While the world watched in horror, as yet more proof of the US's disintegration into a third-world country leaked out, Allan and I were completely absorbed in our own stressful, exciting, insane week, which left no time or space for anything else. I caught the Katrina news in bits and pieces, struggling to make sense of it with what little focus I had. Weeks passed before I caught the full impact.
Right now many words are being written about both anniversaries, Katrina and 9/11. Many people continue to exploit both events for empire, nationalism and profit. Others are trying to shed light and seek truth. Some are still mourning.
I recently read two very good pieces that deal with 9/11 on a very basic, human scale.
Ellis Henican, writing for Newsday, highlights a book that challenges the ridiculous myth that Rudolph Giuliani was a hero that day.
For nearly five years now, we've all lived in the glow of "America's mayor," that soot-covered father figure who rose to meet the greatest challenge of all. Rudy standing firm in the terror aftermath. Rudy guiding a rattled city back to its feet.(Today Henican asks if you're sick of anniversaries, noting that every day is the anniversary of something.)
There was no denying this much in those early days of confusion: New York's grim-faced mayor looked a whole lot more in charge than America's deer-in-the-headlights president.
But what if Rudy's take-charge image was mostly a load of bravado and PR? What if the actual decisions he made -- before, during and after the terror attacks -- were directly responsible for the city's inability to deal effectively with crucial aspects of the crisis?
Well, it's about time someone opened that impolite inquiry.
Hold on tight, now! One of the most carefully guarded myths of 9/11 is about to be shattered for good.
"Grand Illusion," the book is called. "The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11." It is written by Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice and Dan Collins of CBS.com, two of New York's shrewdest investigative reporters. Published this week by HarperCollins, "Grand Illusion" will forever alter how the world sees Rudy Giuliani's place in America's deadliest terror attacks. You can bet national political reporters will be combing though these chapters as the 2008 presidential campaign season revs up.
Garrison Keillor asks us to hear the victims' voices, and calls on New York City to let them speak. Recently, families of September 11th victims were able to hear the anguished 911 calls they made that day - but the victims voices were beeped over. A judge declared that hearing the victims' voices would be too painful for the families! This harkens back to the days when doctors withheld information from patients and trauma survivors were told "just don't think about it". The arrogant paternalism of this judge boggles my mind.
Keillor says, "The city argued that to hear people in anguish in their last minutes constitutes invasion of privacy. The truth is that the callers had no interest in privacy - they were desperate to be heard, and censoring them now is a last insult by a bureaucracy that failed to protect them in the first place." I so agree.
Then, inevitably, politicians began to seize the day and turn it into a patriotic tableau starring Themselves. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who does not appear in a leadership capacity in the reliable accounts of that morning - who was captured on videotape fleeing uptown - soon stepped into the TV lights and put on his public face, and a few days later the Current Occupant mounted the wreckage with bullhorn in hand and vowed vengeance. The media were glad to focus on the martial moment, the flag waving over the wreckage, the theme of America United, and the anguished voices from the towers were unheard; the people who fell from high floors and smashed into the pavement were not seen on American TV. The media averted their eyes from the reality of Sept. 11 and started looking for the Message.Frank Rich pulls together the Katrina and 9/11 stories as few writers can manage.
. . .
Mr. Giuliani is still flying around giving speeches on leadership, knocking down a hundred grand per shot, getting standing ovations everywhere as a stand-in for the police and firemen who died in the towers. He has never faced up to his failure to prepare for the attack, even after the 1993 bomb explosion at the center, when it was shown clearly that police and fire couldn't communicate with each other by radio.
President Bush travels to the Gulf Coast this week, ostensibly to mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Everyone knows his real mission: to try to make us forget the first anniversary of the downfall of his presidency.I'll post the whole piece later today.
As they used to say in the French Quarter, bonne chance! The ineptitude bared by the storm — no planning for a widely predicted catastrophe, no attempt to secure a city besieged by looting, no strategy for anything except spin — is indelible. New Orleans was Iraq redux with an all-American cast. The discrepancy between Mr. Bush's "heckuva job" shtick and the reality on the ground induced a Cronkite-in-Vietnam epiphany for news anchors. At long last they and the country demanded answers to the questions about the administration's competence that had been soft-pedaled two years earlier when the war first went south.
What's amazing on Katrina's first anniversary is how little Mr. Bush seems aware of this change in the political weather. He's still in a bubble. At last week's White House press conference, he sounded as petulant as Tom Cruise on the "Today" show when Matt Lauer challenged him about his boorish criticism of Brooke Shields. Asked what Iraq had to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, Mr. Bush testily responded, "Nothing," adding that "nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks." Like the emasculated movie star, the president is still so infatuated with his own myth that he believes the public will buy such nonsense.
New York Magazine, a gossip and style weekly that occasionally runs some substance (full disclosure: this magazine screwed me royally), has an interesting take: What If 9/11 Never Happened? I haven't read this piece, but I did note that New York political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said, "Mark Green would have been the mayor. Rudy Giuliani would have been run out of town on a rail." Many good writers weigh in, including some whose opinions I loathe, whose work I won't plug here.
The best thing in this magazine is The Survivors' Circle", a round-table discussion with eight people who were in the World Trade Center when the planes struck, and got out alive. The remarkable similarities of their thoughts and feelings may surprise you. Anyone interested in post-traumatic stress syndrome, and how people are changed by trauma, should not miss this.
You've heard me mention my own marginally 9/11-related essay, comparing New York City's recovery from the attacks to my own recovery from trauma. I tried to sell it last year, then again this year, without success. It's very hard to place personal essays; there are very few markets, and about a zillion people writing them, many with brand-name bylines. Now I'm deciding whether or not to put it on wmtc.