To Help Us All Remember

Today, the Ohio Statehouse lawn was graced with hundreds of tiny American flags arranged in neat rows.  The Flag Memorial featured 2,977 flags — one for each of the people murdered in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 — and were configured to group the flags to reflect the people who were killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the downed plane in Pennsylvania.

2,977 flags is a lot of flags, and 2,977 lives was a lot of lives.  It is important for us always to remember that.

A Debilitating Penchant For Secrecy

By now most of us have seen the video footage of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton apparently collapsing in the arms of staff and Secret Service agents and being dragged into a van after an abrupt exit from a 9/11 ceremony.  After first saying that Clinton was simply “overheated,” her campaign later released a statement from her doctor that, three days earlier, Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia.  The problem at the 9/11 ceremony, the doctor said, was that Clinton became dehydrated.

Having pneumonia certainly doesn’t disqualify a person from being President.  We’ve had Presidents who have dealt with lots of illnesses over the years, and pneumonia is a treatable condition thanks to the miracle of modern medicine.

clinton_11092016_kl-00_00_06_15-still002-largeStill, I think the pneumonia incident is a problem for the Clinton campaign, because it once again suggests that Americans aren’t getting the whole story.  Clinton has been dogged by coughing fits that have produced lots of chatter about her health — chatter that her campaign has tried to downplay as the feverish imaginings of right-wing nuts.  Now she experiences a public health episode and has to be physically supported and lifted into a van, and the campaign first tries to downplay the incident.  Then, when the story starts to really take hold, the campaign discloses that days earlier Clinton had learned she had pneumonia.  You have to wonder whether her real condition would have been disclosed but for the fact that someone took a video that showed Clinton’s apparent collapse — a video that would make any fair-minded person wonder about her health.

This pneumonia incident is just one more example of the Clinton approach to bad news, whether it’s the investigation of her email practices, her fundraising speeches to Wall Street fat cats, or other issues.  The first reaction is to deny, deny, deny, attack the messenger, and hope that friends in the media and the political world will cooperate in quashing the story.  The facts ultimately come out in dribs and drabs, and you never feel like you get the whole truth.

Trust and credibility are important characteristics of a presidential candidate. Voters want to believe that the candidate of their choice is open, above board, and a person of integrity.  The Clinton penchant for secrecy and denial is antithetical to that kind of belief.  It’s one of the reasons why Clinton isn’t pulling away from Donald Trump, despite his many flaws. With the pneumonia incident we’ve just been reminded of her credibility issues in a very public, visible, undeniable way.  It will be interesting to see how the voters react.

15 Years, And An Eternity

Today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11.  On this quiet Sunday, many Americans will recall the horror of that awful day, the nightmarish quality of the footage of crashing planes and burning, collapsing buildings, and the heroism of those who responded to the worst attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor.

dsc03553Fifteen years is not a long time, but it’s long enough to begin to assess the historical significance of 9/11 — and it is becoming clear that our world was dramatically changed, and probably permanently, on that fateful day.  In the years since, terrorist attacks on America and the rest of western world have, unfortunately, become commonplace.  An enormous security apparatus has been created to try to protect us from future assaults, and in our zeal to achieve such protection we’ve authorized incursions into our personal liberties that would not have seemed plausible during the carefree ’90s.  We’re routinely scanned, videotaped, patted down, and probed these days.  And the threat of terrorism and security issues also have created new perspectives on formerly run of the mill political issues — like immigration.

When 9/11 happened, it was a terrible shock, but we did not know what the future would bring.  There was resolution, of course, but also a sense of hope — hope that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda could be defeated, and hope that the world could return to what it was.  Now we have 15 years of history under our belts, and it seems that such hopes will not be realized.  Even as the fight against terrorism has killed bin Laden and decimated al Qaeda, new groups like ISIS, fueled by a hateful perversion of the Islamic faith, have sprung up and become committed to destroying western culture and imposing violent, intolerant, medieval policies in its place.  With each new shooting, bombing, and attack in San Bernardino, or Paris, or Brussels, all committed by people radicalized by their indoctrination into dark ideologies, it becomes increasingly apparent that this is not a fight that can be conclusively declared to be won, but instead a long, constant struggle against loathsome groups, cells, and individuals that just want to inflict harm and are perfectly comfortable with killing innocents to achieve their twisted goals.  America and its western allies simply need to continue that desperate fight against the forces of evil.

