Pull Up a Chair…
There are many reasons why I love my country, not the least of which the way that we all rallied around each other after the horror of 9/11 unfolded. It didn’t matter what your political viewpoint or perspective was — we were all Americans, in shock, in anger, in grief…together. That moment when the entire Congress stood together on the steps of the Capitol and sang "God Bless America," it was a spontaneous gesture that was heartfelt and warm and human.
And it was the best of who they could be in that moment, and during the days that followed, we saw a lot of Americans bringing out their best as well – taking food to the folks working at the towers and the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, or just taking muffins down to the local fire department to say thanks. Or lining up to give blood in the hours that followed. Or loaning out a cell phone to someone else who needed to make a call in the long line to catch the train. So many little things.
I’ve spent probably far too much time this week browsing through photographs of the events from that day, and it tugs at my gut, still, to look at one of the FDNY guys picking through the rubble of the towers, hoping to find someone, somewhere alive. Or the terror on the faces of people running from the wreckage and the plume of smoke and debris, frozen forever in a shot that is haunting for the stark and abject fear on the faces in the photograph.
But what I remember most about that day, and the days that followed, was the devastating coverage of all of the parents and children and family and friends, terrified and searching, so frantically, so desperately, so achingly for lost loved ones. Hoping in your heart that they would find them through some miracle, but knowing in your gut that it was most likely not to be.
A good friend of mine has a significant other who is a paramedic in NYC. He was sent immediately to the area of the towers, with a number of other folks in his crew, to a hospital that was to be a staging ground for triage and then transport to other hospitals. They were expecting and preparing for large numbers of casualties. They sat there for hours, waiting…but never got the call to be able to pick up someone to save. Because there were so few that they could save. And all too soon, there were none at all.
I know someone who was giving a briefing at the Pentagon that day, but had the briefing room they were initially scheduled to meet in changed at the last minute. It disintegrated with the impact on the building, but the person I know was safely on the other side of the building. This person was kept alive by a room change, a twist of fate, and I am so grateful for that…but so many others were not so lucky that day.
All those firefighters and police officers and port authority officers and all the other first responders who went running into the buildings as people were streaming out of it…my heart just aches for their family and friends. I can remember sitting around with all the cops I worked with every day (at the time, I was a prosecutor), and how we were all in shock, knowing that it could have been any one of them because that is what they do. It’s who they are. And thank God for it. But how can any of them ever rush into a critical situation without having the Twin Towers flash through their minds now?
So much loss of so many honorable people…it is almost too much to bear when you really sit down to think about it. And yet, we move forward, and try to find a way to live up to the example that so many of those finest of Americans set for the rest of us. When I think of all those calls from people trapped in the towers to their loved ones…well, I would want to do the same thing, and I’m awfully glad they were able to speak with loved ones one last time, but it breaks my heart.
How do we best honor the memory of so many who lost their lives that day? How do we move this nation of ours forward, for the sake of all those children who lost their parents? What is the best of America, and how do we get there together? How do we advance the interests of our nation among the other nations of the world in the most effective, most productive manner for the long term — not simply for the most expedient or most confrontational in the moment?
One thought comes from John F. Kennedy:
"For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal."
We would do well to remember those words, and those of the rest of his speech, more frequently in the future. Another bit of wisdom comes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Strength to Love, whose words on the subject of keeping one’s heart open and on the importance of honesty seem especially timely this week:
Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
Whatever the reasons are for the factually inaccurate mess of a miniseries that ABC still has on their schedule as of this morning getting produced, one thing is crystal clear to me: the families and friends of people who lost loved ones on 9/11 deserve better than what they have had to live through with this mess of film over the past week.
I do not know at what point decency and honesty were overridden by some partisan agenda and a need to lie for the people who pitched, wrote, produced and scheduled this fictional dreck, but it is wrong. It’s just, plain wrong to try and use the grief and love that people still feel for their lost ones as a manipulative tool for partisan advantage. And it isn’t just me saying this, there are a large number of conservatives who are just as disgusted — some things are just not right, no matter how you may try to gloss them over with marketing.
And this morning, I want to take a moment to say thank you to two former FBI agents who had the integrity to say no.
…One of the agents, Thomas E. Nicoletti, was hired by the producers of the mini-series in July 2005 to oversee its technical accuracy, but left after less than a month because of scenes he believed were misleading or just false.
“There were some of the scenes that were total fiction,” said Mr. Nicoletti, who served as a supervisory special agent and a member of the joint terrorism task force before retiring in 2003. “I told them unless they were changing this, I could not have my name associated with it.” …
Mr. Nicoletti said he asked the producers to make changes, but was rebuffed. “I’m well aware of what’s dramatic license and what’s historical inaccuracy,” Mr. Nicoletti said. “And this had a lot of historical inaccuracy.”
Dan Coleman, who retired from the F.B.I. in 2004, said he also was concerned when he read the script last summer after being approached by producers about being a technical advisor.
“They sent me the script, and I read it and told them they had to be kidding,” Mr. Coleman said. “I wanted my friends at the F.B.I. to still speak to me.”
Mr. Coleman said his concerns mainly dealt with the depiction of law enforcement officers, particularly John O’Neill, an F.B.I. counterterrorism expert who died in the attacks. “I’m Irish and I believe in ghosts,” he said. “I don’t want to be haunted.” He said he passed on the job.
That this sort of integrity stands out because it has become such a rare thing is regrettable. That ABC and the producers and writers of the abomination of a show dismissed the concerns of not one, but two career FBI agents who told them that the scenes they were putting into the miniseries were flat-out false is despicable. That they did so knowing that these men knew John O’Neill…well, crass doesn’t even begin to describe it.
That they are doing this by portraying real people dishonestly may be legally actionable — but it is, at the least, dishonorable and disgusting. The folks at Disney and ABC, and the producers and writers of the show have the right to say what they want under the First Amendment, but free speech also guarantees my right to call them liars if they tell lies. And, living in a free country as we do, it also gives several thousand of my closest friends and readers the ability to do so as well. To them, to their advertisers and to everyone we know.
I plan on watching anything but this movie if ABC shows it — and it is still on the schedule as of this morning. And I suggest that everyone do the same.
But beyond all of that, I thought we could all use some discussion about the things that are good in this nation of ours because, frankly, after the week we’ve had digging through the bits and pieces of this dreck of a miniseries, I have just about had it. And I thought you guys might be at that point as well.
What is it that makes you proud to be American? What is the best of our country — to what do you look for an example of honor and duty in our country? What sort of person is a patriot? What is your favorite quote or your favorite anecdote about some particular person in this nation of ours who has made a difference in living our lives for the better? How do we live up to the better angels of our nature? I don’t know about you guys, but I could use an angel about now.
Pull up a chair…
(This post is dedicated to the memory of Mary Lou Hague and Madeline Sweeney, who lost their lives on 9/11/01.)