September 15, 2010
September 14, 2010
September 13, 2010
September 12, 2010
Photographs of people falling from the North and South towers of the World Trade Center (9.11.2001) were published in countless newspapers on the morning following the attack. It was a part of the story in television and radio coverage… but only in the first stage of the marathon. By September 13th, “the jumpers” had virtually vanished.
This was not some back-room conspiracy. It was spasm of self-censorship, repeated and mimicked across an entire country. Angry audiences objected to the terrible images. Editors responded by averting our gaze.
This one bit of the story almost, but not completely, vanished.Esquire Magazine (Sept 2003) published “The Falling Man” by Tom Junod. This article, centered around one photograph of a single falling man, stirred the set-aside pot. What does it say about us we allowed our horror, and a taboo, erase this part of the story?
Why does their disappearance upset me?
Why are their part of the story so important?
Allow me to do this by way of a story… about where their tale intersects my own…
On that day, I happen to be listening to National Public Radio. (I was driving down Long Island, towards Manhattan, but that’s a story for elsewhere). A news bulletin announced that there had been reports of an explosion at the World Trade Center. Very shortly afterwards, the WNYC suddenly fell to static.
WYNC, it wasn’t hard to realize, was broadcasting from an antenna on top of one of the World Trade Center towers. (It turns out that this was on roof of the North Tower, the first to be hit. The heat from the resulting fire must have fairly quickly reached the roof and destroyed the antenna).
I pulled off the highway — about 30 miles from New York City — and started flipping through the dial.
While others gathered around television sets to watch the unfolding spectacle, I was confined to radio.
(It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, almost nine years afterwards, that I saw the television footage that millions and millions of people saw that day… and repeated over and over again).
Confined to radio, unable to see the obscene theater of the second plane hitting the South Tower, it took quite a while for the severity of the situation to sink in. I certainly wasn’t ignoring what was going on… I was flipping through the radio dial, excited to be so close to what was obviously a major event. This may seem a little less troubling if you understand that I had spent much of my university time studying the peace/conflict side of “International Relations” (terrorism and American foreign policy were major topics).
But World Trade Center attack was — with terrible brilliance — designed to be seen. The second plane struck 17 minutes after the first… perfectly timed: several cameras were broadcasting live images of the fire up in the North Tower, accidentally capturing the second plane striking the South Tower.
No radio-bound words could come close to matching the power of that bit of footage.
What did jolt me out of my mind out of its whirling mode, treating the whole thing as an exciting moment for analysis?
I remember it as a child’s voice asking “are those birds?”. In fact, I can still hear that child… and that innocent, but horrible question.
(From reading the other day, I found references to a mother trying to comfort her child by telling her that “those are only birds”. Whichever).
It was the thought of people falling hundreds of feet to the concrete which jarred me into a more compassionate mode. The next day, the news-photographs pushed me further.
The images of the doomed fell out of circulation almost as quickly as those people fell to the ground. Within 48 hours, they were gone.
I hate that we made the jumpers vanish.
Something which jolted me into compassion… was ushered out of sight, into a the confines of a taboo.
The images froze the them in mid air. The doomed were suspended in terrible flight.
Did we think that by making the images vanish, we’d stop what gravity says next? Did we leave them suspended in the air?
September 11, 2010
A calamity is more than just numbers.
But let me walk you to the place my mind went when I heard about the planned memorial at “ground zero”.
The memorial will display the names of those who died 9.11.2001 (plus six who were killed in the 1993 bombing attempt). This is a total of 2979 names.
The names will be inscribed along enormous bronze plaques with run the outline of two pools. These pools — roughly marking the footprints of the North and South Towers — will be 176′ x 176′.
As far as I can tell, the names will be arranged in five rows.
Now here comes some math.
(I will not admit just how long it took me to figure out the following numbers… I was not a stellar math student… in fact, my last math teacher wrote on my report card: “you are the only student who’s math skills have ever managed to detierate during the year”. —But I do assure you that I am quite sure that my math is correct, if hardly elegant or efficient.)
Since there are 2979 names to be inscribed around two pools, it seems reasonable to estimate that each pool will display 1490 names.
IF the names are arranged in five rows, 298 names would wrap around each row.
The pool will be 176’ x 176’
The perimiter of each pool is 704’
704 feet, divided by 298 names… that’s an average of 2.36” (aprox 2’4”) per name.
Imagine building such a memorial to other calamities… even restricting ourselves to events properly understood as a single attack (such as 9.11.2001).
On the night of March 8/9th (1945), a single raid of US B-29s dropped 1700 tones of bombs on Tokyo. Somewhere between 88,000 to 100,000 people were killed. We’ll use the more conservative number (proposed by the US Strategic Bombing Survey).
To accomodate the names of ½ of those killed in Tokyo that night (44,000), arranged in five rows (8,000 per row)… each of the two pools at a Tokyo-edition of “Reflecting Absence” would require 20,768 linear feet of bronze.
The dimensions of such a pool would need to be 5192’ x 5192’.
That is just a bit under one mile.
Just one of the pools at Tokyo-Reflecting-Absence would cover large portion of lower Manhattan.
September 10, 2010
September 9, 2010
In hindsight, its quite clear that Ahmed Shah Massoud was assasinated in preparation for a much larger act of violence.
Two days before 9.11.2001, two men — claiming to be journalists — had joined Massoud in northern Afghanistan. They detonated the explosives hidden within their camera… killing themselves and a handful of others, including Massoud.
Ahmed Shad Massoud a popular and powerful leader within the Northern Alliance. Osama Bin Laden, knowing what was about to happen in New York and Washington, almost certainly expected that the US would over-react and attack Afghanistan. The Taliban — who provided Bin Laden with sanctuary — would fall. The Northern Alliance were certainly no angels, but Bin Laden did not want them to fill the power vacuum he was to provoke the US into creating. This was especially true if the N.A. came under the heroic, charismatic leadership of Massoud.
Bin Laden was about to sacrifice the Taliban… in order to provoke the US into a violent rage. This would — he seems to have hoped — whip up anger in the “Muslim World”. Further, anarchy in Afghanistan would snare the US military where it could be poked. With Jihad in Afghanistan — Bin Laden told himself and those who would listen –they had caused the collapse of one superpower (Soviet Union)… the United States would be next.
Bin Laden apparently believed that it was possible that Ahmed Shah Massoud might be able to steer Afghanistan away from anarchy… or, he might have provided the US with a puppet — and a way out of Bin Laden’s snare.
September 8, 2010
September 7, 2010
September 6, 2010
Of the two weeks I once spent in the local hospital’s psych ward, I think of one moment more than any other. Far more than any other.
An elderly man was brought into my (shared) room. He was very annoyed, and insisted that he be allowed to go home.
“But Archie, you tried to suffocate yourself by putting a plastic bag over your head”.
He couldn’t see what was so crazy about that.
You were elderly then…
I’m sure your dead by now.
I suppose that one way or
the other, you won in the end.