Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9-11

I didn’t want to post something on 9-11. It seems like an obvious thing to do and the obvious is something I try to avoid. Truth be told, the memory of that day and the memory of how that day has been exploited these past eight years, fills me with a terrible ambivalence. But I do have these pictures. I took them that afternoon. I hate looking at these photographs. They’re the last of my ‘pre-digital’ work. It’s been years since I’ve taken them out of the envelope. But they are striking and dramatic images, worth seeing. That finally convinced me to write this blog.

It’s not that I do not want to remember the people who died in the World Trade Center attack. I just hate thinking about how their deaths have been exploited. During the last eight years, the extreme and abhorrent politicization of their deaths has made it hard to separate my anger from my sorrow. The tragedy is so tightly intertwined with the deceptions of the last eight years that I can’t distinguish the memory of that day from those lies—lies that have cost thousands of American lives.

There were a total of 2,993 deaths on September 11, 2001—2,603 were incinerated in the World Trade Center, the remainder were at the Pentagon or on the four planes. In The Afghanistan War, 1,374 soldiers have died, 821 were American (the rest are troops from our NATO allies). Causalities from the Iraq War have been far worse—4,343 U.S. soldiers have died (I couldn’t find the figures for ally forces). Civilian death tolls in both nations are far higher, in the tens of thousands is the most conservative estimate. In Iraq, it’s likely in the hundred of thousands. These deaths are the result of 9-11. I’m not implying that America solely is responsible for their deaths. But, if our actions were different, some of those folks would still be alive. If the attacks were prevented, they all would be.

Our feelings about the September 11th Attacks were exploited and used against us, not to make America or the Mid-East or the world safer and more secure, but to make oil companies, the royal Saudi Family, Halliburton, and other cronies of Bush, Cheney and the Republican party more rich and powerful. Insult was added to injury; a bigger tragedy grew like a parasite on the host body of the initial tragedy

No one ever talks about Tora Bora any more. All the war supporters, those fervent, Bush true believers, tried to sweep the facts of that battle under the rug then use disinformation about the battle and other distractions to control the conversation. Kerry in his failed campaign to unseat Bush in 2004 brought up Tora Bora a few times, but was ignored by the media and Bush never had to respond. The battle took place in December of 2001, Bin-Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban were within our grasp and General Tommy Franks refused to send in more troops or additional support. He made a tactical decision to rely on our supposed alliance with the then president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, who basically played us for rubes. His government and the Saudi government were the only ones who recognized the Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan prior to the 9-11 attacks and it has been well known that there were elements in the Pakistan government and military—and still are—that supported the Taliban. Pakistani forces permitted Al Qaeda, Bin Laden and the Taliban to escape into Pakistan and gave them sanctuary.

That piece of crap, General Tommy Franks, at the time of the 2004 election, wrote a high-profile op-ed. His defense—“We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001,” even though in the piece, he admitted, “Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives.” Nobody ever questioned him about this contradiction, or why he put so much trust in forces from a pro-Taliban military. His inaction eight years ago allowed Bin-Laden to become an Islamic folk-hero who still inspires Muslim terrorists and Al Qaeda to continue terrorist attacks—London, Madrid, Tunisia, Boli, etc. He let the Taliban regroup and they are now a decsive force in Pakistan in addition to having sustained a now escalated insurgency in Afghanistan that has pro-longed the war and shows no significant signs of abating. After the battle of Tora Bora, Bush scaled back the Afghanistan operation and began his march to war in Iraq. Afghanistan was put on the back burner where it continues to smolder and cost American lives. There was a recent op-ed in the New York Times by a military historian who has written a book about fighting insurgencies and he outlined a pretty good, coherent plan for Afghanistan, but even his best case scenario was for 10 more years of American troop involvement. If we had better, more trustworthy and less politically ideological commander than Franks at Tora Bora, we may not have had an insurgency, or at least one that remains so robust. At the only opportunity we had to strike that decsive blow, Franks decided not to fulfill his duty and he let our country, and the troops under his command, down.

In 1998, U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were attacked by Al Qaeda, resulting in Bin-Laden first getting on the FBI 10 most wanted list. President Clinton ordered a missile attack into Afghanistan and the Republicans—in full impeachment (what a waste of friggin time that was) mode—cried, No War for Monica! The attack was unsuccessful. I remember thinking about that, No War for Monica on 9-11. Well, their gears had shifted. Bush supporters assuaged us—Clinton, he’s a Democrat; we Republicans know how to fight wars. We’re not going fire missiles at a goat in the desert. Instead of explaining why Franks fought Tora Bora like he did and why Al Qaeda and the Taliban remain unyielding opponents, the subject was changed to Iraq. The conflation of Bin-Laden and Saddam began. It was all Iraq, all the time, by mid-2002.

