Different memories of 9/11 and its aftermath
The disparity of people's reflections on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 yesterday has me sad. Naturally there were folks overseas doing the customary flag burnings:
Protesters set fire to the U.S. flag outside the American embassy in London yesterday during a minute's silence to mark the moment the first hijacked airliner hit the World Trade Centre.
A group of 100 Muslim radicals, including members of Muslims Against Crusades, shouted 'USA terrorists' and brandished anti-American placards.
One protester in Grosvenor Square said: 'You will always face suffering, you will always face humiliation, unless you withdraw your troops from Muslim lands.'
More disconcerting was the domestic media illuminati, best displayed by the NYT Paul Krugman who took the opportunity to tell us we should be ashamed:
What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. Te atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.
A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?
The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.
Not to be outdone, Socialist (his word) former NYT/NPR/Nation collumnist Chris Hedges went a step further:
There would soon, however, be another reaction. Those of us who were close to the epicenters of the 9/11 attacks would primarily grieve and mourn. Those who had some distance would indulge in the growing nationalist cant and calls for blood that would soon triumph over reason and sanity. Nationalism was a disease I knew intimately as a war correspondent. It is anti-thought. It is primarily about self-exaltation. The flip side of nationalism is always racism, the dehumanization of the enemy and all who appear to question the cause. The plague of nationalism began almost immediately. My son, who was 11, asked me what the difference was between cars flying small American flags and cars flying large American flags.
“The people with the really big flags are the really big assholes,” I told him.
Um, really? I know a guy who was close to Ground Zero who feels quite differently, our National Commander, Fang Wong, who would be more qualified to understand racism than this clown.
First of all, Kimlau Post 1291 in Chinatown was The American Legion's closest presence to Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks. I was adjutant of that post on 9/11. Another post, housed in the Downtown Athletic Club in lower Manhattan, was destroyed in the attacks; it has since reconstituted itself onboard the USS Intrepid, as 9-11 Memorial Post 2001....
The economy of Chinatown was basically shut down in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. The Kimlau post and the entire Chinatown business district urgently switched gears and transformed into a clearing house of relief and support for first responders, recovery workers and families of those who lost loved ones in the attacks. Legionnaires from across the United States responded quickly with shipments of food, water, supplies, money and prayers.
The outpourings of support occasionally took unusual turns. When a little girl in Canada heard about all the children who lost parents in the attacks, she launched a campaign to buy teddy bears and stuffed animals to comfort them in their grief. A radio station reported on her effort, and a few weeks later, a big truck full of stuffed animals arrived in Manhattan. Until we could distribute them to the children, these animals lived in the basement of my post.
Throughout New York, and across America, we saw U.S. flags like never before. If ever a case were made for the power of that symbol, it was following the 9/11 attacks. American flags appeared above overpasses and were suspended from bridges. They were displayed in windows and mounted on the backs of motorcycles. They were raised up from the ruins of the fallen towers. Our nation drew comfort, confidence and fortitude from our nation's banner while our enemies on the other side of the world were burning it and dancing in the streets of their terror-infested cities. Anyone who thinks the U.S. flag is just a piece of cloth need only reflect on its meaning after 9/11.
For my part, I was pretty close to an "epicenter of the 9/11 attacks" as I was meeting with Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch when the attacks occured. Before the meeting I saw the first plane hit on TV, and assumed like most folks that it was a tragic accident. I went into the meeting with a fellow Legionnaire, Bill Christofferson, our National Executive Committeeman from Utah. Halfway through the meeting some big guys in dark suits walked in, grabbed the Senator, and out they went. We were left scratching our heads.
We left the Senate side largely still in the dark as to what was going on, and headed over to the House side, where our then National Commander was about to appear before a Joint Committee of Veterans Affairs for his Annual testimony. As we walked by the Capitol Building, folks came streaming out of the building. I remember one lady with glasses on tumbling down the long stairs on the East side of the Capitol. A few men and women stopped to help he up as the rest of the folks went streaming away from the building. Mr Christofferson turned to me and said "You can run if you want to son, I'm too old to do it." We walked together that day, just as a plane hit the Pentagon about 5 miles away.
I spent the bulk of that day doing what everyone else was doing, watching it on TV, and then tried to figure out how to get to my National Guard Armory about 20 miles away. I assumed (incorrectly as it turned out) that we should all report to duty. Past National Commander Ray Smith offered a ride, and we spent several hours to make the trip.
Honestly, I was glad I spent the day with folks who knew first hand what times like this were about. Mind you, the attacks were without precedent, but many of our Legionnaires had been in combat, and so there was a somber but controlled rage as we realized we were under attack. In the days that followed, I was proud to see all the flags. I guess by Chris Hedges arithmatic that makes me a big asshole, so be it.
Yesterday I thought about a bunch of people on the anniversary of that day, as I am sure most of the rest of America did, excepting those who still think we brought it on ourselves. I thought of SGT Bobby Beasley and SSG Craig Cherry who were killed in Afghanistan in my unit hunting down the people who brought this on us. And I thought of my quintessential hero from that day, Rick Rescorla. From a Blackfive post, citing an article in Investor's Business Daily:
After the second plane hit the south tower on Sept. 11, some people panicked when one staircase filled with smoke. Using his bullhorn, Rescorla directed them to a clear one. As on the battlefield, he sang to keep workers calm.
Even after it appeared that Rescorla evacuated most of the Morgan Stanley employees, he returned to check for stragglers. As Olson was working his way down on about the 10th floor he saw Rescorla going back up.
"I said, 'Rick, you have got to get out of there,' and he said, 'I will, as soon as I get everyone out,' " Olson said.
It was the last known sighting of Rescorla...
If you don't know Rescorla's story, you should do some googling today. As the flames and smoke engulfed the building, he stood in the stairwell encouraging people to get out, and to keep spirits high, the former Rhodesian and US Infantryman sang "Men of Harlech":
"Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming
Can't you see their spear points gleaming?
See their warriors' pennants streaming
To this battlefield.
Men of Cornwall stand ye steady
It cannot be ever said ye
for the battle were not ready.
STAND AND NEVER YIELD!"
- "Men of Harlech"
If you've never heard the dong, it is the one sang by the British Troops in the final scene of the classic movie Zulu: