World Trade Center : 9-11 Remembered

John J. Hopkins Sep. 10, 2006, 4:11am

Director Oliver Stone has a well deserved, much cultivated reputation as a brilliant but controversial film director. With movies such as "Platoon," "Born on the Fourth of July," "Alexander," and especially "JFK," Stone is no stranger to argument.

In contrast, his newest effort, "World Trade Center," is a story plainly told, without any attempt to manipulate facts to fit a political agenda.

The story is well known - the September 11th terrorist attack on America and in particular, the collapse of the Twin Towers, focusing on the heroism of New York's Port Authority Police force in walking into to certain danger to rescue and evacuate those trapped below.

It is a powerful film, telling a familiar story with eloquent understatement. On the 5th anniversary of that long, dark day, "World Trade Center" serves as a fitting vehicle for this week's column.

The memories invoked by the release of such a movie on the eve of the 5th anniversary of 9-11 come back in a cascade of disbelief, shock, grief, anger, defiant resolve, and then, disbelief once again.

When news of the first plane striking the South Tower broke, it was initially thought to be an unbelievable act of negligence. But with the cruel speed of instant communications, we soon learned that this was no accident.

As news of a second attack in New York, together with the strike on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, it soon became painfully obvious that "America is under attack," blaring forth in round-the-clock sound bytes.

We learned in the days to follow of the courage of what we now call "first responders," the Police and Fire Departments of New York City. For a time, as a nation we stood bent but not broken, united in resolve and purpose.

Unfortunately, when you contemplate where we have journeyed in the past half decade, it seems that so many now suffer from selective amnesia.

The attacks on 9-11 have most often been compared to Pearl Harbor, but from the beginning, I thought it a poor analogy. On the "Day of Infamy," very few Americans had even heard of Pearl Harbor, much less knew where it was.

The news flashes on the radio, without the wire photographs that followed, sent listeners scurrying to the map. No such luxury of distance existed on 9-11, as multiple news outlets brought the horror home, the second plane strike and the collapse of the Towers in real time.

For me, it was very real, very personal - a frequent flyer hearing of hostages aboard highjacked airliners, an attack in a city that I had visited many times and love dearly, on a building in which I had ofttimes stood, with the most pleasant of memories. Like so many others, I felt a connection to ground zero, a connection that prompted action, an expression of the need to help by donating cash or food, or even to stand in long lines to donate blood to strangers far away.

In the weeks that followed, displays of the American Flag reached all times heights, and the unofficial National Anthem - "God Bless America" - was sung in choruses from the steps of the Capitol to every major league ballpark. It was acceptable again to be a patriot.

Five years go by and the scene changes. No longer is the nation united, or resolved. Bitter divisions have replaced expressions of patriotism, which seems to be again out of fashion.

Despite the fact that the threat remains, for some, vigilance on the wall is no longer needed. Whether sincerely motivated or driven by the base desire to just re-acquire power, they forget the lessons of 9-11, forget that the forces of Evil will not talk, reason or more importantly, surrender.

The painfully familiar photographs of the families devastated by the subway bombings in London, searching through the crowds with the a poster carrying a picture of a loved one, with a solitary plea -"Missing" - should bring the message home. But for some, even that is not enough.

I have been to ground zero, seen the ruins of what once was the symbol of New York, and indeed one of America itself, the charred walls of the adjacent buildings, and smelled the faint but pungent still lingering odor of jet fuel.

I will never forget, never surrender.

No matter your political leanings, this year, I urge you not to forget, not to surrender. An anniversary is a time to remember, to reflect and to contemplate.

Spend some time in church, say a prayer for the more than 3,000 souls lost, for thanksgiving to God for the courage of all who gave so much - the firefighter, the policeman, the ironworker, whose lungs burn with permanent fire from breathing the fumes, for the families left behind, and for the grace of providence to still guide this country.

Listen to "The Rising" by Bruce Springstein. If you have ever heard it live, with its communal healing effect, you will know why. Go in to work late, and just contemplate that awful day we all saw the face of Evil. Whatever you do, please do not make it business as usual. If we do not remember, then a victory unattainable with power is handed over by apathy.

Words in columns more often than not lack the power of the lyrics in songs. Whether it be Dylan, Springstein or in this case, Irving Berlin, lyrics can say more with less.

"God Bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night, with the light from above."

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