Fifteen years later, we are dealing with a sobering reality.  Fifteen years is not a long time, but the world of 9/10 seems like an eternity ago.

Nightfall At The Freedom Tower

  
Our evening stroll also took us to the Freedom Tower, built on the footprint of the World Trade Centers.  I was here soon after 9/11, when recovery operations were still underway, and again when the memorial was complete but the building was still being constructed. I’m glad it is completed, although I’m not sure what the bat wing canopy signifies.

It is still not easy to be at this place, now 14 years later, but the fact that we have rebuilt sends a message.

Richard’s Fine 9/11 Piece

Richard has moved over to the Metro desk at the Chicago Tribune, and yesterday he had a fine piece in the paper about an art exhibit that includes pencil drawings of every Illinois soldier killed in action since 9/11.  The exhibit, called “Portrait of a Soldier,” includes more than 300 drawings of members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

It’s a touching piece about a gentle way of remembering what has happened in the aftermath of 9/11, and the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform, and their families and friends, have made since that terrible day.  Interesting, isn’t it, how art can be such a powerful way of expressing things, and how something simple like a pencil sketch of a soldier can nevertheless have profound meaning?

Thanks for the Rafting Roommate for sending this along to me.

That Unseemly Campaign Mode

Kish and I watched President Obama’s speech about our response to the depravations of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria last night.  I think we have to do something about those vicious Islamic terrorists, so I am glad the President has decided to take action.  As for his strategy — well, if it doesn’t work, we can try something else.  The main takeaway is that we’re going to act, once again, in an effort to lead the world to a better place.

The President struck a jarring note at the end of the speech, when he invoked both the 9/11 attack and the economic downturn of 2008 and argued that the United States “is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.”  He added:

“Our technology companies and universities are unmatched. Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day, and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.”

This snippet of happy-talk was dubious — Our universities are great when they are gouging students with outrageous tuitions and producing debt-crippled graduates?  Our auto industries are thriving when GM produces defective cars while living on federal support? — and obviously has nothing to do with ISIS or terrorism.  It came across as unseemly politicking as a mid-term election approaches and thereby detracted from the rest of the speech.  Perhaps the President doesn’t realize it, but when he is addressing national security and describing our strategy to defeat another bloody terrorist group and then veers into campaign mode, he presents himself as focused on internal politics and less than serious about the external mission he is announcing. It’s not a positive juxtaposition.

Today marks another anniversary of 9/11 and, as a result of the President’s speech last night, we will open another front in the long and difficult struggle against terrorism.  The memories of that black day 13 years ago remain raw and painful.  Due respect for 9/11 requires that our leaders continue to focus on our bipartisan, national goal of keeping our country safe from another attack.  When 9/11 is invoked, electioneering should not follow.

A Day That Will Never Be Forgotten

IMG_4884It’s another anniversary of 9/11, and it has been strange to be in the New York City area, just across the river from lower Manhattan and the site of so much carnage and chaos on that fateful day.  When we walked across the bridge this morning and saw the new One World Trade Center building rising above the skyline, it brought all the awful, painful memories back and gave me chills.

It hurts to remember, but we must never forget.

Black Budget, Black Box

Edward Snowden’s leaked information continues to gradually make its way into the public eye.  Yesterday the Washington Post ran a carefully worded story discussing the “black budget” for U.S. intelligence agencies for fiscal year 2013.  It’s called the “black budget” because very little light is shed on what the intelligence agencies are actually doing with the money they are receiving.  And it’s a lot of money.  According to the Post story, the “black budget” for fiscal year 2013 was an eye-popping $52.6 billion.

