Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Short View and the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

I got a letter on Sept. 12, 2001, from my friend Bill Anderson who tended to take a cynical view of people and government and the human animal in general. The following was the response I wrote to him that day:

I wish I could take the long view the way you do, Bill: look at the attack, and see it the way it probably is: Bush seeing this as his way of putting a lock on his second term, Americans showing their true nature by making money on increased gas prices, Hollywood being angry because this will put the next Bruce Willis film on hold for 2 weeks. The long view: we're all self-serving crooks.

I'm not good at the long view. I'm more of a short view guy: One of my wife Linda's cousins saw the first tower go down from her office. Her name is Lisa. She was a wonderfully fat baby. One time her mom, Linda's Aunt Anne, dressed her in a tutu, and Linda's dad Tony laughed and laughed, and still 25 years later the family talks about the tutu and how much we all loved her in her tutu and laughed with joy at her beauty.

Lisa got out okay. She was evacuated, and finally found herself across the river at a phone booth in Hoboken, New Jersey. She called home to Aunt Anne and Uncle Buddy. He’s also a short view guy: He was with Patton's soldiers when they freed the first concentration camps. He still shakes and cries when he remembers the piles of corpses.

My niece is an emergency room nurse at NYU hospital (I think I saw her in the background on an NBC spot about the hospital--but I wasn't sure. She looked old and tired and gray with pain). Her dad, Linda's brother Bruce, was calling her and calling her to make sure she was okay. Finally she got through to him late in the afternoon on Tuesday. He begged her to leave the hospital, said he would drive down from Connecticut and get her. Cried and begged her. He said he was her father and she had to listen to him. (Bruce isn't much of a crier. He's a jokey, tough Brooklyn guy.) But she was his baby and he wanted her away from all of it. And she said she couldn't leave. He cried some more and pleaded, and she hung up on him. She had to get back to work.

And all those people looking for their relatives and friends, holding pictures up to the TV cameras and telling us about how some guy was a great friend, and he was a waiter in a restaurant at the top of the building. And I see this picture of this poor foreign looking schmuck with a big nose and a dopey NY baseball cap that's way too big, who probably came here with a paper suitcase and thought that working up at that restaurant was the greatest thing possible in the world. And the friend hoping to find this guy thinks this guy is alive someplace, maybe in a coma in some hospital.

And I know there's not a chance in hell this guy or any other guy or gal in any of these pictures is alive. They're dead, all dead, but I wouldn't tell this guy holding the picture.

Boy, these are stories that touch me so hard I can't think about the other stuff, the long view.


Urkat said...

I don't know whether my view is long or short. I'm just sad in a non-specific way because what has happened in the time after that date has changed this country forever, and not in a good way; because the short-sighted response of those in govt. has forever ruined us but we don't see yet because a country takes slightly longer to hit the ground. I'm sad because we had a chance to rise to the occasion but we took a rain check.

jsq said...

"Boy, these are stories that touch me so hard I can't think about the other stuff, the long view."

And that's what some politicians use to manipulate us: our legitimate emotional reactions they misuse for support of their wars.

Frank said...

Wow, John. That brought a lot back. I remember finally crying about the whole thing later that week, Friday. Mary and I had gone out to dinner at a Turkish place in Chicago and at 6:30 PM, the restaurant cleared out and we all went outside for the candlelight vigil. Not sure if you recall, but an email/hoax thing went out about a scheduled vigil. We all knew it was just another chain email, but we didn't care.

I remember feeling legitimate pride at being an American as I witnessed our nation's collective response. That we've fallen so much further apart since hurts that much more.

John Guzlowski said...

Hi, I got this comment from Michael T. Schmidt, a ceramics artist down here in Valdosta, and got his permission to share it:

The "things" your write are very moving, or more importantly the things you think about...I think about so many different things.

Last night I watched a program on the discovery channel about the 7 man made wonders of the USA. The sheer genius of the Golden Gate Bridge, the majestic beauty of Mt Rushmore, the engineering marvel of the Empire State Building, amazing what can be accomplished. I also watched a bit on the Colorado River, and thought how beautiful the southwest must be, amazing what nature creates. I have dreamt of going there my whole life. I often tell Nancy that I believe I am meant to "be there," as if it were calling me, like my mom used to when the street lights came on and it was time for me to say "later" to my friends and get into my pj's, oblivious to an sort of responsibility other than brushing my teeth before bed.

As I see ads on the tube for Oprah's 9/11 special, NBC, FOX, etc running tributes and I listen to the endless discussions on NPR about politics in Iraq, I wonder how did "we" get here? And when will it/can it change? I think to myself how great it would be to stare at the mountains, snuggled up in my pj's, and not have to brush my teeth. Here's to the short view, na zdravĂ­.

John Guzlowski said...

I got this from another friend who okayed my posting it:

I wonder about the long vs the short view you write about on your blog.

I think I'm bound by both. Can one be double-bound that way? And I wonder if we choose our views or if they choose us. The glass half-empty/half-full metaphor comes to mind. If you grow up most often seeing the glass half empty, is there a chance that you can change and begin more often to see the glass half full?

