Wednesday, June 29, 2005

My Town: We Don't Forget

Union Station is an historic site in Kansas City. A central rail station during the great days of rail travel, this historic site has seen the great movement of America. A few years back it was turned into a museum and event center.

One of it's current displays, which I will be going to see this week is September 11: Bearing Witness to History.

Union Station is privileged to present the exhibit dedicated to remembering the profound historical significance and the moving personal accounts of September 11. The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History presents the images, the artifacts, the emotions of 9/11. Visit the official exhibit Website.

You can see more about this exhibit at the Smithsonian website

I'll be taking pictures and posting if I can.

At the Smithsonian site, there are personal stories of people from all over the country and the world about witnessing September 11. They are asking for personal accounts if you have one. You don't have to be a resident of New York or Washington DC. Just tell your story.

They ask for a brief story and then they ask you a couple of questions. Here are some of the comments that I found interesting:

From the Pentagon:

Did you fly an American flag after the events of September 11th?

Yes. I think the flag is beautiful and that everyone in this country should fly it. I know everytime I hear the Star Spangled Banner I cry. The land of the free...I can't believe someone would attack us because we are free.

I picked this one because I was recently reading the words of our national anthem. Not just that first stanza that everyone knows, but the entire anthem. Every time I read it, everytime I hear it, I feel the same way.

[second stanza]On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave

That always reminds me of September 11. "What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep, as it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?"

From a nurse at St. Vincent's Hospital, New York:

I left for work on Tuesday morning and the thing that struck me most was what an absolutely beautiful day it was. I love New York in the fall. I work at St Vincent's hospital in downtown Manhattan. One of the surgeons called the recovery room from home to tell us that a plane had hit the WTC. He was watching it out his window. We immediately turned on every radio and television that we could find. We couldn't believe our eyes. How did this happen? It's a perfectly clear day outside. This, was not an accident. But, who? Who would do such a thing? I ran to the other side of the building which has a clear view of the trade center. There was the trade center with a huge, gaping hole in the side of it. Our patients were asking us to turn their stretchers around so that they could look out the window (They later would be sorry as they had a clear view of the second plane's impact). It was devastating. Then, over the loud speaker, we heard-Code 3-the external disaster code. No surprise, we had been waiting for the official announcement. As I was walking from one side of the building to the other, the second plane hit. This cannot be happening. We hurried to prepare for the casualties. Set up IVs. Get emergency meds. Sterile sheets, saline, gauze, fluids for the burn patients. Ready the ORs for the traumas. Teams of nurses and physicians braced for the onslaught. I went to look out the window and as I did, I saw Tower 2 disappear. Thousands of lives extinguished before my eyes. I sank to a chair and cried. Quite suddenly, I realized just how many people I knew who would be effected by this and how many may be gone forever. Where is my brother? He's a NYC firefighter. Where is my sister-in-law? She is a NYC police officer, working downtown, at 1 Police Plaza. Oh my God, what about Ed? and Tim? and.....I didn't have time to think anymore. We were getting patients and I had to get to work. It was busy. We didn't eat. It was hard to see all these people. Not only were you handling physical injuries, but also psychological and emotional ones. By the time night rolled around, we were tired but none of us wanted to sleep. We had hoped for so many more patients. The fact that no more patients are arriving is deeply saddening. We kept thinking that someone must be alive down there. Where are all the survivors? By now, I knew that my brother and sister-in-law were okay. They would be working at Ground Zero for months to come. Everyone I was worried about is accounted for. I felt incredibly blessed. I went out for some air on 7th Avenue. Unreal. Cameras lined 7th avenue, military covered the streets. F14s, 16s, Apache helicopters had been flying overhead all day. I feel like I am living in another country. Again, this cannot be happening. I cry somemore. I don't think Ive ever really stopped. [snip]

What do you think should be remembered about September 11th?

The way that we stood as a country, united in our sorrow but also in our resolve.

Did you fly an American flag after the events of September 11th?

Yes, I flew a flag. No, my feelings have not changed. I have always been proud, and felt lucky, to have been born in this country. I have always respected this country, and our flag, even when I might not have agreed with some of it's policies. I grew up listening to my Dad sing God Bless America, with his friends, at every large gathering. I knew the words to that song before I could feed myself. I love this country and that will never change.

