September 11, 2004: Crossfire


September 11, 2004: Crossfire

: I am tired of living in the crossfire.

Right now, I am at the World Trade Center. Outside, parents and grandparents who lost children at on 9/11 — Mayor Bloomberg says our language has no word to label their loss — are reading the names of the dead.

And I am angry.

Every year, I return to the site to remember and pay tribute. I retrace my steps that day, grateful to survive. I stand and listen to the litany of innocence and tragedy. And I don’t know what emotion is going to take me over until I am here. Two years ago, it was reverence. Last year, I said that sorrow and anger fought and sorrow won.

This year, anger wins.

I am angry to be living in the crossfire, angry to be living between the fringes.

I am angry to hear the names of 2,727 who did absolutely nothing to deserve death … except that they were in America. They were caught in the crossfire of a war that wasn’t theirs. They were murdered just for the sake of it by the fascist fringe.

And I am angry at the same time that the political fringes in America are taking over this election. I’m mad because they are distracting us from the real enemy, the one who struck that day, the one who killed those 2,727 whose names are being read right now, the one who turned America into his battleground; they are making us forget the real war. I’m mad because they are distracting us from the real work we should be about in this democracy. I’m mad because they are turning into America into their battleground, too.

I’m mad because I’m sick of being surrounded by mad people.

Insert irony here.

: This is all about being American and to me, being an American means living in the middle, finding the mainstream, melting into equality, finding the consensus. Being an American means tolerating but not living on the fringes.

I am the drippings from the melting pot. I’m a mix of so many unknown ethnicities that I have no ethnicity. I’m a little bit of everybody. I am everyman. I am American.

I am pathetically typical: One of two children, father of two children, raised in the ‘burbs, living in the ‘burbs, politically sitting in the middle leaning this way on this issue and that way on that issue and averaging out like everything else in my life, back to the middle.

I love the middle, the center, the mainstream, the masses. It’s not just how I live, it’s how I think. It’s why I love this medium of ours, citizens’ media, that is the sum of its limitless parts, the consensus of the whole. It’s why I defended the taste of the American people and what they watched on TV when I was a critic. It’s where I’m most comfortable: America, the middle.

We were attacked that day because we are America, the middle. But it only made me more American, more determined to recapture what makes us American, to defend the middle and not be overtaken by the fringes.

: But I have to admit some hypocritical history. I was a reporter. Well, I still am. I’m reporting in my strange way right now. And I reported that day. When I came out of the World Trade Center and saw it burning, I should have run the hell away from here. At 9:03 this morning, I heard the bells marking the second jet’s attack and I stood not 20 feet from where I write this and felt the heat of it and ran into the window I’m staring at now to get away from the debris. I should have run then. But I didn’t. I stayed. I’m a reporter. I reported. Damned near killed me for no good reason. I hope I wouldn’t think of doing that again. I hope I’ve learned a lesson.

But I stand here and watch reporters and photographers try to leach on the life and emotions of the people who have come here. Ahead of me this morning was a man with his wife and daughter comforting him. I don’t know why. I don’t want to know why. I moved away, feeling as if I was invading his life. But I saw news photographers coming up behind because it made a great picture: sorrow at the fence, under a gigantic American flag and a sign that said, “We will not forget.” They turned him into news. I felt a little ashamed.

And I watch reporters play to the fringes in this election, digging up mud, giving attention to others who do, and slinging with the best of them. They’re not paying attention to the middle, to America. They’re egging on the fringers. I feel ashamed of that.

Maybe I did, indeed, change on September 11. Maybe it took me a few years to recongize it but I see what’s wrong with playing to and promoting the fringes and exploiting rather than serving the people. I hope I’m learning that lesson, too.

: So for me, today is about recapturing the middle, recapturing America and my Americanism, recapturing life and civility and stealing it all away from the fringes that would rob us of it. I’m tired of living in the crossfire. I’m tired of living between the fringes. I’m tired of listening to mad people. I’m tired of being angry.

: I’m going back outside now. I’ll listen to more of the names and look at the plaques of names (replaced yesterday afternoon with the latest list on them). I’ll listen to the words of parents and grandparents, grateful that I neither feel nor caused their pain because of that day. I’ll leave them to their grief and tribute. And I’ll take the PATH train back that I took here that morning and get home before my kids return from the orthodontist’s — how typically American can you get? — and play outside under the warm, bright September 11 sun.

