Cheap Seats 2016
Infamy Remembered - 09/14
By Rich Trzupek
Hard to believe I’ve been writing this column, annoying liberals and causing subscription cancellations for over sixteen years. Harder to believe that I had hardly been bloviating (love that word) for a year when Islamic extremists executed the 9/11 attacks.
September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday and I had already filed by column for the week the first airliner hit the World Trade Center. As I listened to the radio in horror along with millions of others that morning, I made two decisions. First, I wasn’t going in to work at my day job. My twelve year-old daughter was sick and resting at home, alone. I didn’t want her memory of that day to be one filled with fear as she watched unbelievable events unfold before her eyes on television.
The second decision was that I had to write about what had happened, not because I thought my words are so profound or would make the slightest difference in the scheme of things. I had to write because putting thoughts to paper is cathartic for me, in the same way that exercise, or playing music, is deeply therapeutic for other people.
The following, published in The Examiner on September 12, 2001 is what I wrote as 9/11 unfolded. I must confess I’m now less confident in our ability to defeat a fundamentalist enemy that is far larger that I, or anyone, could have imagined back then. Yet, I still remain hopeful that the best that is America will ultimately triumph over ignorance and religious fanatics. Other that those two nuances, I stand by everything I said a decade and half ago. I entitled the column Infamy.
Here it is:
As many people have said, this must be how Pearl Harbor felt. A jumble of emotions - shock, anger, sorrow, disbelief - flood over you.
The images came from some Irwin Allen disaster flick of the 70’s. This can’t be real life. Jets don’t explode into the side of skyscrapers. Colossal structures can’t collapse into a smoking heap of rubble. Thousands and thousands of people aren’t killed at one time.
Thousands. Will we ever be able to grasp that? Thousands of hopes and dreams, beliefs and ideals, principals and passions, all snuffed out in a few moments.
A single plane crash, which extinguishes but a few lives, will hold the nation’s attention and tug at its heart. What can we make of four in the space of one morning?
No one can ever come to grips with all of the individuals who have been lost, all of the stories that will remain forever untold, all of the laughter that will never be heard.
The “people” (and I use the word rhetorically) who convinced themselves this was a heroic act never think like that, of course. What happens to individuals doesn’t matter to them. Lives don’t count, except as numbers to be wracked up on their grisly scorecards.
By that standard, thousands is a big tally indeed. It is reported that Palestinian guerillas celebrated the news, shouting with glee and firing their guns into the air. “Take that America!”
Still, we must not mark this tragedy with any sort of racial or cultural colors. I don’t think that there is much doubt in anyone’s mind that, whomever is responsible, their roots are in the Middle East, be it bin Laden or someone equally devoid of soul.
But, having spent time in the region, I know it would be a mistake to paint the Arab people with a broad brush. People are people, of whatever branch or root. You can find beauty and nobility and the rest of the human spirit as readily in the Middle East, among the common people, as you might anywhere else.
Rather, this is - and has been - about a few deluded individuals, skulking under a cloak of righteousness, just as Pearl Harbor was about Japan’s warlords, not the Japanese people.
The new warlords hide behind the shield of one of the world’s three great religions, a faith they have twisted and perverted to their own dark purposes, until nothing remains of the beauty and charity that draws millions of true believers to it.
They are rubbing their hands together in glee today. They revel in the horrific images. Their eyes are aflame with pride as they watch tears flow in New York. Like Togo, sixty years ago, they believe they have humiliated punished and defeated America.
How little they know of this nation. How poorly they understand us. In their minds, I am sure, they have broken the symbols of our nation: soaring towers, magnificent liners of the sky, the headquarters of our armed forces.
Are these things America? They are not. I doubt there is one of my countrymen or women who does not realize it is so. Not today.
For we are not what we build, but who we are. “We the People” the Constitution begins. Those words have ever defined this country.
“We the People”; the “arsenal of democracy”; the “melting pot”. We are the Asians and Africans and Europeans and Native Americans. We are black, white, yellow, red and every shade in between.
We argue. We fuss and we fight. We stumble at times. But, in our heart of hearts, we know that we are lucky to be here; where a single voice counts for something; where opportunity may sometimes be delayed, but can never be long denied.
A few thousand tons of steel forged into the shape of battleships was not our real strength at Pearl Harbor in 1941. The warlords found that out. Sinking them, they destroyed nothing. If was the lives of those sailors that mattered to us. From their blood was born a fury that carried us across the Pacific and returned freedom, peace and prosperity to the people of Japan.
Now, the World Trade Center is gone. So be it. We will survive it, just as we would survive the loss of the White House or the Capitol or the Golden Gate Bridge or anything else these madmen might think is precious to us. They have no idea.
For what IS precious to us are the things that mean nothing to them: those lives - every single one. The buildings can go. Let the ruins remain so that we may never forget the people who were once inside. But, whatever happens to mortar and steel, the spirits will remain.
The grim fury the new warlords have loosed will never be quenched, not until they are brought to justice and purged from this earth.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is the one yet to come: that our young men will once again be called upon to avenge this abomination; that their blood will be shed to ensure that September 11 never happens again. It is not a decision we make lightly, but make it we surely will.
May God have mercy on the monsters that forced such an action upon us. The 101st Airborne Division, I suspect, won’t be quite so forgiving.