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SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK






In the meeting room at the Albion fire station, a number has been permanently affixed to one corner of the marker board: 343.

That many firefighters were murdered on September 11, 2001. It doesn't include civilians, or the police, EMS, and Port Authority workers who died doing their duty that day. The message of that number is very simple: Never forget.

You'd think that would be hard to do. On 9/11 I said, "For the rest of history, the world will be divided into two time periods: before today and after today."

A week later, after reflecting on history, I made a different prediction: "Within a few years it will seem like this attack has been totally forgotten."

I was right on both counts.

It's human nature. We don't want to dwell on the past; most of us don't worry about the future, either. Now, more than ever, we live in the present. An old adage says those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it, an adage people have forgotten. America – all the free world, really -- has also forgotten that we're at war, a war we can still lose. We pay lip service to the past, and get impatient with any problem that takes more than a day to solve. Politicians can see a little way into the future -- to the next election. That's pretty much it.

Military and police officials have stopped numerous attempted attacks that they told us about, and many more that they haven't. But there's an irony in their newfound effectiveness: For every year that goes by without the spilling of more civilian blood, we get more complacent, more unwilling to support the people fighting this new world war, more convinced that It Won't Happen to Us.

It will. If they can't attack us big, they'll attack us small. If they can't hit us inside America, they'll hit Americans outside the country, or one of our allies, or any free nation just because they're free. They're out there, right now, planning. Obtaining arms. Training. Here and there bands of overworked men and women, some in uniform and some not, fend off new attacks, figure out where the next will come from, and prepare to deal with the aftermath.

And most of us have no idea.

343 firefighters rushed toward disaster and died, and we're forgetting.

It may never be known how many firefighters will ultimately die from 9/11. From the smoke, from the stress, from the gunk they breathed in. Two more died just recently, when a high rise damaged on 9/11 caught fire and burned. They should be added to the list. They all should. Maybe it's in the 500's, or the 600's. maybe, fifty years from now, when you add in cops and medics, there will be a thousand emergency responder deaths from just that one day.

And we're forgetting.

Just as we forget that a group of people had been trying to kill us for years before 9/11, now we refuse to acknowledge that the war goes on. I think the problem is that we haven't been called on to make sacrifices. With the exception of those serving in the military and their families, the only direct effect any of us see from 9/11 is higher gas prices, and as long as we continue getting oil from evil despots that's likely to happen, anyway.

After 9/11, we were all encouraged to go about our normal lives, to not give in to fear. It made sense: By definition terrorists want us to live in fear, and what better way to fight that than to shake our fists and live our lives? Besides, targeting the World Trade Center was more than symbolic; it was an attempt to send the world's economy into a downward spiral.

Now I'm worried that we took our defiance too far. We became enamored with the idea of continuing our lives, uninterrupted. We forgot how very much the world suddenly changed, on that brilliant, bright day when columns of smoke speared into the blue sky like blood streaming from a wound.

They came for us once, they'll do it again. They want nothing less than the utter destruction of every democratically elected nation in the world, to be replaced by their version of Muslim fundamentalism. Since they believe anyone who doesn't bow to their way deserves death, the overpopulation problem will be a thing of the past; but it puts a kink into the lives of people who only want to be left alone.

That includes all those emergency responders, who might be next in the crosshairs.

The only way they'll stop is if we find a way to make their attacks not worth it to them, and since they're convinced killing us is the best way to get into Heaven, I'm not sure how to do that without killing them first. Once they've been indoctrinated into terrorist schools and training camps, they're not likely to see a better way without force. All the hoping and rose colored glasses in the world aren't going to change that.

So the war goes on, and if we want to survive we have to fight it.

What we need in America is more sacrifice, World War II style. We were strong then because we were all in it together, even when we didn't agree with the specific plans and policies of our leadership. Maybe high gas prices are good. Maybe we need to practice 1940's style rationing, victory gardens, and recycling. Maybe we'll have to do the 21st Century equivalent of hoarding sugar.