: POSTSCRIPTS: As I walked back to the PATH station, I saw a crowd with flashes and boom mikes and cameras. I figured it might the be the mayor or the governor. No, it was a nutjob. Earlier in the morning, I’d seen a few nutjobs standing together with a banner that said “Bush Regime Engineered 9/11” and similar looney signs. There were only a handful of them. I used my news judgment and better judgment and walked away from them and didn’t tell you about them; they don’t deserve the attention. But here was a gaggle of press paying attention to the fringe. As if I needed more evidence.

: LINKS: Joe Katzman has a great roundup of great posts on the event. Glenn Reynolds has more. I couldn’t link to his post before; he had the images I dread most, large, on his page; they’re gone now.

  • MWB

    I may differ with you over what the issues are, but I will (figuratively) stand beside you and remember That Day.

  • Donna

    Amen to your post. I was there too.

  • Kat

    God Bless America. May we never be gullible enough to allow such scum to plan,unhindered, such atrocity, using our freedoms to their benefit, to kill our people.

  • Kat

    I guess I was wrong–the scum is still at work in America–you can find them at Democraticunderground and they are Kerryites. This is just sick.
    Since tomorrow is the anniversary of the “excuse” the cowboy uses to attack anybody he wants to. I’m bracing myself for the ongoing images of people in small red state towns exploiting the victims of 9/11.
    CNN is already showing people in small town Texas CRYING over New York City’s loses. Well, you know what. You never liked New Yorkers. You hated New Yorkers remember. If you really cared about the victims of 9/11 you would vote for John Kerry because that’s the only thing they want you to do. But NO! Instead you brought the Bush bastard’s convention to ground Zero and thought NYC would be glad to see you.
    Instead of getting flowers and candy you got protesters, a half a million of them that said. GO HOME. Do you remember the Evita song…
    Let’s get this straight, Dirtsville, IT DIDN’T HAPPEN TO YOU and it never will because no self respecting terra-rist would ever attack something so unimportant. It would be like the USA attacking Goatsgrave Yemen. It’s never going to happen.
    The bottom line is, you don’t care about NYC or the pain, all you care about is getting Boosh re-elected and fighting a Holy pissing contest with the darkie Muslims. All in the name of Jesus which you’re sure is coming back the day after tomorrow.
    Nobody needs this shit, especially the people of NYC who still watch airplanes when they fly overhead. The people in big cities are in more danger than ever thanks to the cowboy’s invasion of Iraq. But that’s something the good people of Dirtsville don’t have to worry about.
    So take your flags, your prayers, your rodeos and your country music and stick it. You’re waging war because you want too, because you like it and you’re not fooling anybody. You’re only happy when you have an enemy, if it wasn’t 9/11 it would be something else. Like “libruls”. At least have the decency to admit that.
    Put on your public grieving shows tomorrow because you already have them planned but spare us the DRAMA next year. It didn’t happen to you. Get over it.
    I know this is harsh and I know not all people in small rural towns are Republicans but they ARE voting for Bush, who is only making big cities more dangerous. This is how I feel about it. Flame away.

  • shark

    No politics today Jeff.
    Like you, I am angry. And I want to stay angry over this.
    I’ll stand lockstep with you on that.
    Bless the families and the victims.
    Bless those lucky ones who made it out
    Bless those who fought the plane down in Shanksville
    And damn those who stand with the terrorists to hell.

  • Truly heartfelt, emotions struggling. Well written. Thank you.
    Your jibe at Journalists is understandable – we as journalists sometimes feel that way while we’re working. But that image that you saw the photographer trying to capture can come to mean so much to people.
    I hope you revist this point at soem later date. Criticising the journalist seems to be a cheap shot – and one people (espeially bloggers) like because they feel, as you do, as the journalists do, that there is some invasion of privacy taking place.
    That’s why the job is hard. But, in this respect, you have to look at the bigger picture.

  • I appreciate your reflections on this day. But feel the need to remind how common such tragedies are throughout history. No, not in America, but indeed all across the world. It’s important to realize your fears and concerns and experiences are not unique to the United States… tragedy is the world’s history.

  • Kat: Ugh. I keep promising myself not to go to DU anymore. But I keep going there to harvest ideas for comedy and research on human frailty and self-delusion. Best to steer clear of people like that on days like this, though.