Spending on intelligence has skyrocketed since the September 11 terrorist attacks, and you get the sense that the intelligence community saw the attacks as an opportunity to expand their manpower, their budgets, and their influence.  They were hugely successful.  There are now 16 federal agencies involved in intelligence gathering, and they collectively employ more than 107,000 people.

The Post story focused on areas where the intelligence community apparently is unable to provide much meaningful information — like North Korea — but I think the real story is the size of our spy operations.  From the President on down, I’m skeptical that there is much in the way of meaningful oversight of what those 16 different agencies are doing — to say nothing of coordination of their activities.  How much assurance can we have that the agencies are complying with laws and directives, including those that prevent routine intelligence gathering about Americans engaged in domestic activities?

Size and money may allow you to buy neat spy gizmos and establish operations in faraway lands, but they also have a disadvantage.  Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying:  “Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”  The more people involved in secret activities, the less likely it is that they will remain secret for long.  With 107,000 people involved in intelligence gathering, is it any wonder that our government leaks like a sieve and people like Edward Snowden can collect and disclose reams of classified information?

There’s A Big, Unfriendly World Out There

During this presidential campaign, Americans have focused on our troubled economy and other domestic problems.  Yesterday, we were rudely reminded, yet again, that there is a big, unfriendly world outside our borders.

On the anniversary of 9/11 — of all days! — an Egyptian mob stormed the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, tore down the American flag, and raised instead a black flag like that used by al Qaida that read: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger.”  Hours later, in Benghazi, Libya, militiamen attacked a U.S. consulate, firing shots, throwing homemade bombs, and killing a U.S. State Department official and wounding another American.  In both cases the attacks were said to be provoked by a low-budget film about Mohammad produced by an American that Muslims consider offensive to Islam.

On the day of the Cairo attack, the U.S. Embassy there issued a curious statement that said: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.  Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”  The statement was condemned by many as a mealy-mouthed apology to Muslims, and the Obama Administration later indicated that the statement was not cleared and does not reflect the Administration’s views.

The United States has poured billions of dollars into the Middle East — Egypt has for years been one of the largest recipients of American aid — and supported the “Arab Spring” uprising in Libya with military assistance.  All of that is forgotten, of course, when some unknown movie supposedly bruises the tender religious sensibilities of fringe elements of the Islamic faith, and their grossly disproportionate response is to physically attack official American installations and kill an innocent diplomat who had nothing to do with the offensive film.

And, amidst it all, our embassy personnel think it appropriate to “condemn[] the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” and to invoke 9/11 in doing so?  What “continuing efforts” are they talking about, by the way?  Doesn’t that statement send an appalling message of weakness to the radicals who mean to do us harm?

Edited to Add:  The assault on the American consulate in Benghazi was even worse than first reported.  Four Americans were killed, including the American Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and two Marines who tried to defend the consulate against the attack.

Remembering 9/11

Today is the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  There will be memorial services across the country, and in recognition of the anniversary the two presidential campaigns have promised not to run any negative ads against each other.  Good for them!  We all need to remember this day, and those who have fallen on that day and since in the battle against terrorism, in our own way, and without the noise of unseemly political attacks.

We visited the 9/11 Memorial last December, and it was a moving moment.  My report on our visit appears here.

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

I wasn’t sure I was ready to see Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close.  Even though 10 years have passed, 9/11 still is a very raw and difficult memory.

The film is about a New York City family’s response to a 9/11 loss that leaves a gaping void in their lives — but it is about a lot more than that.  The story is told from the perspective of Oskar, a bright boy who suffers from obsessive/compulsive tendencies and related emotional problems.  His father tries to connect him to the world through games and challenges.  When 9/11 sweeps his father from his life, Oskar tries to make sense of his loss while at the same time keeping his father’s memory alive, and his mother tries to help Oskar as she struggles with her own, overwhelming grief.  Oskar decides to accept a new challenge that ends up also causing him to interact with his fellow New Yorkers — all of whom also are attempting to cope with their own issues.  The script manages to explore the emotions of 9/11 without being cheaply exploitative.