I picked out her story because a number of phrases that she said echoed through my mind many times. I think it's true for many people. One of the things that I remembered was how blue the sky was that morning. I live near the airport and the sky was filled with many contrails of planes as they landed at the near by air port and then the contrails faded away and there wasn't even a cloud in the sky. It was blindingly blue and eerily silent.

Everyone seems to remember it the same. Right after I typed the above paraghraph, readthis man's account from Nashville, TN:

I live in Nashville, Tennessee, so I witnessed the events of September 11, 2001 from a distance, via TV and other media, like most Americans. This is what I remember most vividly from that day and the few days that followed: It was a brilliant late-summer day; the unrelenting heat that marks a Nashville summer had begun to die off, and the morning was crisp and clear. [snip]

I remember seeing the live shot of both towers burning, and commenting that the towers were engineered to stand a thousand years, and that this would probably render them unusable, but that they would stand. Seconds later, the south tower collapsed, and I initially refused to believe it, thinking it was the facade of the building. [snip]

There were no contrails in the sky, but I remember looking up and seeing a solitary plane, flying very high and very fast in an eastward direction--almost certainly a military aircraft.

I suppose one may wonder why I posted something about September 11 after my long post yesterday about abandoning freedom. Or would you? Maybe you are all like me and it creeps up on you once in awhile, like a voice whispering in your ear, "Remember".

I have found it hard to forget. Even in the cacaphony over Iraq and "quagmires" (shouldn't somebody give Sen. Kennedy a new dictionary that has more than one page from the "Q" section?) it's still there. It's there every time I see the pictures of car bombs and body parts. You know, the psychiatrists and therapists say that too much exposure to these images is bad for our people. I figure our men and women are seeing them up close and personal so I should not hold myself immune.

The only images I have not been able to make myself watch are the beheading videos. My AF brother called me the first time Nick Berg's video was released and asked me if I had seen it. I told him I had only seen the still shots, but not all of them. He said to me that I should watch it because I should know the enemy and should put the memory in my heart and mind, so I shouldn't forget who and what we are fighting.

I never did. Not because I didn't want to know or remember. I know who and what we are fighting. The media can continue to call these folks "insurgents". I have a few other words for them. None of which include anything nearly so romantic sounding as "insurgent" or "resistance". The words I have for them stick in my throat. My thoughts make me ball up my hands into fists.

I didn't watch the beheading videos because somewhere, deep down, I was afraid. Not afraid of these men or afraid that it would happen to me someday. But afraid I would lose my humanity and vengence would take over. Does anyone undertand what I'm saying? I fear the darkness in me, not in them.

Part of that darkness is because they hid among us. There can be no greater betrayal than to offer the hospitality of your home and then be attacked by the people that you gave shelter and bounty to. This was the betrayal of our freedoms and openness that these men planned and meant to use against us as an emotional weapon beyond the actual attacks on our people and land. The only thing that keeps me from exploding sometimes is the thought that in the tribal world from which they came, that betrayal is "haram", unclean and unacceptable. Except to practice "taqiya" which is the art form of "lying to deceive your enemy" which is acceptable, particularly if the enemy is a "kafir" or unbeliever.

That's some of what I've learned in the last four years. I've learned words that had never before entered by vocobulary and had to think through the morass of information that comes pelting our way in short little clips or long verbal notes from the enemy or on Jihad websites or books or from my Iraqi friends who are suffering under these same folks.

Most of us who read or write on these blogs know these things. We know them because we made it our business, dare I say our "crusade" to do so for so many reasons. To try to understand. To try to get a fix on the enemy. To try to determine what it would take to defeat them. To try to figure out how to protect ourselves from it again. Because, I do not accept that it must happen again. Not that I think that it can't or it won't. But I refuse to believe that it "must".

But, we know many citizens don't know, don't think about it as deeply or often. Whether from purpose or from distance, it's the way it is. It's this way because somebody, somewhere decided that it would be better not to go full throttle on exposure, on information, on explanation. After examining my own emotions, I think I understand a little bit why that might be.

Just my own theory, as I try not to swirl into the darkness that demands destruction, but I wonder if people really understood the enemy and the fight if they would be so complacent and so willing to let things unfold as they have? I wonder if people really understood what went on in Saudi Arabia or in Palestine in regards to television and education, would they feel so complacent and willing to accept that there are "good" Muslims and "bad" Muslims?

You know, without the ability to distinguish between that fact, people might have and may still one day, demand something more in the form of retaliation.