Today's conflict isn't the same as in World War II, of course, so I'm speaking metaphorically, but the need remains: to be connected, to keep in our minds the men and women working hard, fighting, bleeding, and sometimes dying for a freedom we take for granted. Give them what they need to fight, even if it's no more than our full support and the knowledge that they're out there, keeping the enemy from coming here. Meanwhile, the emergency responders within our borders need all our support in preparing for that next attack.

If our support fades, we lose -- simple as that. This isn't about Iraq; it won't be a matter of leaving millions of people in a foreign country in the hands of some murderous fanatics. If we lose, the fanatics are coming here. If we lose, we lose everything.

That means another attack, the next of many. That means another number on the board, below the 343. What will it be next time? 574? 191? Maybe we'll have a series of single digits, filling the board over time.

If we let up, if we relax our guard, we've disrespected the lives and the sacrifices of the first 343. That's just unacceptable.


Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
tessarin
Sep. 7th, 2007 09:04 pm (UTC)
Great post.

I'm much more concerned about the insidious rise of violent wahibi sects amongst domestic Muslim populations. The slow long term threat rather than terrorism itself. We can defeat that. This is what may lead to the death of the great nations of the West.

Recent studies in the UK show 60% of mosques are controlled by anti-semetic hate organisations.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2402973.ece

This with the complicite support/propoganda of the BBC.

Maybe the recent Russian sabre rattling will jolt the West into remembering that history did not end with the end of the cold war.
ozma914
Sep. 8th, 2007 07:21 am (UTC)
Huh -- I thought it was only in America where the mainstream media is either stubbornly ignoring the facts or actively colluding with the enemy, but if the BBC is giving any kind of support to that bunch you've got a real problem.

That's chilling -- frightening to know that the next attack might come from within, rather than without. And worse, the Politically Correct crowd refuses to recognize that there needs to be a limit to this kind of hate speech, before these people go from bullying their way into leadership of their mosque to bullying their way into the government. There's a fine line between public safety and personal rights, but we could at least try to step a bit closer to it.
gillo
Sep. 8th, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC)
The BBC is doing nothing of the sort - and "recent studies" is a dangerous term to accept uncritically - a bit like "scientists say". I know quite a few devout UK Muslims and none of them have that sort of attitude. It really is vital to avoid the sort of demonising which pushes minorities away from the mainstream.
ozma914
Sep. 9th, 2007 06:15 am (UTC)
Oh, that's good. Most of the mainstream media over here is so badly slanted to the left that we lost any chance of getting fair and balanced reporting years ago. For the most part, Big Media automatically attacks anything that doesn't fit their beliefs and agenda, regardless of what's true or even if misleading their viewers will cause harm. That being the case, it was easy for me to conclude the same thing was happening there, so I apologize for jumping to conclusions.

As I've said before, no one over here (except for a very few who are extremists themselves) are trying to demonize Muslims, and I have Muslim friends myself. Our problem is with the extremists sects who are pushing for attacks and violence against anyone who doesn't bow to their own narrow beliefs.
gillo
Sep. 9th, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)
That's funny - from here your mainstream media appear to be so far to the right they're barely short of fascism! The BBC has a legal duty to remain balanced in its reporting - which means that left or right wing views are normally only presented when balanced by opposing points of view. It's worth bearing in mind that the link you were given was to The Times, a paper owned by extreme right-winger Rupert Murdoch, of Fox News fame. That's how balanced they are. I read the article and felt it was full of the sort of flaws you expect to find in tabloid journalism; sadly, that is what one expects of The Times these days.
ozma914
Sep. 9th, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC)
Ironically, it's people on the far left who scream that the media's against them, when in reality they control most of the media. Murdoch is out there all by himself -- almost all of the big media outlets in America are so far left that the people in middle America have given up on even bothering with them. Also ironically, it was that ongoing imbalance that actually led Murdoch to create Fox news, as a way of battling the liberlism of CNN and the major networks. He's missing the point, which is that news should be *news* -- editorials go on the editorial page. The way you battle misrepresentation is by presenting all the facts, and letting the people decide for themselves.