I thought Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close was a unique, intensely powerful movie.  Thomas Horn makes his acting debut as Oskar, and he turns in a stunning, riveting performance as Oskar wrestles with feelings of loss, curiosity, and guilt.  Tom Hanks plays Oskar’s father with customary deftness, and Sandra Bullock delivers a quietly moving performance as Oskar’s mother.  The film is filled with many fine performances, including John Goodman as the doorman of Oskar’s apartment building, Max von Sydow as the mute Renter, who communicates through notes, tattooed “yes” and “no” on his palms, and facial expressions and body language, and Viola Davis as Abby Black, one of the people Oskar encounters.

An event as momentous as 9/11 deserves appropriately powerful cinematic treatment.  Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close delivers.

A Visit To The 9/11 Memorial

Yesterday we visited the 9/11 Memorial.  It was a moving and sobering reminder of that horrific day.

The Memorial lies at the foot of the Freedom Tower and the other buildings that are being rebuilt on the grounds of the World Trade Center towers.  Although the Memorial is completed, much of the surrounding area is still under construction.

It was a warm, sunny day, and the air was filled with the beeping and buzzing of construction equipment, the drone of heavy trucks, and the shouts of hard hat workers.  For some, the background noise may have detracted from the solemnity of the Memorial itself, but I appreciated the energy and sense of rebuilding that the ongoing construction work reflected.

You get passes for the Memorial on-line.  Admission is free, although donations are encouraged.  You show your pass repeatedly and move through the ubiquitous, airport-like security screening area, then wind your way around a fenced-off construction area until you reach the Memorial grounds.

The Memorial ultimately will consist of a museum — which is unfinished and wasn’t open during our visit — and two large, black, square holes in the ground.  The holes sit on the footprint of the World Trade Center towers and, according to a helpful security guard, are somewhat smaller than the area covered by the actual towers themselves.

The square holes are ringed with ledges, into which the names of those killed on 9/11 are deeply carved.  The victims on Flight 77, for example, appear in one area, the people killed in the World Trade Center in another, and those who died at the Pentagon in yet another.  The appearance and feeling that is created is like that of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Although some might deem the idea of listing the names of the victims to be derivative, I thought it was a simple, and powerful, representation of the devastation wrought by the terrorists’ attack, and the sheer randomness of the event for those who were killed.  Looking at the names also generates an appreciation for America, in all its melting pot glory, for you can find names suggestive of every ethnic group and national origin.

The name-filled ledges surround two vast, square, holes within holes.  Water rushes over the sides of the two large holes, collects at the bottom, and then tumbles into inner holes that are so deep you cannot see the bottom.  The sound of the rushing water is soothing, and when the breeze is blowing it riffles the falling water, as if the spirits of the dead are moving in the cavernous holes.

The two large holes are found in an expansive plaza, with benches and trees in abundance for those who want to sit and reflect on the events of 9/11 or the loss of a loved one.  According to the security guard, one of the trees is a hardy survivor that was uncovered in the twisted rubble of the fallen Towers, nursed back to health, and ultimately replanted at the site.  At the time of our visit a memorial wreath had been laid at the foot of that tree — and I predict that the story of that little tree will make it a popular stop for those who visit the Memorial grounds.

I seem to recall that some people objected to the design of the 9/11 Memorial.  Having visited, I see no reason for any objection.  I expect that many native New Yorkers, and tourists, will want to gaze into those vast black holes, touch the sharply carved names of the dead, feel the mist from the falling waters, and remember.

I Remember

I remember being at my desk when the attorney in the office next door told me that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

I remember when he told me moments later that another plane had crashed into the other tower, and we both realized, with a stunned, sinking feeling, that this must be intentional — and in that dark,  brutal instant, everything changed.

I remember watching the small TV in his office, feeling sick and amazed and helpless as the towers fell, and we heard that the Pentagon was hit, and we learned that another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania, and we wondered where else the terrorists might strike.