And is reality all about perspective? Are there some glasses that really are closer to empty than full and the person who sees it otherwise is a fool?

Didn't you tell me your mother and your father had totally different cosmic perspectives, your mother being the half-empty sort and your father the opposite?

Considering the similarity of their camp experiences, what explains the different views that informed the rest of their lives? Temperament, gender, up-bringing?

Silly,rhetorical questions. I guess a person with a short view doesn't squander much time on such speculation.

John Guzlowski said...

Here's another post I got. It's from the poet Marian Shapiro who I blogged about earlier in the summer:

9/11 will always be with me. I can’t just forget it as so many people seem to have done. One of my patients was killed in one of the planes – I didn’t know it until he didn’t show up for his appointment, and then his name appeared in the newspaper.

My best/oldest friend, a judge, worked a block away, walked through the towers every morning as a shortcut, as most New Yorkers do when a building has 2 entrances. She saw it all – hitched a ride on a truck back to her apartment. She wasn’t ‘herself’ for at least 6 months.

And I was numb for 6 days – couldn’t feel a thing, just wandered around talking to strangers at coffee shops. Went to Quaker Meetings. Was numb some more.

Today someone – not a patient - sent me an e-mail on an ordinary chore-related topic. At the bottom she wrote, “Happy 9/11”. Can you imagine? Crazyville!

Glad you aren’t a denizen of that place.

John Guzlowski said...

Here's another response to my post from a friend who prefers to remain anonymous:

I'm sympathetic to your emotional response to 9/11.
However, just taking the short term view is an abdication of reason and humanity. Getting past our emotional responses and taking appropriate action based on thoughtful evaluation of what the consequences of those actions will be is what makes us fully human.

Falling for the emotional soppiness promoted by the media and our illustrious leaders is how we, as a nation, allowed ourselves to be manipulated into yet another pointless and costly war as well as a willing suspension of our liberties on a daily basis. Predictable and easily evoked responses such as those are why America still remains a Nation of Sheep as my old friend Bill Lederer christened it back when
I was still in grade school. Maybe people ought to be reading that book again, because they obviously didn't get the message back then. It makes me sick the way all substantial debate about current issues of grave importance is shunted aside is favor of more appeals to emotionalism and ignorance both in our political institutions and the media who are supposed to report to us about them.

Our emotional responses to tragedy tell us something about ourselves.
But our actions in response to those tragedies tell us a great deal more. Contrast the responses of Americans to 9/11 to those of the people of Spain in response to the Madrid train bombings or the
Japanese to the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subways in the nineties. The Spanish and Japanese used their heads. They caught those responsible and they got on with their lives.

Americans just whine and let the very people responsible for letting
the 9/11 attackers into the country lead us around by the noses so they could have a war that profits the worst people in the world while they simultaneously turn the land of the free and home of the brave into a police state run by plutocrats. The Japanese and the Spanish crushed their terrorists and defiantly refused to give them any of their objectives. America has given Bin Laden nearly every one of the objectives that he had publicly outlined in his taped and written statements.

So let's have another night of TV where we wring our hands about the
suffering of the innocent on 9/11. That way we don't have consider the
murders, rapes, and tortures that are regularly inflicted in our names or the shameful unprovoked war of aggression we are engaged in on country that we had long ago rendered helpless.

By the way, my daughter was scheduled to work in the World Trade Center on that day. She was delayed by work in London, so she missed it. Everyone in her office got out safely because they had the good sense to leave and not go back like some in that building did. We need our emotions to give our lives flavor, but emotions are almost never useful a basis for action. For that we need reason and knowledge. The piles of corpses may make us cry, but we still have to bury them and
the bastards who killed them.

John Guzlowski said...

Hi, here's a comment I got from my Polish American friend Noreen Hasior:

I wrote an essay about how 9/11 affected our lives as well. My son was working right there within the block when the first tower was hit. Then he ran to the top of the empire state building to see it better. Then the second tower was hit. Then everyone realized it was not an accident.

We waited all day for him to make it home, not knowing if he was safe or not. I will never forget that day and all the people who did not make it and all the mothers who did not get to hug their sons at the day's end.
I remember Guiliano's leadership. At that moment in history he was a hero.

I remember Bush walking alone to the center of Yankee Stadium to throw out the first ball of the game. Took a chance at being a target. He was making the point that we will not be scared to go on.

I remember the Prime Minister of Slovakia running the NYC Marathon the next month to show solidarity with the city.

I remember anthrax scares, fear of crossing bridges, fear of flying.

I remember Tony Blair coming the next day to show his friendship and support to our country.

So much courage and leadership.
So many deaths. Poland lost 8 people in the towers that day.
We should not forget that day. It is the third wave of Jihad terrorism.

Geo-B said...

I was driving my very small kids to school on 9/11, just between the two attacks. As the second building was hit it became horribly clear that this was purposeful. Horrified, I turned the car radio off so as not to traumatize my children, but couldn't help myself from turning it back on, then off, then on. My short view is in touch with the horror of that day, my children's long view sees it a history: they don't remember.