In 2000, Al Qaeda attacked the USS Cole. Now, this is really weird. The CIA waited until Bush took office in 2001 to identify the attack as an Al Qaeda operation. Bin-Laden had attacked the African Embassies and Bin-Laden was a known associate of the blind Sheik—and sometime Jersey City Resident!—who led the failed 1993 WTC attack. Bin Laden issued numerous fatwa’s and other screeds against the U.S. and the west, He was not exactly mum about his intentions. George Tenet, head of the CIA, served in that position under both Clinton and Bush, from 1997-2004. Why did it take so long for him to determine the perpetrators of the USS Cole attack? Tenet, was head of this investigation. There’s never been a straight answer from Tenet or other Bush officials on why it took so long to find out about Al Qaeda involvement in the Cole attack, or what other than, nothing, did Bush do when he was informed, apparently in March 2001, about who was behind the Cole incident (Bush did not publicly acknowledge Bin Laden’s involvement in the Cole bombing until after 9-11). One would also assume that as head of the CIA, Tenet was in charge of the military intelligence that failed to target Bin Laden in the 1998 missile strike and it was his CIA who provided the weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda that supported the lies that led to the Iraq War—resulting in more than 4,000 soldiers killed and record profits for Halliburton and Exxon. I guess that’s just coincidence. In August 2001, during the first of his annual month long summer vacations on his “ranch,” Bush received the famous briefing entitled, Bin-Laden Determined to Attack U.S. He blew it off, ignored it, even though by then he had been fully aware of the role of Bin Laden in blowing up the Cole.

I trusted Colin Powel when he went to the United Nations and lied to the world about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to Bin Laden. I’ll never forgive him and I’ll never forgive my self for being fooled by that piece of crap. We were reassured that we could fight and win two simultaneous wars in Islamic lands. Eight years of lies and delusions. The economy’s in the crapper so who has time to debate these old questions. Besides, the news media doesn’t like to talk about the past, it interferes with the sound bites and the footage of crying Michael Jackson fans.

I remember 9-11. I was in the gym that morning and saw it on the cable television. It was eerie at first. Vague reports of a plane hitting the WTC, nobody knowing what type of aircraft then the other plane hit and then the towers fell. I went home, put extra cat food in the dish for Paglia. Would there be an evacuation. Under attack? By noon, we knew what was happening, I walked down to the water front. I remember this guy covered in that gray dust, a wall street dude in a suit. I saw pieces of glass in his face being removed by a paramedic.

I went back home, got my camera and a roll of film and took these pictures. Everyone in town was waiting, preparing for the wounded, the dead. There were priests there at the Water Front. My apartment building put out fliers, if any of the residents knew of people with pets. Within a day or two, everyone was accounted for who could be accounted for. There were no bodies for last rites.

Then, there were the weeks of the pictures of people posted on all the subway and bus stops, have you seen this person. The hoping in vain by loved ones that this individual wasn’t dead, only missing taped throughout Manhattan and downtown Jersey City. And the flags! Flags sold out, flags were being stolen and fenced. Black and Hispanic kids sporting flags. Flags were cool and hip. Also, people were nicer, actually polite—it’s my contention that better manners has been a lingering effect of 9-11, although there is still much room for improvement.

My memory that is the strongest were the sirens. Everyone was expecting either wounded survivors or bodies. That was the constant anxiety of that day, the day after—how many casualties? There were only a couple hundred or so survivors. Very few corpses were recovered intact. More than 2,000 folks, incinerated. A friend of mine had a family member who died, about six months later they recovered part of his thumb. That night, the next day and night, sirens every hour or so; responders of every type rushing down Christopher Columbus, Montgomery Street, down to Exchange Place—the main staging point for the rescue effort on the Jersey side. The sirens were good I remember thinking. The sirens mean life. Body bags had been ordered. There was this tractor trailer truck, an 18 wheeler. It was a refrigerated Tropicana Orange Juice truck. At sunset it parked by the river bank at Exchange Place. Police had the crowds make way for this huge vehicle. Was this fresh orange juice for responders we wondered out loud. Then we were informed, the Tropicana truck was for the expected bodies, to keep them cold on their way to the morgue for identification. But the body bags and that truck remained empty and by Thursday, Friday, the sirens had stopped. I remember hearing a lot of sirens then no sirens and realizing no one else was being saved. No bodies were being found. You didn’t have to watch the news to know what the silence meant.

