As we approach the tenth year after 9/11, I am struck by the responses I have seen in many comments and editorials. For example, the indignation about the fact that first responders will not apparently be included in the ceremony at the Towers. It seems to me that we are thinking emotionally perhaps and not necessarily logically as 9/11 approaches.
I would by no means belittle the job the first responders did but at the same time, I think we need to see the difference between first responders and the other victims. Those first responders were policemen, firefighters, and others who know that there is always that chance that they will not go home at the end of their shifts. They see the man with a gun that they need to confront or the burning building that they need to enter while it is still burning to search for possible victims. They wear the equipment that they hope will be enough to save them should the need arise, the bullet proof vest for the police or the oxygen masks for the firemen.
Most of those who died in the towers though were not equipped for danger of any kind. They were there to do a 9 to 5 job and go home after a routine day, just as they had the day before, the week before, and the month before. They had no bullet proof vests, no guns to protect themselves, no breathing apparatus to help them breath in smoky rooms, and never thought they needed them.
A memorial should include both groups but perhaps not at the same time or not even in the same way or at the same time. The names of all of those tower victims are to be read at the ceremony but that is about 3,000 names. Depending upon the pause between names that could be as much as 3 or 4 hours to just name the victims and even more if anything is said about them.
On the other hand, the names to be read of those first responders are the names of heros and deserve to not be lumped in with those they tried to save and in some cases saved. They should not be lumped in with the victims of the towers not because they are any less victims but because they are those who chose to give their lives so that others might live.
Even now when we should be honoring those who died though, there is all the talk of a conspiracy by many who claim the government caused the buildings to fall in order to gain support for a war somewhere, claims that the building would not fall this way or that, claims that explosives were used to bring the buildings down and so on. We need to keep ih mind that this had never happened before and there is no way to tell much of what others claimed happened. There is no way to tell what happens when you combine any rust there may have been on some of the columns, the aluminum from the airplanes, the jet fuel and all the additives in that, and perhaps the electricity running through the building.
Rather then worrying about what happened, lets worry about why it happened. Some years before 9/11, in conversations with friends, we had discussed how terrorism would strike the United States. We saw terrorism in other countries around the world and had no illlusions that we would be spared. But why were we, carpenters, machinists, and waitresses, able to forecast a catastrophe and those who should be protecting this country from such a thing happening could not? Certainly we did not expect an attack to be so successful but now in conversations about what we would have done differently that would have prevented the attack, we would have made it harder for a person to get on a plane to begin with, as we are doing now. We would have kept better track of who was learning to fly what, as we are doing now, and so on.
This is not a time to talk about what we would have done though, it is a time to honor our dead. Then the time will come to try to anticipate what the next terror attack will be and in what form. If we learned anything from 9/11 it should be that we can not depend only on others to keep us safe but we must be alert to the dangers ourselves whether that is to watch for strange packages left where they should not be or strange behavior on the part of someone doing something that could be dangerous to us all. It is a time to come together as people regardless of our nationalities or religions or even the color of our skin or the way we dress. It was not our government trying to blow up buildings to find an excuse for a war, it was not those of a certain religion trying to strike at this country, nor racism of any kind, but it was terrorism, plain and simple and we need to understand that in order to fight it without tearing ourselves apart blaming each other rather then the terrorists themselves. If we can not do that, if we fail to do that, then the terrorists have already won.