That is what I mean about why I'm afraid to watch those beheading videos. Because, in the thoughts of having to protect me and my family from such a thing, from such episodes as I see in Iraq and Afghanistan, I feel my humanity quake and the darkness whisper "annhilation".

Yes, yes. I know that sounds a little melo-dramatic. I remind myself that the important thing to remember is that I haven't advocated for that. Yet. Of course, I am not crazy and I understand that I'm not imagining anhilating the religion of Islam. I mean, that is, for all intents and purposes impractical and, deep down, residing beside the darkness, is the other part of me that reminds me "not all Muslims follow this creed or wish our destruction".

But, I know from which countries our original attackers came from and I know from which countries many of the hijackers come from and I know which countries have very bad records of inciting or harboring the kind of fanatacism that promotes this.

Then the calmer, reasonable side of me keeps kicking in and reminding me that it isn't necessary. We can fight this war differently. We don't have to revert to old methods. I mean, of course, the old method of total war.

When I see images of Iraq and the "Sunni triangle", it reminds me of why the Norman invaders of England set about burning down villages and fields and slaughtering the animals, even if they weren't going to eat them. It was the basic technique that was used to insure that the conquered had little time for rebellion and spent most of their time figuring out how they were going to survive. It's the concept of total defeat.

That idea, too, keeps wondering around down there with "the darkness", peaking out once in awhile. I stomp it down and recall that "mass punishment" doesn't always work. Does it?

Like I said, I think I have an idea why nobody wants to jam a lot of war information and reminders of September 11 down our throats. Not because of the mass psyche damage it would do, but because someone, somewhere must understand the usual human response to such things and know, maybe, as divided as we are today, had we kept seeing this and kept the people informed of the reality of the enemy and some of our so called "allies", they might demand some other response all together.

Maybe I give them too much credit? Maybe I give them not enough for not calling for such a thing. Who knows.

I find these thoughts wondering around at odd times. Tuesday night I went to get something to eat. As I drove up to the stop light, I saw the car in front of me was an unmarked police car. You know the kind that just has a government tag on the back and some red and blue lights in the back window, but no other markings? As I noted this, I also noted the beat up pick up truck that pulled up beside us in the other lane with an equally beat up plastic tool box in the back. The big kind that stretches across the back of the cab.

For a second, I found myself wondering what it must be like to drive in Iraq today and fear pulling up beside, in back or in front, of a police or military vehicle. I was thinking that it must be the most nerve racking drive to the grocer one could ever take. Little wonder that the people want to stay far away from these guys.

It would completely suck to be sitting at a traffic stop and have a car come barreling out of nowhere to plow into the police car and explode it, or just pull up, nonchallantly, like the truck next to me and then have it explode. No explanation. No warning. No, "excuse me, would you mind getting out of the way so I can kill these guys?".

Just me, listening to the radio and then, "boom!" Gone or damaged beyond belief.

For what?

That's always the question isn't it? I pretend to understand. I read up on the subject, I hear their words, they say why they are doing it and they "justify" it, but, I can't understand it. Not really. Probably because I have not let that darkness ever take me. I resist it as we in the civilized world always try to do. Not to say that people don't give into it. Obviously, some do, even here. Why else would you have a Dennis Rader on TV reciting his crimes so dispassionately as if he was talking about a book he read or simply chewing his food?

It's easy to think these men are a bunch of wild eyed fanatics, chanting themselves into a frenzy before they commit such acts. I know that some do. Especially the "cannon fodder suiciders" as I call them. The newbies that convince themselves to go on Jihad, pack their bags, kiss their families good-bye and tell them that they are going to study at university, only to have their names appear on a Jihad website a few weeks or months later, having driven a suicide car into a pack of kids near a US humvee or into the local restaurant full of police officers and other unknowing innocents.

Those guys do get a mentor that talks them through the process and gets them "revved up" to go do the deed.

But, there are men like Zarqawi and his little commanders who are not fanatics in that sense. They aren't wild eyed and crazy. Well, maybe crazy in our sense, but not in that "put them in a straight jacket before they hurt themselves" crazy. They are the cold and calculating kind. Like Dennis Rader, the BTK killer from Witchita. Calmly and coldly selecting their victims. If there are others around to get hurt, it doubles the pleasure. Then, they sit down and eat their meals, drink their black coffee and tell jokes to one another as if it was another day.