But it must be remembered that we're looking at it from two different sides of the Pond -- to put it another way, it's all in your point of view. I'm a moderate by midwestern standards, but on either of our coasts I'd be considered a conservative. Likewise, if England as a whole tends to think left of the average American, then naturally the average American would appear to be leaning right. Not to mention I'm speaking in generalities; individual viewpoints will also make a difference.
gillo
Sep. 9th, 2007 10:55 pm (UTC)
I think it's all in perspective: to us Liberal is a term of praise - it's the opposite of Fascist. To many Americans it's the opposite - it's almost a synonym for Communist. CNN looks fairly right-wing to us, frankly. Murdoch is a danger to western freedoms.
ozma914
Sep. 10th, 2007 09:43 am (UTC)
CNN, right wing?

Hee!

Once I stopped gaping in shock at the idea, it made me giggle. As for who's a danger to western freedoms, I'll go with brainwashing college professors and politicians with short memories on this side of the Atlantic.
gillo
Sep. 10th, 2007 05:53 pm (UTC)
I think I'd go for neocons who sell out for financial gain.
ozma914
Sep. 11th, 2007 05:50 am (UTC)
Actually, I think I'll stick with the moderates, few as there might be left; political extremism in either direction is a bad thing.
boy_named_susie
Sep. 7th, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC)
I don't really have much to say other than 'well said and great post.'
ozma914
Sep. 8th, 2007 07:22 am (UTC)
Thanks much -- often my columns come fairly easy to me, but I sweated buckets over this one.
raemcn
Sep. 7th, 2007 09:14 pm (UTC)
*applauds* I completely agree. Too many want to hide behind the rose colored glasses you mention up there, believing that it can't happen to them. I have nothing against wanting to live in peace. I really wish just wanting it would make it that way, but it doesn't. Because we have it so well in this country people have become very safe in their little worlds and although most stood together in those first few weeks after 9/11 it didn't last long. There are too many who believe it won't happen again and some who have forgotten the horror and heartache.

A lot of people do not understand that terrorist do not want to talk. They don't want any form of peace and even if they got their way and wiped out all non-Muslims they would find another reason to destroy and kill.

To live in a free country there are those who must fight for it and even if I dont' agree with our government most of teh time, I also know we can't just sit here and cower or we will be wiped out.
ozma914
Sep. 8th, 2007 07:10 am (UTC)
Thanks. I got a little flak from some people on my flist last 9/11 column -- I recall someone wanted to argue that this doesn't qualify as a war. But this isn't something I can shut up about -- not when so much is at stake. I get so upset at politicians who want to cut back on the military, cut funding to emergency services, and get all boo-hoo worried about the "rights" of terrorists. Not that there aren't different things that could be done different ways; but I can't help thinking that as we keep infighting, the clock continues ticking toward more people dying.
strangexgirl
Sep. 8th, 2007 04:14 am (UTC)
Another stellar column. *hugs*. I can't forget. It could've been you, or it could've been Will, who actually lives in that area.. or it could've been any number of my friends/relatives/etc that are/were/are becoming enlisted.
ozma914
Sep. 8th, 2007 07:06 am (UTC)
Thanks, and *hugs back* In the fire service, we call other firefighters brothers and sisters, so I lost a lot of relatives that day.
gillo
Sep. 8th, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC)
I worry a little about some of this. The death of the firefighters should never be forgotten - the sacrifice of all the emergency responders was real, and a very special type of heroism.

