A Layman's Guide To WWIII:
By Kevin Filan
It's like nighttime there. I didn't hear any screaming, just dead, dark silence.
Officer Tyrone Dux, NYPD on Ground Zero, September 11, 2001
After the towers collapsed, triage centers all around Ground Zero waited for the survivors who never came. Every hour brought a new rumor - a busboy pulled unharmed from the remains of Windows on the World, four firemen extricated from their hook-and-ladder truck, a secretary found alive in an air pocket that was once a stairwell - and every rumor brought a new denial. On September 12 the city was covered with flyers seeking the missing. By October MISSING became REST IN PEACE, and SEEKING INFORMATION became NEVER FORGET. And the triage centers worked overtime treating those injured in the endless search for the dead.
I'd prefer right now that there are no remains identified, so I don't have to think about what the particular remains found mean as to the way he died . I'd prefer, in my mind, to somehow think that there was this total instantaneous disintegration and that his remains haven't been sitting in a refrigerated trailer all this time
Beverly Eckert, wife of 9/11 victim Sean Rooney
When a 110-story building falls, it pulverizes everything in the vicinity. At the Fresh Kills landfill searchers combed through the WTC debris looking not for bodies but for scraps of biomatter. Some of the dead were identified by DNA analysis, others by personal effects pulled from the chaos - a photo ID, a badge, an engraved wedding ring. A few families received multiple notices as different fragments were identified. Most received nothing at all. On May 30, 2002, the last day of the cleanup, rescue workers carried out an empty stretcher in honor of the 1,700 who were utterly obliterated.
... beyond the compelling need to make this a monument to world peace, the World Trade Center should … become a representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.
Minoru Yamasaki, chief architect of the World Trade Center
September 11 destroyed 15 million square feet of office space outright and left another 10 million uninhabitable. It also threatened the "bathtub," the 70-foot high retaining wall surrounding the WTC's foundation. If breached, it could send the Hudson River pouring through the subways… and there was no way of getting through the closely-packed debris to ascertain the extent of the damage, or to know if the walls would hold once the supporting rubble was taken away. Despite these obstacles, the wreckage was removed in a matter of months. The cleanup may be the only public works project in the city's history completed ahead of schedule. It is a testament to New York's energy … and our need to forget.
New Yorkers didn't admire the buildings. Most people thought they were ugly boxes. But we miss them in part because a city like New York, the biggest city in the richest nation in the history of humankind, must have an architectural statement on a monumental scale.
When the Towers were erected, they overshadowed everything else in New York. The Woolworth's Gothic façade; the sharp sparkling pinnacle of the Chrysler; the towering monument of the Empire State Building - all were diminished before the vast shoeboxes jutting from Lower Manhattan like glass teeth. Some critics reviled it as an architectural monstrosity: others saw its enormity as a symbol of American greed and hubris. Even before it was finished the World Trade Center was a target.
When the wind changes you immediately see people don their respirators. Because respirators are such a pain in the butt to wear continuously, some people only end up using it when the wind changes. And when the wind comes your way, this "other" smoke comes with it. In that smell is the smell that makes you wish you hadn't gone into the zone in the first place.
The planes which hit the World Trade Center carried approximately 24,000 gallons of jet fuel each. The ensuing explosion sent up a black smoky pillar visible from space. For months the fire burned at Ground Zero, fed by ruptured gas mains and flammable wreckage. Officials tried to reassure a worried public that the air was safe, even as tests revealed high concentrations of asbestos, benzene, dioxins, lead and sulfuric acid. Some compared the smell to molten aluminium, others to the electric tang of nearby lightning or the stink of charred hair. When the wind was right you could smell it fifteen miles away.
The only good thing to come of this is people walking by and saying, 'I was always afraid to talk to you.' I say, 'Why?' Then they thank me. I want to thank them back, because I don't feel I'm the only one suffering. The whole neighborhood is suffering with us
Bob Barrett, NYFD
In an average year 100 American firefighters are killed in the line of duty: between 1865 and 2001 744 New York firefighters lost their lives on the job. 343 firemen died on September 11: Ladder Company 132, Ladder Company 105, Engine Company 33, all five of the elite Rescue Companies and thirty other fire companies were wiped out entirely. Many were killed in the second collapse. They saw Tower 2 go down, yet still ran into Tower 1 to rescue survivors. In the beginning, the Fire Department had complete access to Ground Zero. Its members put out fires and searched for survivors, then for remains of their dead colleagues, even as the dust and toxic air led many to develop persistent chest pains and coughing fits. Later the Giuliani administration, heeding the advice of safety experts, tried to limit the number of firefighters at Ground Zero. In the ensuing riot, five police officers were injured and a dozen firemen arrested.