I remember driving out of an almost deserted downtown Columbus, after the authorities decided it should be evacuated.

I remember feeling immensely relieved when we picked up the boys from school and got them home and felt that everyone in our family was safe.

I remember watching the TV news for hours, flipping from channel to channel, aghast and horrified at the overwhelming death and destruction and devastation, and feeling a surge of red-hot fury upon seeing the scenes of celebration in some parts of the Middle East.

I remember being back at my desk the next day, thinking that it felt unseemly and pointless and somehow disrespectful to the dead to be back at work, like it was just another workday when everyone knew it wasn’t.

I remember feeling proud and encouraged when, days later, I looked up and saw a commercial plane back in the air for the first time in what seemed like forever.

I remember, even though I didn’t live in New York or Washington and none of my friends or family members were involved on that day 10 years ago, because I am an American and I could have been on those planes, or working in those buildings.

I remember, because the memories of that day are still sharp and open and raw, as harsh and bitter and gritty as the billowing clouds of dust that boiled through the streets of New York City in the instants after the stricken towers collapsed.

I remember, because I still feel chilled and enraged when I think about the innocents who were murdered and the lives that were forever changed on that horrific day when madmen decided to attack our nation.

I remember, because I cannot and will not forget.

Condemning The Book-Burning Idiocy

I’m sure most everyone has heard by now of the Florida church that is planning on burning the Koran on Saturday to commemorate, in the most wrong-headed way imaginable, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  The book-burning exercise has been roundly condemned throughout the world, and General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has warned that the act would put the lives of American troops in even greater danger.

It is unnecessary, but I nevertheless want to add my voice to the chorus of disapproval for two reasons.  First, book-burning is unacceptable, period.  Anyone who believes in free speech believes that the appropriate response to speech is more speech, not censorship — and certainly not the pointlessly provocative act of burning a book that is sacred to another religion.  This is America, not Nazi Germany, and the ignorant members of the Dove World Outreach Center would do well to remember that.

Second, the contemplated action of this obscure church is exactly the kind of thing that makes non-religious Americans cringe in shame and shake their heads in dismay — and I am sure it is even more embarrassing and infuriating to Americans who are religious.  America is founded on fundamental concepts of religious tolerance.  Freedom of religion means that we put up with the apparently nutty members of the Dove World Outreach Center and allow them to gather and celebrate their religious beliefs, whatever they may be, without interference.  All we ask is that they behave responsibly and respect the views of others who hold different beliefs.  Any Americans who put members of our armed forces, who already are in harm’s way, in even more peril in order to receive publicity or to further their obscure religious beliefs are acting with unforgivable recklessness.  They are perversely giving America a black eye for religious intolerance when, to the contrary, the very existence of the Dove World Outreach Center is compelling evidence of the sweeping religious tolerance that characterizes this country.

What the members of the Dove World Outreach Center are planning on doing is shameful, and they should be denounced by every American.

Enough With The Mosque, Already!

I haven’t commented on the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” on this blog because UJ has already discussed it and I’m not sure there is anything left to say.  I think the Muslims who want to establish the mosque have every right to do so, although if they truly are interested in building bridges they would be best served by honoring the wishes of many families and friends of 9/11 victims and situating the mosque somewhere else in Manhattan.

My real point in bringing up the mosque issue, however, is to urge people to move on, already! Our country is wrestling with high unemployment and a persistent economic recession that has thrown many Americans out of work and out of their homes.  Our soldiers are in harm’s way in two faraway foreign lands.  We are facing a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran that is governed by a madman.  We have a government that has racked up crushing budget deficits and is doing nothing about them.

With all due respect to the memory of 9/11 and the victims of terrorism who perished on that horrible day, I think that whether Muslims establish a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero is not the most significant matter confronting our troubled nation at this time.  We would be better off if we put the distracting and divisive “Ground Zero Mosque” issue behind us and focused on the truly important issues that are having a huge impact on the lives of millions of Americans.