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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.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne permalink
    May 2, 2011 5:25 pm

    Thanks, Charley, for posting Harry Waizer’s comments and for what you wrote. The taking down of Bin Laden has an anti-climatic feel to it. May this deed enable Obama and his administration go forward with the high goals and tough decisions we know he is capable of. Minor comment here: I recall September 11 occuring on a Tuesday, not a Monday. Is that revisionist history on my part? Keep up the great Ex-Joy writing. Suzanne

  2. May 2, 2011 9:29 pm

    ‎”I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King, Jr

  3. May 3, 2011 3:07 am

    9-11 was on a Tuesday. I remember because it was also voting day here in NYC. I first heard the news of the plane hitting the tower as I entered the polling area.

    Bush used 9-11 to drum up support for the war in Iraq. The Bush Administration planted a fallacious story that Saddam Hussein was part of the 9-11 conspiracy. But Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party was secularist and had nothing to do with Bin Laden. We didn’t go to war in Iraq to retaliate for 9-11. We went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein had outlived his usefulness to us, raised the risk of destabilizing the Middle East, and, consequently, raised the risk of disrupting the world’s oil markets and the global economy.

    Afghanistan, of course, is a different story.

    Bin Laden triggered a series of events that have cost many thousands of lives and many trillions of dollars. In comparison, his life is of no consequence whatsoever. I think Bin Laden himself understood this. He was not primarily concerned with living a few years more or less. He knew the stakes and was perfectly willing to die for what he believed. I see no reason to feel compassion for him.

    On the other hand, his death is tremendously cathartic for Americans who have lived in a state of war now since at least 9-11 and who have suffered at the hands of militant Islamic fundamentalism since the days of the Iranian hostage crisis. A government that doesn’t protect its people from acts of war or seek retaliation for them is failing in its most basic duty to its people.

    On the other hand, the USA was responsible for most of the ill events that it suffered — including the revolution in Iran (the CIA coup against Mossadegh) and Bin Laden (whose followers were trained and funded by Americans to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan).

    Behind militant Islamic fundamentalism lies another fundamentalism: Christian fundamentalism and the American Right with its fanatical and quite militant hatred of socialism/communism.

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