  • Kat

    Carsonfire–I don’t normally go there because of the hatefest. Somehow, I thought that today, we’d all be united in a commom grief. At least I hoped–and I was met with that piece of filth.
    All things being equal, I’d not vote for Kerry, simply because groups like this and dailykos support him. I wouldn’t put it past them to plan to execute US politicians like was discussed back in the 70’s by a certain group Prior to 911, I did not such garbage as the DU called themselves Americans..

  • ghostcat

    Emotions are not a plan.

  • Kat

    Should read: Prior to 911, I did not know such garbage as the DU called themselves Americans.. I was naive enough to believe that all Americans who called themselves such, were patriotic. Learning otherwise, has been a hard pill to swallow.

  • Lee W

    Kat, i don’t think you get it. The DU is certainly a fringe, one side of the cross fire Jeff is talking about. The other side of the cross fire is you.

  • Kat

    Lee W– I would protect my country with my life–the DU would put Osama and Co. in charge of it. The DU and others like them are not as small a fringe as you would like to believe–they are huge and they hate the very country they parasite off of. They are the Members of ANSWER, the Communist Party of America,, ,Workers World Party,etc .
    These leftist peace parasites kiss the shoes of bloodthirsty tyrants like Saddam and Kim Jong, and and then have the nerve to repeat moronic chants even at Ground Zero today, charging President Bush with genocide!
    There can be no place in the United States for “peace” activism bought and paid for by the evildoers. And if I am at the extreme other side, then I say thank you for the compliment.

  • Fcb

    For what it’s worth, Jeff, it did not “damned near kill you for no reason”. That is evident to all of us who follow your blog.

  • Brian H

    Journalists are even more pure-quill ambulance chasers than lawyers. Here’s more proof.

  • Lee W, I think Kat does get it. If the DU is the fringe, these days, then the existence of every single other person in the country constitutes a crossfire. The ideas and theories advanced at DU these days aren’t that much different from the ideas and theories driving the Kerry campaign and the DNC. I’ve been shocked at how closely the themes converge, as if Dem operatives actually monitor DU and get ideas there. Why, for instance, was Michael Moore so prominently seated at the Democratic convention?
    Who is it that said that the terrorists hit the wrong people? Remember? Can anybody really say with a straight face that veterans with a story to tell and concerned citizens spotting forgeries is what constitutes a “crossfire”?
    Thanks to DU-itis, the former VP now rails against “digital brownshirts” and a president who “betrayed the country”. You either support that hate or you condemn it; it’s no good to yell “middle” and act as if it’s somebody else’s fault.

  • andy johnson

    For me being an American means that I pick my own path. I make up my mind about support or opposition to a subject or politician, one-by-one.
    When I join the fray I may be middle, left or right. I did not join because of the the color of the herd. I joined because I share the beliefs and and am willing to inconvenience myself along with others who think as I do.
    There is no safe middle. The fringes keep the conversation churning. They pull, repulse, attract and repel by offering versions and new information. They prevent the middle from becoming the tyranny of the majority.
    Like Voltaire I may disagree with them but will defend their right to exist. Who knows when I may find a wrong so outrageous that I must object loudly from the edge of the herd. I want that right for myself. I want that right for everyone.
    I support the fringe’s rights to slam, smear, lie, agitate, insult, inflame, present, promote and distort. They may do anything to attract attention and change opinion. They may not commit violence.
    This is not the pinnacle of our evolution as a society, nation, or culture. This is but one plateau on a journey that others will finish.
    9/11 was evidence that we face an enemy who does not share any point of connection with us. The phrases “innocents who had done nothing to deserve” implies that some rationale if found will be accepted for the slaughter. We heard those who ran about with hollow justifications. “The US Troops in Saudi Arabia.” “The overthrow of the Ottomans.” “The expulsion of the Moors from Spain.” “The US is not the target. It’s to show power in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. Lots of excuses were offered for the slaughter none are acceptable.
    As a culture, as a society, as a nation we must reject that line entirely. We cannot condemn OBL and Islam-o-Fascism and condone anti-Israel terror. We cannot make allowances for Hezbollah, Hamas, Chechyn Seperatists, Bolivian Irregulars, Venezuelan Counter-revolutionaries, Peruvian Native Rights, Animal Activists, and Save-the-Whale/Save-the-Planet organizations that use violence to promote their cause.
    The only point that all can agree is upon the rejection of violence. Otherwise we will be placed in the position of picking and choosing which predator may kill our children.
    I do not enjoy the slime and smearing that goes on. It is preferable to the killing, kidnapping and bombing that accompanies a change of govt in other parts of the world.
    I agree with the premise in the Wisdom of the Crowd. “WE” are smarter than “I” will ever be in the long run. As long as “WE” are not influenced by threat or fear then ultimately the right decisions will be made. Yes, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei”.
    We must learn from the past. We cannot live in the past. We can apply those lessons to change the future. What kind of world will we choose?

