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9/11: In One Degree of Separation, a Growing Distance

This week, my guest blogger, again, is Frank McElroy. As I  mentioned in last week’s 9/11-related post, this is his follow-up piece to what he wrote about September 11 a decade ago:


The loss of the Trade Center was deeply personal to me.  My brother and I know the man (Karl Koch) whose family company erected the buildings; for decades, my father, an orthopedic surgeon, treated Karl and he was often in our home.  My brother and I had a wonderful visit with him in October 1968, looking, through the night, over all of New York from the top of one of the towers.  In that view, seemingly of the entire world, it was palpable that there was something about and among us, a sense of shared purpose and identity.  Today, that sense has been drowned by an endless and immeasurable lack of civility, a contrarian and senseless interaction, an absence of concern about our larger family and each other.


It is a mere ten years since the World Trade Center in Manhattan was consigned to its grave.  In that short period, Americans have given up their optimism, their belief that if we work together, good and some measure of prosperity will come.  We have ceded our privacy to dubious authority in favor of asserted needs for endless security, our calm and good will to fear and paranoia.  We have reaped the “neither” and nothing of Ben Franklin’s astute warning: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”


Now, after a commission’s investigation, countless hours of testimony and seemingly endless documentaries, we are privileged to learn that in this single event, America experienced the greatest string of failures, possibly complicity, in every part of government. This, particularly, applies to our President (George Bush), his Cabinet, the FBI, and the CIA.  Incompetence at the level of the tiniest failure that occurred should have led to firings, indictments, incarceration.  Nobody responsible for the massive failure is on trial, in jail, accountable.


But our nation was glad to wrap itself in the flag as the smoke continued to emanate from the hole in southern Manhattan. This marked a coming together, it seemed, in some ways, to celebrate the heroics and  unending courage of so many who dealt with the mess.  Yet, now, with a bit of distance in time, we ignore the claims for health benefits made by those same heroic and courageous members of our big family.  And we can do that easily because Americans are no longer anything like a family.  Nothing America is about is shared commonly —  any number of charlatans falsely claim the history of the country and claim to have the answers to every problem we face, individually and as a country.  Thrown overboard, the commonweal has sunk to the bottom in favor of the furious drumbeat of fear, pushed by desperate politicians currying favor with business and by the largely spineless and insipid media our Constitution so powerfully protects.


Not long after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans and many small towns — another event that demonstrated both the failure of our government and our character as Americans.  Seven years later, that disaster continues, but is largely forgotten except by those who continue to exist in its endless wake.


Yesterday, just before Labor Day, I watched footage from Newfane and Jamaica in Vermont, two small towns on Route 30, places I love and mentioned in my piece back in 2001. After 9/11, I was driving north from Marblehead, through a flag-waving America in New England, so desperately wanting to feel like a family, to share something common and comforting after a foreign force had ripped the American fabric to shreds.  Looking now at the roads and bridges lost to Tropical Storm Irene, days after it happened, I didn’t see any flags being waved, any response at all except the sadness and desperation that come when we reflect, in the face of real disaster, that we really are alone, that all is lost.


That has become a mean calculus in America, seized by some to  enhance the division of the country by wealth, race, religion, sex, politics, employment, and every other factor.  The degrees of separation between us might be the same as they were in 2001, but the distance between us has grown dramatically in the last decade.


Anticipate, hope, and work for better days.  Peace.










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September 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm
1 comment »
  • September 15, 2011 at 10:28 pmJane

    Yes. So sad. So sorry. Jane

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