I think now, that even the "darkness" I talk about that lurks inside of me is not even that kind of darkness. In a strange way, I can almost relate to the actual suiciders becaus theirs is at least a passion. My own darkness that screams vengence is not the cold kind, but the angry passionate kind. It is the dispassionate killer that I cannot understand and pray that I never really do.

I believe there is another good reason not to let the "dark" over take us. That is the "passionate vengence" issue. Acts done in haste and poor planning never turn out quite right. Sort of like that old cliche, "vengence is best served cold".

It is so much easier to suppress the passionate vengence actually. Probably because I have had many years of indoctrination that says "civilized people are compassionate and caring and don't plan the mass murder of their fellow citizens".

It strikes me as interesting that this is the very thing that these men want to use against us. I know that there is a theory out there, swimming around that says they actually wanted to provoke us into an all out attack so they could have a big propaganda win that would convince many muslims to run to their side. But, on these days, I think that what they really want to use is that "civilized, compassionate" concept against us.

They think that it makes us weak that we would not readily or needlessly sacrifice our men and women or attack with disregard targets that include men, women and children.

Reminds me of that old, very first "Highlander" movie where the Kyrgyn is in the chapel with McLeod, holy sanctuary where they are not to fight, and Kyrgyn is talking to the priest, but really talking to McLeod when he says, "He cares for these silly humans. That makes Him weak." Or, something to that effect.

Not the first time an enemy has ever thought that about us.

It's also true more than not. I keep reading the military bloggers and they say, "we pulled back and didn't fire because we knew their were women and children in the building" or the one I read recently and wish I could find the link to where they were after a bad guy and usually would throw in a "flash bang" to knock the baddies of balance, but they knew women and children were in there so they didn't. Seems that the "flash bangs" can have a very bad effect on children. Instead, our guys went in without it and two ended up being shot by the bad guy before the others could bring him down.

That's not some made up story to try to "enoble" our military, but a fact.

So, here we are. In someways the same, but in many ways, the important ways, different than our enemy.

And they say it's our weakness. Maybe so. Maybe so.

But, I believe in all reality, that the enemy is a bit blind when it comes to this. They haven't really tasted our steal yet. Just the bare point of it. I wonder if they really think that their families are safe back in their home countries from retaliation or suffering while they galavant around playing Jihad Johnny?

In all reality, these guys don't and can't play in the big leagues. Even if, by some bizarre and pessimistic imagination, these guys do let off a dirty bomb or bio terror, do they know what we would do in turn? Do we know?

You know, the darkness I was talking about. September 11 was one massive, tragic event. It took some serious walking and talking to keep the war drums from beating out "bomb them into non-existence". What would it be like if tomorrow or the next day, a dirty bomb went off? What would it be like if today, twenty suicide car bombs went off in this country?

It is almost too painful to contemplate. Not just the thought of the injuries to our citizens, but what would begin after that.

Which brings me back to that swirling darkness. That's what I fear. Not the physical hurt, but the spiritual hurt. Because, it may galvanize a country that seems so split today about war into a machine that would be even less likely to contemplate mercy or ideas of "Muslim Arab" citizens wondering around free.

For the record, I'm not advocating anything. Just exploring my thoughts on what it might mean.

You know, it is amazing when I look at Iraq and see that, after all the violence, blood and killing, the Shia have not gone on a total rampage and demanded that the Sunni, good or bad, be locked up or driven out. Some part of me fears that we would not be so pragmatic and capable of separation. And, when I say "we", I mean to include myself. A part of me believes that I would not advocate any such idea or feel relief from it. Yet another part of me thinks that, if the circumstances were tragic enough, I'm not sure what I would support.

That's the "darkness" thing I think. I think that my survival and those of my family would start becoming more important to me than "civil rights". Aside from our internal security, I think about what the response would be on our external front. I wonder if we haven't, in an unofficial way, whispered in some folks ears out there in the great beyond, "If this happens again, you will be the first"? I wonder how many we've told that too? If the word was passed along in any significant way?

Well, who knows? Maybe yes. Maybe no.

In any event, I was thinking about it last night. I don't dwell on it all the time. If I did, if we did, I'm not sure I'd be able to function. Which is, of course, one of the reasons why they don't want us to keep watching 9/11 video or other such shots on TV.

Still, I don't want it to go away completely. To let it go means I am not vigilant.

So, I don't let it go.

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