Visiting the September 11th Memorial

September 11th MemorialThe National September 11th Memorial opened in lower Manhattan on September 12th, 2011; so, it has now been open for two years. Yet, though yours truly is a resident of New York City, I only got around to seeing it for the first time last week, in the company of an out-of-town visitor who was interested in going there. Frankly, I’d had no great interest in seeing it (which I knew meant reserving a ticket and then standing in line to gain access to the memorial). Why? I suppose—although I fully appreciate the purpose of a national memorial for the victims of the September 11th attacks—that I just felt no need to utilize it. Without wanting to come across dramatic and angst-ridden, I think I can honestly say that I remember the 9/11 attack each and every day that I am in New York. And I’m quite sure that something very similar is true for most New Yorkers who were here on the day it happened. It’s merely human nature. Familiar things retain the sense of such an emotional event. I can’t so much as glance at the skyline without some measure of remembrance, however fleeting. A jet airliner flying relatively low … it’s just the way it is, and will be, till these bones are desposited into the earth. And just the typical weather of September in New York City evokes that day, in a similar way to that in which a specific smell can evoke vivid memories of a long past moment.

In addition to that, I didn’t lose a loved one in the attacks, so the site would not be a place for me to go and remember or pray for any one in particular.

Nevertheless, I can well understand why out-of-towners would want to go, and so I dutifully accompanied my visitor. It was not a challenge to reserve tickets online a day before (the rush has diminished since the opening two years ago). And the line to get in, through the entrance at the corner of Greenwich and Albany, moved pretty quickly. In line, one’s first impression is the similarity to going through airport security. There is a fairly thorough security check (please leave your guns and bombs at the hotel) and the passes I’d printed out from the internet were checked no less than three times.

At the end of it, you emerge into the September 11th Memorial, which is entirely outdoors. It basically comprises the land area that was occupied by the Twin Towers, and the space between them and immediately around them. (The new World Trade Center “Freedom Tower” is immediately adjacent.) When the towers were standing, you would have been able to walk through this space freely, entering from multiple points on the Manhattan street grid. Now that they’re gone, there is the single entrance via the security checks. Continue reading “Visiting the September 11th Memorial”

Tony Bennett and the Incoherence of Pacifism

The Cinch Review

In an interview with Howard Stern the other day, the 85 year-old singer Tony Bennett made some statements about September 11th, 2001, for instance:

“But who are the terrorists? Are we the terrorists or are they the terrorists? Two wrongs don’t make a right,” and, “They flew the plane in, but we caused it. Because we were bombing them and they told us to stop.”

The obvious response to this is to say that Tony Bennett should stick to singing, and to talking about music. In those areas he’s pretty smart. In terms of politics, simply put, he’s always been a liberal wacko. When asked the kinds of questions Stern asked, Bennett is guaranteed to show his wackiness. He also said, maybe most absurdly of all, that President George W. Bush had confided in him at the White House that the war in Iraq had been “a mistake.”

Bennett has now apologized to an extent for what he said about 9/11. (He does have a new album to promote, after all.) He has said:

There is simply no excuse for terrorism and the murder of the nearly 3,000 innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks on our country. My life experiences — ranging from the Battle of the Bulge to marching with Martin Luther King — made me a lifelong humanist and pacifist, and reinforced my belief that violence begets violence and that war is the lowest form of human behavior.

I am sorry if my statements suggested anything other than an expression of my love for my country, my hope for humanity and my desire for peace throughout the world.

As he says there and has said elsewhere, his experiences fighting during World War II made him a pacifist. Pacifism is a position that inevitably distorts one’s way of looking at things. Writing about Bennett before (on the subject of his penchant for singing “America the Beautiful” in place of “The Star-Spangled Banner”) I quoted passages from his memoir regarding his war experiences and the horror of war instilled in him then. I also said that the following passage from his own book is the best answer to those—like himself—who maintain that wars should never be fought.

It was gratifying that the last official mission of the 255th Regiment was the liberation of the concentration camp in the town of Landsberg. It was thirty miles south of the notorious Dachau camp, on the opposite bank of the Lech River, which we were approaching. The river was treacherous and difficult to cross because there were still German soldiers protecting it, but we wouldn’t let anyone stop us from freeing those prisoners. Many writers have recorded what it was like in the concentration camps much more eloquently than I ever could, so I won’t even try to describe it. Just let me say I’ll never forget the desperate faces and empty stares of the prisoners as they wandered aimlessly around the campgrounds. Once we took possession of the camp, we immediately got food and water to the survivors, but they had been brutalized for so long that at first they couldn’t believe that we were there to help them and not to kill them. Many of the survivors were barely able to stand. To our horror we discovered that all of the women and children had been killed long before our arrival and that just the day before, half of the remaining survivors had been shot … The whole thing was beyond comprehension. After seeing such horrors with my very eyes, it angers me that some people insist there were no concentration camps.

Deciding not to fight and not to support those who do—deciding to allow a great evil to proceed because of one’s own desire to maintain a pacifist principle—is not a morally defensible choice. It is a kind of moral preening, a dangerous sort of insularity. But as I wrote then:

So, next time you hear Tony Bennett crooning a cheerful song on the radio, remember that 18 or 19 year-old kid who was there when it counted, and who, despite his terror, helped free those concentration camp victims, and helped put an end to the Nazis and to World War II.