However, If they can't hit us inside America, they'll hit Americans outside the country, or one of our allies, or any free nation just because they're free. is a touch simplistic from my POV. They didn't attack "just because they're free", they attacks because of a series of perceived injuries and grudges, many of which boil down to appalling public relations on the part of the Western world, which has allowed the leaders of such groups as Al-Qaeeda to create an image which my not be true but is totally convincing to far too many people who see themselves as disenfranchised in global politics and powerless in the global economy.

IOW, it's all much more complicated. Immediately after 9/11 it became a catch-phrase, almost - that the attacks were motivated by jealousy of freedom. Yet those attacks led to an immediate restriction of freedom in many countries, yours and my own in particular. And every time we demonise one religious group, we play into the hands of the terrorists, and thus make the world just a little less safe.
ozma914
Sep. 9th, 2007 06:01 am (UTC)
It *is* simplistic -- that's their simplistic view of the world. It's the stated goal of these terrorist groups -- stated many times, in fact, from many various leaders -- that it's their duty to convert the entire world to Islam, and that anyone who refuses to convert is to be killed. Not my words -- theirs. God knows they're much better at propaganda than we are, and also that we've played right into their plans by doing stupid things, but that in no way gives them the excuse to tell others how to worship, let alone kill people.

There are going to have to be some restrictions, for as long as we're at war. I don't like it, but it's no different than what Isreal must go through while people over there try to find a way to wipe them off the map. Within reason, we must guard our borders, search for terrorist organizations, have security checkpoints, and the other things nations always do when they're at war, to track down and defeat the enemy.

We must guard carefully to make sure those restrictions don't go overboard, but they've happened every time we've ever gone to war. We do face a less safe world, not because we're trying to protect people but because the terrorists are trying to find a way around that protection.

On a related note -- and I've said this many times -- it's important to note that this is not about the Muslim religion -- it's about a relative handful of Muslim extremists, and my answer would be the same no matter what religion they claimed to represent. I have Muslim friends who are much better people than some extremist Christians I'm familiar with. It's important to note that this is not really about religion, no matter how much some people insist it is; it's about a handful of lunatics who are using religion as an excuse to kill people.
gillo
Sep. 9th, 2007 12:54 pm (UTC)
I'm not a Libertarian in most things, but I do worry about the way the government - yours and mine - have taken so many extra powers as a result of terrorism. Having watched the Irish Troubles for most of my life, I have a fairly strong view on what works and what just exacerbates the situation. In the end, military defeat is rarely an option; much as I'd have liked the IRA to be wiped off the face of the planet, it was never going to happen, and peace came only when the sides started talking to each other. The Mzae (H-Blocks) had a powerfully negative effect, recruiting every bit as powerfully as Guantanamo Bay is now. And in the end thefreedoms we cherish are eroded, and rarely if ever are they fully restored at the end of a crisis.

Religion is rarely a real cause, almost always an excuse for tribalism. But it is very important never to talk as if it is all adherents of a religion who are at fault, because that does more than anything else to push the young of the group into the arms of terrorist recruiters.

By the way, I think you'd be interested in this, the text of a talk on the radio this morning by Tim Egan, an American who is currently doing the regular ten-minute talk slot "A Point of View". It's about fires and firefighters in the US.
ozma914
Sep. 9th, 2007 10:29 pm (UTC)
That's a fascinating article, and very true -- all too true. I read a book once -- about earthquakes -- in which a researcher said all of the U.S. west of the Rockies shared one thing in common: from a geological and climatological standpoint, it was a place where people were never meant to survive. That's something to think about.

You'll have a hard time getting anyone in America (except for a few who are following a political agenda) to agree to the idea of dialogue with the terrorists, as long as the terrorist continue to kill and threaten to kill. It may be that we're right at the beginning of the cycle you went through with The Troubles, which is a frightening idea to people who pride themselves on having an open society. One thing that is certain is that we can be our own worst enemy.