  • Jeff, thanks for going down to Ground Zero, I know all the presence of people around helped the ones who lost the most 9/11.
    On that date a 4 1/2 year old boy was watching the news with his aunt and she had never thought much about the fact that he was seeing horrors unfold. Silently, he got up and went into his room. She exchanged a look with his mother, they were worried what effect this was having on him. He returned in a little while wearing his precious backpack and announced “I’m ready.” They tentatively asked what he was ready for, and he announced “To go save people”.
    No, I’m not the aunt, she’s my friend.
    How can we not see the lessons of the day are not hate or fear/and/loathing.

  • Franky

    I really hate to disagree with something so thoughtful and interesting. The sad fact of the world is that violence does work and that many peaceful protests have been ignored by authorities because they carry little weight. Violence usually gets one to a negotiating table, and then dialogue replaces blood. But that dialogue is only viewed as necessary because of the proceeding violence. As repulsive as some of their actions have been, the IRA have been one of the biggest reasons for power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
    We too must also recognise that our governments frequently use violence to achieve their political goals. Violence to remove Saddam, violence to remove Milosovich (this is not to rehash the right or wrong of those cases, but simply to point it out).

  • Jeff said, “…it was a nutjob. … I used my news judgment and better judgment and walked away from them and didn’t tell you about them; they don’t deserve the attention.”
    No one likes having to put up with deranged people, but the main stream media has a habit of giving them serious coverage. I think this is where a lot of the anger comes from as moderates from both the left and the right have to debase themselves defending against the most ridiculous of arguments.

  • HA

    I am the drippings from the melting pot. I’m a mix of so many unknown ethnicities that I have no ethnicity. I’m a little bit of everybody. I am everyman. I am American.
    I’ll take that one step further. You are a native American.

  • Andy

    Unless we begin with an agreement about people who use violence we will never resolve the question of whose killers are more noble and whose victims more worthy of compassion.
    Violence produces results. It also produces resentment and revenge. It will always be a part of our human nature. A civilized society should make it the last resort and work to remove the rewards for choosing it. When one can achieve the same or more without violence it will lose its appeal.
    Wars are easy to start, hard to stop and impossible to control. We should look for alternative ways to achieve the same goals (i.e. elections vs revolution and civil war as way to change govt)

  • Kat

    Yes, we should have done the “Democratic” thing in the Second World war, avoided fighting back, and we’d all be at peace today because the Jews would be exterminated, right? Course we could all do as the mullahs demand–become head bangers and koran klangers and peace will reign–we’ll all be poor. illiterate, and oppressed,chanting piss on allah. Except the mullahs–they’ll live in castles and preach in billion dollar mosques and Blacks will be their slaves. That’s progress–backwards in time.

  • Mork

    It’s almost funny that someone could read a moving and eloquent lament about the damage that extremists are doing to our political dialogue and think that an appropriate way to continue the conversation is to launch into a series of bile-drenched rants about how it’s all the fault of the other side.
    Except it’s not, it’s just sad.

  • JGW

    Powerfully said. However, the fundamental problem with centrism (or trying to stay in the “middle” on everything) is that you are forever at the mercy of the poles. Aristotelian moderation is laudable and virtuous, but without principled positions to anchor your thinking, then every time the extremes shift (which they do often), then so too does your middle.
    “Conservatism” by the way suffers the same problem. If to be conservative means to adhere to a “political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change“, then conservatives are at the mercy of the past just as much as moderates are at the mercy of the extremes.
    Incidentally, it is the Democratic Party that has become the truly conservative political faction in US politics since the end of the Cold War. How’s that for political irony?