Our Longest Week Comes To An End
May 2, 2011
Our longest week, which started early one September Monday morning, has ended late on a Sunday night almost 10 years later.
Did you ever think you would see spontaneous celebration at Ground Zero? Joy, jubiliation, and song erupting at the site of this collapsed crematorium, starting late at night and continuing into morning?
And is it proper to celebrate a death? Is it right to be happy a man is shot in the head? The Times spoke to September 11th survivor Harry Waizer.
“‘If this means there is one less death in the future, then I’m glad for that,’ he said. He was in an elevator riding to work in the north tower when the plane struck the building. He made it down the stairs, but suffered third-degree burns.
“’But I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama bin Laden.’”
When I was a younger man, I was more of a pacifist, believing in my heart and soul that violence is never the answer; that we descend to the level of the perpetrator when we seek and extract revenge for murder.
But waking up one morning at my Park Slope apartment to my FedEx guy standing there in a face mask changed all that. When I realized a few days later that the smoke and ashes we’d been inhaling as they rained down on our street and town had been partially comprised of the remains of some of my neighbors, and that this deed was clearly timed to kill as many of us as possible, well, how could I be the same after that? The same as an American, or as a New Yorker?
What struck me tonight were the images on CNN of those who showed up outside the White House and at Ground Zero; and, I now hear, around the country: These were mostly college students, people who couldn’t have been more than 8 or 10 years old back on that dastardly day. That they could identify with this moment really moves me. But of course, they’ve lived most of their lives under a cloud that began with that ghastly ash – a cloud of fear and war.
And say what you will about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether they’ve been right or wrong. In the end, America went to battle to avenge the death of New Yorkers, as well as to prevent more of the same. And tonight we won — not the war, but a battle in that war.
I went online a few hours ago just to check my email, and saw the Times headline, which was, at first, done in caps: BIN LADIN DEAD (just as on Sept. 12th the headline across its front page was also — do you recall? – in caps: AMERICA ATTACKED). And when I read that he didn’t just die, but that he was killed in an operation carried out by our troops, I found myself bursting into tears. This is a cathartic moment. And I shed tears of gladness and relief that justice has finally been done. And tears of sadness at why it had to be done.
I’ll tell you this as well. Jimmy Carter sent helicopters into Iran to free the American hostages, and failed miserably. It made him, and us, look bad, and left the hostages to suffer that much longer. To attempt this again – to launch a similar military incursion, based on intelligence reports, into a foreign, Muslim land we were not at war with — this took guts. Outside the White House tonight, the crowd was chanting USA! It was also, for a while, chanting YES WE CAN! For whatever else our president is remembered for, what happened last night may be what earns him a place in the history books as well as in the hearts of his countrymen and women. That he may be remembered not for the lives he saved with his health care bill, but for the one he ended, only speaks to the times we live in.
It’s his victory, and ours. And as a New Yorker, I salute him.