Saturday, September 15, 2007

Six years ago (plus a few days)

To me, this is the most haunting and horrible part of 9/11 -- the people above the floors where the planes hit, unable to escape, forced by heat and smoke into a desperate decision. None of them survived. Many of other images from that day – including the the planes hitting (American 11 and, 17 minutes later, United 175) – still seem surreal, perhaps even more so six years later. I can't help looking again at these pictures, reading the timeline and pondering the statistics. I even found this video and watched it, though it's labeled "graphic" and I suspect a lot people would refuse to do so if given the chance, just as many Americans were outraged by the publication of this famous photo of an unidentified man falling – a photo that doesn't identify the subject or show any grisly details of injury or death. Why are people upset at seeing an image of a real person about to die (and die with some dignity resulting from their conscious decision, one might argue) when it doesn't bother many of the same people to see fictionalized but much more brutal depictions of mutilation and death in movies? I honestly don't know the answer but would be interested in what others think.

Conversely, what is it about human nature – or maybe just the nature of a few weird humans like me – that makes disaster, even the real thing, so gripping? The twin towers were the tallest pair of buildings in the world for a time, which apparently stimulated the imagination of numerous people even while construction was still going on. "The Towering Inferno" movie, filmed when the towers were a year old, was based on two different novels – both "inspired by the construction of the World Trade Center towers and concerns over what would happen if a fire broke out in a large high-rise tower," according to Wikipedia. I read those books, and one of them included a scene where one of the characters either jumped or fell from a skyscraper window as the flames and smoke roiled behind her. I doubt the novelist and scriptwriters could imagine dozens of people doing this in real life, and on purpose. Nor did they envision a collapse of two adjacent skyscrapers within minutes of each other.

Six years later, of course, the story is still being written. The buildings are gone, though unfortunately but the man wondering what the fuck to do while reading "My Pet Goat" is still here. We're stuck in a quagmire in Iraq because Goat-Boy pulled a bait-and-switch and convinced enough people that somehow Saddam=Osama. The world has been rocked by more attacks sponsored or inspired by al Quaeda, and violent Islamic fundamentalism is at center stage. And that scene of destructive aftermath that eerily resembles a Christmas morning after a light dusting of snow? It's gone too, but not surprisingly, that "dusting" – tons of pulverized cement, glass and other materials that filled the air – may wind up causing as many premature deaths from lung damage suffered by firefighters and cleanup workers as the plane crashes and collapses did on 9/11. And so it goes.

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