That pillar of smoke where the World Trade Center buildings had stood billowed for about two weeks. Living in Jersey City, the World Trade Center had been fixtures of our horizon. Those towers were our North Star. I commuted through the WTC into NYC for the first part of that decade. They tried to blow them up with a truck filled with nitrates in the early 90s, about a year or two after I first arrived. After the 9-11 attack, there were days of smoke always in the horizon. A dense, acrid odor filled our city. You smelt it even miles from the Hudson River. You felt particles on your skin just from walking around. There was some candle light vigils in the days following, neighbors in the street, holding candles. We had to do something.

There were scares. Sudden evacuations of J.C. buildings and the Grove Street Path station. Rumors? Hoaxes? The follow up attack was expected any day. No wonder, as that piece of crap Tom Ridge recently admitted, the color-coded security alerts that riddled the headlines through 2004 were all politically motivated. Fear, worry, concern are exploitable commodities when the rich and powerful seek to increase their wealth and control.

Fire trucks and other emergency vehicles from every town in New Jersey soon lined the streets of Exchange Place. These men and women—many of the suburban municipalities only have volunteer responders—they took the tug boat over to the newly named Ground Zero and helped with the digging out. Blocks and blocks of vehicles emblazoned with those familiar town names. I shot the breeze with these men and women. No survivors. Heaps of wreckage. The digging out and debris removal took months. There’s a roll a film in my old Minolta, a second roll of photographs. It’s still in there. I just never had the heart to develop it.

My friend Nancy, a high-school teacher from Virginia, came up for a visit in October. We went to Ground Zero and she took pictures for the year book. We went to this bar to watch that Madison Square Garden Concert for Heroes deal. That unforgettable set by The Who.

A wave of enlistments by high school students upon their graduation followed 9-11. Last month, the highest amount of American casualties in Afghanistan were recorded, one of those who died was a student of hers. He graduated a couple of years ago, had served one tour of Duty in Iraq, was sent to Afghanistan. He was not the first of her kids, as she calls them, to enlist. At least two other phone calls since 9-11, Nancy in tears, informing me of another one of her kids killed in Iraq. Bush’s failed policies murdered those boys. That’s how I feel about it.

No War for Monica. Bin Laden Determined to Attack the U.S. Eight years later, more Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan combined than in the 9-11 attacks, not to mention the civilian populations of both those nations. They are pieces of crap. Cheney, Bush, Powel, Franks, Rumsfield, Tenet, Rice—the whole crew and the pundits, politicians and media loud mouth phonies who supported them. They are abominations to our God & a disgrace to our Country. But, we share the guilt. We allowed ourselves and our fellow citizens to be deluded and sent our youth to war without adequate armament, military intelligence or battle plans.

Now some are claiming that Afghanistan could be Obama’s Vietnam—an absurd, a-historical assertion. Barely six months in office, the right wing and republicans want him to fail. When Bush was in Office, it was near treason to question a war time president. Now it’s okay to ridicule the commander in chief, as if we’re not still at war. I don’t know what to do in Afghanistan. I don’t know if we should stay or go. I don’t see any plan that might have success, nor any plan that won’t require at least another decade of NATO occupation. I don’t see anyway to evade the spread of battles into Pakistan. I don’t see us getting any closer to capturing Bin Laden or subduing Al Qaeda or the Taliban, I see no attempt to counter the ideas of Sunni Fundamentalism on which these terrorists base their ideology. I see no reason why we should be trusted. We’re incompetent hypocrites who hold up a constitution in one hand swearing allegiance to the rule of law and then let lawyers and other officials spout legal-ease to justify torture. The degree of sophistry in the arrogance is sickening. Besides, our economy is in the crapper. We have other problems, don’t we.

I remember 9-11, I remember the sirens then the no sirens. And, I remember the years after. Remember the first anniversary, what a joke. Politicians and some celebrities read famous American speeches. No one competent enough, or interested enough, or talented enough to put a nation’s feelings into words. It’s tragic as hell, those people died. I knew one, I know many who know many more. They were killed because they went to work that day. It could have been me. It could have been you.

I get mighty depressed on this day. I hate listening to the news. The names will be read, we’ll see footage of the families in the still open pit where once great buildings stood. Those are good things. I appreciate the thought, the ritual. I try to keep their memory in my thoughts and prayers.

It’s what happened to this country after the attacks—and what we found out about what Bush didn’t do in the months before those attacks—that makes me sad and furious, that will always make me sad and furious. The arrogance of the right, the selfish apathy of we the people and our right to be obtuse. Obtuse means to be willfully ignorant. That has never been an aspiration of mine.

Spare me the platitudes. You don’t have to remind me what this day means to Jersey City. That memory has long been disgraced and that disgrace is as important to remember as those who died. In fact, it will always be part of the memory.