The real challenge is wresting control of the children away from these people who are brainwashing them into being the suicide bombers of tomorrow. I don't begin to know how to do that, but the answer to terrorism is the same as the answer to crime, drugs, and so many other things -- start with the children. When you raise an entire generation to value life and freedom, the cycle of violence can be broken.
gillo
Sep. 9th, 2007 10:52 pm (UTC)
I find it depressing that I recognise so many of the attitudes I had to the Irish thirty years ago. Remember, I'm the child of a police officer - at one point my dad's name was on an IRA hit list. And don't be fooled by the romantic hogwash of the IRA supporters - these people were Marxist terrorists who saw nothing wrong in blasting a twelve-year-old child and a baby to smithereens for the crime of being in a town centre on a Saturday. My brother and his children were two hundred yards away at the time.

But locking them up and throwing away the keys didn't work. Nor did hunting them down and gunning them down. In the end, only dialogue worked, and that after several thousand deaths. I devoutly hope it will take fewer deaths to address this problem. I wish it could be different, but I see too many similarities. It's what they say about people who won't learn from history, isn't it?

I agree - give me a child till he is seven and he is mine for life. But let a seven-year-old see his family, or his friends' families be killed, and he is filled with hatred for life. Iraq is storing up so many long-term disasters for us all.

I though you'd enjoy the article - I thought of you instantly when I heard it on the radio this morning. That ten-minute talk slot was occupied for decades by Alastair Cooke, who did his Letter from America every week till mere days before his death - this is good, but a feeble replacement for the Master.
ozma914
Sep. 10th, 2007 09:59 am (UTC)
I have friends in Iraq, and I can show you hundreds of pictures of Iraqi children playing with American soldiers, following them around, thanking them for the infrastructure that we're trying to build and the freedoms we're trying to bring them. You never see *that* on the news, but I'm hearing it from soldiers and families of soldiers all the time. Believe me, if the children over there blame Coalition soldiers for the harm Saddam and terrorists have done to that country, it's because the terrorists have beaten us in the war of propaganda, nothing more. It really burns my ass that Saddam slaughtered people the whole time he was in power, and now the terrorists have followed us over there to slaughter innocent people, and we're getting blamed for it. Now we're stuck there because we're the only thing keeping even more families from being wiped out, and there's not one bad word for the person who's really responsible for everything that's going wrong over there: Saddam Hussein.

*ahem* Sorry. I've gotten well known enough as a columnist that people all over are putting me in touch with the men and women serving over there, and I'm hearing such a different story from what's being reported that I'm starting to think they're talking about two different places.

Our Congressmen and Presidential candidates have decided Iraq is a weapon to be used against their political opponents rather than an actual nation with real people in it. Once that happened, the rest became a moot point; we might just as well leave Iraq to the Iranians, who I think will be very pleased with their new sandbox once they finish killing everyone they don't like.

(None of that really addresses how to solve the issue of terrorism that you spoke about, of course.)
gillo
Sep. 10th, 2007 05:54 pm (UTC)
They welcomed British troops in Northern Ireland too, at first.
ozma914
Sep. 11th, 2007 06:48 am (UTC)
You know something -- disregard my entire last post. I was speaking to someone else about my job in the emergency services, and I suddenly had a revelation:

I want to save everybody.

I don't want to give up on one child, one family, one nation ... I want to go in and help everyone against terrorists, criminals, extremism, illeteracy, poverty -- everything. I realized that this feeling compromises my ability to think objectively about Iraq, because I don't want to pull our troops out and leave the people there to the chaos, civil war, and eventual takeover by still another despotic power that's certain to happen if we abandon them.

Well, you can't help everybody, especially when many of them are unwilling to help themselves. Sometimes the best you can do is just get out of the line of fire, leave them to their fate, and prepare for whatever's going to come next. I'm not happy with that idea, but you can't win all your battles.
ozma914
Sep. 10th, 2007 10:01 am (UTC)
Oh, in all my ranting I almost forgot -- I miss Alastair Cooke, too!
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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