My wife and I were up at the top of the World Trade Center a few days before the millennium. We spoke to the elevator operators. We saw the servers setting tables in Windows on the World restaurant. We bought Nathan’s hot dogs from the guy behind the counter. We joked with the two women who worked in the souvenir shop. But after 9/11, everyone talked about the employees of major financial firms who died. What about the hundreds of maintenance workers and others? They were real people with families and friends, hopes and plans. They were Americans.
Does this photo mean anything to you?
Rick Rescorla, chief of security for Morgan Stanley, safely evacuated all 2,700 employees on 9/11, except for six. Four of the six were himself and his three deputies (two pictured above): Wesley Mercer, Jorge Velasquez, and Godwin Forde. That’s true multiculturalism. Rick led his people to safety, shouting encouragement and singing songs through a bullhorn.
Rick was last seen going back into Tower 2 shortly before its collapse. When he was told he should get out, he replied, “As soon as I make sure everyone else is out.” His body was never recovered, but U.S. troops at Fallujah remembered him well.
What about this photo?
The firefighter going up the stairs when most people were going down is Mike Kehoe. From the expression on his face, I would guess that he had doubts about his survival. But he did survive. He got out about 30 seconds before the tower collapsed. But 343 of his fellow firefighters were not so lucky. In order to have survivor guilt, you have to survive.
And this photo?
Todd Beamer was a passenger on United Flight 93. What happened was verified by the telephone supervisor with whom he spoke. They recited the Lord’s Prayer together, and he made her promise to tell his wife and sons he loved them. He then said his timeless words:
God help me. Jesus help me. Are you ready? Let’s roll!
Beamer played a key role in the passengers’ revolt against the terrorists. As a result, the airliner crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, and not into the Capitol Building or the White House, thereby saving many lives.
In all, about 2977 human beings died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania, while over 6000 were injured. The exact total will never be known. Hundreds of body parts do not match any of the identified bodies. To fail to remember an event of such magnitude suggests some sort of national Alzheimer’s.
But many people barely remember 9/11. They see nothing wrong with building a mosque at Ground Zero. They do not realize that Ground Zero is already a holy place. They do not realize that it would be similar to building a Japanese Shinto shrine at Pearl Harbor, near the USS Arizona Memorial. They do not realize that, like our troops raising our flag on Iwo Jima, it would be a symbol of victory − but not our victory.
President Obama proposes that 9/11 be a “National Day of Service” marked by volunteering for the poor. But this has nothing to do with remembering 9/11 − or with preventing a recurrence. On the contrary, Obama ordered officials to minimize mention of Al Qaeda, as if not mentioning it would make it go away. The problem with 9/10 thinking is that it leads to 9/11.
If you are beaten up, I have no right to forgive the attacker. But at least I understand what it means to be beaten up. What can I grasp about 9/11?
●I have no idea of the incredible pain the relatives and friends of the victims felt, as they waited for the bodies − or parts of bodies − to be found. Many are still waiting.
The only aspect of 9/11 that I have a right to forgive is the emotional distress I felt watching it on TV – a microscopic part of that event. For me to usurp the right to forgive the terrorists would be arrogant and egotistical. Only the victims have the right to forgive. And they aren’t here.
Psychology tells us what we should do to relieve emotional pain. It tells us nothing about what we should do to fulfill our obligations to others. This used to be taught by parents, who now work two jobs and have little time to teach anything. It used to be taught by teachers, who now can barely teach English and mathematics. It used to be taught by clergy, many of whom now preach how to feel good, not how to do good.
True, doing good often makes us feel good. But sometimes doing good is difficult, or even painful and dangerous.
Sometimes doing good requires us to recognize evil, despite the ugliness.
Sometimes doing good requires us to fight evil, despite the danger.
Sometimes doing good is the opposite of feeling good. This is a lesson you will rarely hear from New Age gurus or liberal clergy.
Rather than babbling about “getting rid of anger,” competent psychologists help us to find the real source of our anger. Then we can attempt to remedy the situation, rather than bottling up our anger – only to have it burst out unexpectedly.
If we are inhibited from expressing anger at those who deserve it, we may express it at those who don’t. Perhaps this is one reason for domestic violence, workplace violence, and road rage. If we expressed more anger at criminals and terrorists, we might express less anger at spouses, children, coworkers, or motorists.
Instead of being angry at the perpetrators of 9/11, some people are angry at those who waterboarded three (only three) terrorists, including one of the chief planners of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. As a result of information he revealed, a plot to crash a plane into the Los Angeles Library Tower was broken up, saving thousands of lives. Now known as the U.S. Bank Tower, it is the tallest building west of Chicago.
This 73-story building is also the tallest building in the world with a helipad on its roof. If there had been a helipad on even one of the Twin Towers, hundreds might have been saved. But 11 years later, this idea has yet to occur to those who write building codes.
The attack of 9/11 was not only an act of war – it was also a horribly costly lesson. Let’s not waste it. Let’s use it to relearn what we used to know – the difference between petty anger and righteous indignation. Yes, 11 years later I am still angry about 9/11, and I will be until the terrorist network has been rooted out. Only then can I allow myself to “just get over it.”
The motto of Scotland is Nemo me impune lacessit. It is usually translated as “No one attacks me and goes unpunished.” The Scots render it informally as “Who dares meddle with me?” We Americans used to be even more direct, as witness “The Ballad of Mike Moran.”
We are forgetting who we are and where we come from. We have trouble distinguishing our friends from our enemies. We are losing our identity in a sort of national dementia. Such people are easily reduced from citizens to subjects.
We should emulate Lady Liberty. On 9/11 she had her eyes open, facing the burning towers. If we hope to remain free, we must keep our eyes open as well, and face squarely the dangers that continue to confront us.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.