Way to go, Tony.

Better to give him credit for what he did, and to remember his best years of singing, than to dwell on his flawed perspective on politics, war and peace.

September 11th, 2011

The Cinch Review

There are so many things that could be said today, on the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, 2001, but I’m failing to find words of my own that hold up. Rudolph Giuliani (the greatest mayor in the history of New York City long before 9/11: don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) said it the best for me today.

9/11 Anniversary terror threat

The Cinch Review

We’re used to terror threats, rumors and alerts, but if you trust the reports there seems to be a significant difference to the credibility attached to the current one, where New York and Washington D.C. are said to be targets of a plot to coincide with the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001. It’s no reason to panic, and I don’t see anyone panicking, but it’s worth remembering who this enemy is. If they do succeed in pulling off an attack, they will want it to be a monstrous one, intended to horrify and turn the stomachs of all decent people—intended to break hearts. Remember 9/11, remember Beslan, remember how they saw people’s heads off on video. Continue reading “9/11 Anniversary terror threat”

The 9/11 Warriors

The Cinch Review

Put politics aside. The part of his speech today at the Annual Conference of the American Legion by the President of the United States paying tribute to those who have fought for this country since 9/11 was entirely appropriate and accurate.

Today, as we near this solemn anniversary, it’s fitting that we salute the extraordinary decade of service rendered by the 9/11 Generation -— the more than 5 million Americans who've worn the uniform over the past 10 years. They were there, on duty, that September morning, having enlisted in a time of peace, but they instantly transitioned to a war footing. They’re the millions of recruits who have stepped forward since, seeing their nation at war and saying, “Send me.” They’re every single soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman serving today, who has volunteered to serve in a time of war, knowing that they could be sent into harm’s way. Continue reading “The 9/11 Warriors”

Manuel Emilio Mejia: The 1624th Name

The Cinch Review

Brooklyn Bridge, Twin Towers

Yesterday, it was reported that another victim of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center by Islamic jihadists was positively identified, seven and a half years after his death:

The city medical examiner’s office says 54-year-old Manuel Emilio Mejia has been identified from remains found at the World Trade Center site in the months after the 2001 terrorist attack.

Mejia was a kitchen worker at Windows on the World, the restaurant on top of the trade center’s north tower.

Manuel Emilio Mejia was the 1,624th victim to be identified. More than 1,100 others still have not been positively identified.

It’s not easy to find information on Mr. Mejia, other than that he was a 54 year-old man, an immigrant from — I believe — Ecuador [correction: he was Dominican, according to the comment left below], and he worked in the kitchen at that Windows on the World restaurant, in the north tower of the World Trade Center. (A little bit about Windows on the World is at this link.) Although tributes to many of the victims are easy enough to find online, I can’t find anything personalized to Mr. Mejia: no photographs, no written remembrances. I wouldn’t assume from this that no one misses him. I can’t say. It seems very plausible that his loved ones are not the kind of people who spend a lot of time doing things on the internet.

My wife and I had a drink a couple of times at Windows on the World. It wasn’t really our bag; too expensive, basically. We assumed the food was priced at a big premium due to the unique location. But having a drink there, at the top of the world, was a kick, as I’m sure it was for countless other people. The Twin Towers were not what I’d call grand architecture, but they certainly filled their space, and gave work to Manuel Emilio Mejia and so many others. They were never so present in my consciousness as in the days after the attack, when the smell of the smoldering ruins, the grave of thousands of innocent people, swept up through Manhattan.

Also yesterday, it was reported that a jury had found that Ward Churchill was wrongfully terminated from his position as a professor at the University of Colorado.

The Denver jury awarded him just $1 in damages. A judge will decide later whether he gets his job back, reports the AP. […] The professor had claimed he was fired for exercising his free speech rights; the university had claimed that it was not about his views on Sept. 11 victims but that he had engaged in faulty and dishonest research. The jury today decided his firing was indeed about the contents of his essay.

In the essay, published one day after the attacks but widely disseminated years later, Churchill called those killed in WTC “little Eichmanns,” referring to the Nazi bureaucrat who ran the Holocaust machinery.

Adolf Eichmann has been described as the “architect of the Holocaust.” From this online biography:

Eichmann took a keen interest in Auschwitz from its founding and visited there on numerous occasions. He helped Höss select the site for the gas chambers, approved the use of Zyklon-B, and witnessed the extermination process.

At the death camps, all belongings were taken from Jews and processed. Wedding rings, eye glasses, shoes, gold fillings, clothing and even hair shaven from women served to enrich the SS, with the proceeds funneled into secret Reichsbank accounts.

With boundless enthusiasm for his task and fanatical efficiency, Eichmann travelled throughout the Reich coordinating the Final Solution, insuring a steady supply of trainloads of Jews to the killing centers of occupied Poland where the numbers tallied into the millions as the war in Europe dragged on.

As little as I know about Mr. Manuel Emilio Mejia, I am at least confident that he was not any kind of Adolf Eichmann. May he rest in peace and may the Good Lord have mercy on his soul.

Ward Churchill — for me at least — deserves no further comment.