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September 13, 2006

Let’s Not Forget the Real Villains of 9/11


I still remember that day like few in my life, before or since.


Living in Hoboken, N.J., right across the river from Lower Manhattan, I woke up at around 9 a.m. and checked my e-mail. I had one from a close friend with the subject line “my mom’s okay… I think.”


“Two planes just hit the World Trade Center,” my friend wrote. But she was pretty sure that her mother had taken that day off to shop for dinner for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday scheduled for a few days later. Luckily, she was right, and her mom survived, just as she had survived the 1993 attack. But nearly 3,000 Americans that day weren’t quite so lucky.


I turned on the TV and saw that unbelievable sight, of the Twin Towers on fire. I had only moved to the New York area a year before, and the towers had been part of my knowledge of the city for as long as I’d been aware of it. And in Hoboken I lived, literally, in their shadow.


Then, after sitting dumbfounded for a few hours, I decided to go outside and walk around Hoboken. There, I saw hundreds of people walking around with their heads down, unable to comprehend what they had just seen. Walking into a bar called Hennessey’s, all I saw were a couple of dozen people, starting at CNN in stunned silence.


My reaction was to park myself in front of the TV for weeks, attempting to understand as much as I could about what had happened and why. And from that period, we can all remember bits and pieces of what followed: Rudy Giuliani’s unquestionable heroism. The Congressmen singing “God Bless America” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, signaling that brief period when it actually appeared as though partisanship was being put aside for the greater good. The terror scare at Boston’s Copley Place Hotel the next day. The days the following week when baseball and football returned to action with patriotic fervor.

All domestic political disputes aside, we were attacked that day by a vicious, vile enemy, one that hates everything that we hold dear. We owe them no apologies, and no rationalizations. It could have been prevented, with more diligence from both of the most recent presidential administrations. But, independently of other mistakes they made in their presidencies, neither Clinton nor Bush is the bad guy in the 9/11 story. Osama Bin Laden is.

In the years since the towers fell, neither political party has much to be proud of. No, there has not been another domestic attack, and for that the Bush Administration deserves credit.


But, they have not found Osama Bin Laden, they have been slow to confront terrorist regimes in Iran and North Korea, and the Iraq project has not succeeded in its objective of creating stable democracy in the Middle East. And they have mandated the use of all sorts of tactics — from torture, to secret prisons, to wiretapping of domestic phone calls — that are contrary to the American democratic spirit.


As for the Democrats, way too many of them have made it clear that they do not grasp that we are in a life-and-death struggle with an enemy that is the most illiberal force on Earth. I don’t believe the Democratic Party as a whole is soft on terror, but I do think they need to be more vocal in denouncing those who are, while making clear that Osama Bin Laden is a great deal more of a villain than Bush or Cheney ever will be.  As for the kooks in the alleged “9/11 Truth” movement, the less said about them the better.

And as disgracefully as anything else, the former sight of the World Trade Center remains mostly unbuilt five years later, due to infighting among city and state government, developers, architects and even the 9/11 families. As it often does, The Onion said it best with its headline, “NYC Unveils 9/11 Memorial Hole.”

Sadly, way too many Americans have exploited 9/11 for the past five years in order to further their own political goals, and this is something that must not be tolerated. In the meantime, we must devote today to remembering those who died on that day, and assuring that such a day never happens to us again.

© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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