This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow--
First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--
All through autumn New York's darkness was lit by candles. We walked about in a daze, performing dimly remembered rituals to pacify the dead. Jew and Christian, believer and atheist, saint and infidel: we were all united in our respect and our fear. Memorials are about forgetting, not remembering; they help us to transform our wounds into scars. Policemen and firefighters become colossi standing tall amidst the ruins that claimed so many; brothers and sisters, lovers and friends, are reduced to images standing silent eternal watch over those left behind.
Why do you cry?
My heart is bitter.
Let God come forth to justify
Few events have inspired as much bad art as September 11. All around the globe people have been inspired to write lyrics that would shame a country & western singer. Doggerel is the most heartfelt form of poetry; pure emotion, untrammelled by style and unconcerned with substance. Maybe the rhymes are forced and the images clichéd, but the sentiment is genuine. A year ago I might have sneered at the crying eagles and angels. Now that would feel vaguely obscene, like a leper mocking another leper's sores. When you ride the subway past a 16-acre charnel house five days a week, good art feels just as inadequate as bad.
Here all things scream silently, and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself turning gray.
And I myself am one massive, soundless scream
above the multitudes buried here.
Five days after the collapse I returned to downtown Manhattan. Powdered cement lay ankle-deep all around. Soldiers left bootprints as they marched unsmiling around the perimeter. Above the hastily-erected barricades a steel shard reached toward the sky like something trying to claw its way out of hell. The vendors hadn't made it to Ground Zero yet: you had to go uptown to buy your 9-11 NEVER FORGET baseball cap or your THE REAL TWIN TOWERS: NYPD/NYFD T-shirt. More than anything else, that brought the real scope of the disaster home for me. The vendors represent what our enemies hate most about America - our ability to turn anything into a business opportunity. We make million-selling novels and summer blockbusters out of atrocities, and turn battlefields into theme parks. When even our entrepreneurs respect the dead, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
Well, men are men. They can't tell the truth even to themselves.
The starving child lies curled in the road, her bones jutting beneath her tightly-stretched skin like shards of broken building: behind her a plump vulture waits patiently. After Kevin Carter took the picture he sat beneath a tree for a long time, smoking cigarettes and drinking bourbon and crying softly to himself. Two years later he attached a rubber hose to the tailpipe of his truck and took his own life. "I'm really, really sorry," he explained in a note left on the passenger seat beneath a knapsack. "The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist."
My name is Kevin Filan. I am an alcoholic. It has been almost seven years since my last drink. On the morning of September 11, 2001 it had been nearly six. I wish I could say my strength of will kept me sober, but it was only my fear. I knew that if I started drinking again I wouldn't just be teetering on the edge of the abyss; I would be diving in head-first, grinning madly at the ground as it rose to greet me. Besides, falling off the wagon would have meant admitting that I was actually feeling something. Every time I felt anything I remembered the smell of that reeking open grave. I remembered that I was alive and there were so many people that weren't and how dare I feel sorry for myself? And so, like every other survivor in New York, I just kept on moving ahead and hoping nobody would notice how close I was to screaming.
Now that they're taking down the flags, and now that the air doesn't stink like hot metal and jet fuel, we're supposed to pretend it's all over. But since it happened we've been pretending it was all over; the truth is that it's only just begun. We've got to stay strong for the War Effort, or we have to stay strong to fight the War Effort. We have to bomb the shit out of the fucking towelheads, or we have to save the lives of the Afghani children. There's no time to fall apart when people are dying.
I started writing this column because I thought knowledge could overcome fear. I thought if I understood the conflicts I could rise above them, if I knew the anger I could defuse it, if I could trace the bullet's trajectory it might leave me unscathed. Of course I was wrong. Knowledge doesn't guarantee your safety any more than clearing a runway in the jungle guarantees the planes will come. I know this now. Still I keep studying, like some tribesman waving a flashlight at the bright pitiless sky and hoping for cargo. And I keep thinking of Kevin Carter, and trying to get the taste of blood and automobile exhaust out of my mouth.