn't happen.
CAPTION: September 17th 2001 - Union Square New York
We pinned flags and ribbons to our clothes, but they were the same old clothes. We bought bleeping souvenirs like NYPD golf caps and bumper stickers and various special commemorative editions. We packaged September 11 and put it on our national trophy shelf, with the Alamo and Iwo Jima and John Wayne.
We stood around our backyard grills, beer in hand, and said yeah, that was awful. I hope they get that bin Laden guy. How do you like your burgers cooked? After September 11 Americans donated money and blood in record amounts, because we wanted very much to do something. But although we were ready to make any sacrifice and bear any burden; our leaders urged us to shop, spend, eat, travel, and enjoy ourselves for America. Don't allow September
A year has gone by, and we are preparing to wallow in remembrance of that which still doesn't seem real. But instead of passively tuning into All September 11, All the Time, we need to look at what has not been said and what has not been done and what we are rapidly forgetting.
First, we must look to the war on terrorism. The Bush Administration wants to invade Iraq, although it has not been able to prove that Saddam Hussein is connected to the September 11 attacks. At the same time, a number of news stories report that al Qaeda, although wounded, has not died but has gone underground and continues to be a threat.
Most of its leaders, including Osama bin Laden, may still be alive. At the very least, the Bush Administration must tell us why we are to leave one job unfinished to begin another.
CAPTION: October 3rd 2002 - Protests D.C., San Francisco, Athens
Second, we must have a thorough investigation of September 11. Recently, a BBC special report ("Clear the Skies," presented by Gavin Hewitt, BBC2, September 1, 2002) said that on September 11 the entire U.S. mainland was defended by only 14 planes, only four of which were in the northeast.
However, other news stories have revealed that last summer there were many warnings, albeit unspecific, of a terrorist threat. In July 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft, among other administration officials, began using chartered government planes instead of commercial airlines because of a "threat assessment." Yet the administration did nothing to increase security for the citizens of the United States. The American people deserve an explanation.
And third, I urge a rededication to the principles upon which our great nation was founded. Each of us has a duty to our country to be informed and to pay attention to what our government is doing, both here and abroad. And our elected officials, including the President, are accountable to us. We must not let them forget that.
On September 11, I intend to walk behind the pipers down to Ground Zero to pay my respects. Lower Manhattan looks so much smaller and shabbier than it used to. When I close my eyes I can still see it the way it was, especially on a blue-sky day, when the towers gleamed in the sun and the city all around was bright and grand.
And I can still see the people in the World Trade Center, flowing up and down the escalators and through the broad corridors, past the pretty shops and the restaurants, past the deli with a long line for coffee, past the flower and magazine stands, going up to their offices or down into the subways or outside into the prosperous streets. It seems so real.