The VigilanceVoice

November 21 - - Ground Zero Plus 71

            I had a dream last night.  In it, a Terrorist plane filled with thousands of pounds of jet fuel smashed into the American Constitution, ripping it in half.   In the dream, I saw thousands upon thousands of our precious Pledge Of Allegiance floating toward the rubble-strewn earth, and watching them burn were the children of America—tears welling in their eyes, their faces blank, their eyes empty with the pain of losing something generations upon generations had given their lives and blood to protect.
            Terror comes in many forms.
            Why the dream was so important to me is that I have a relative who has a son named Adam, representative of the “first man”—symbolic of the innocence a child brings to this earth until the “apple is forced into his mouth.”   Then paradise is Terrorized.   In Genesis, the story goes that “evil tempted Adam,” and cast Adam along with  Eve into the “naked Terror of the world.”
            I felt that way about my grandson.   At kindergarten, he is learning to say the Pledge of Allegiance.   There is nothing that sears pride into a grandparent than to see a little child put his hand over his heart and recite the words of the Pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands; One Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for  all.

           The first time he stumbled through it, I felt tears well in my eyes.   A veteran of Vietnam, and a “flag waver,” I felt the power of the word “allegiance” being passed from generations past to my grandson as he spoke the words.   Also, his parents are social justice advocates, and the idea that there would be “Liberty and Justice for all” was a perfect punctuation to the Pledge.  It fit both my own criterion and his parents’ sense of equality for all.
            But the dream I had last night ripped those words from his mouth, and Terrorized them.   The dream wasn’t a nightmare.  It was real.
            In the fell swoop of a President’s pen, the “Justice for all” part of the Pledge had been expunged.   Military tribunals have been authorized in secret.   Suspected Terrorists can be tried, convicted and executed without the right of defense, without public trials.  
            John Ashcroft, Attorney General for the United States, stated:  “Foreign terrorists who commit war crimes against the United States, in my judgment, are not entitled to and do not deserve the protection of the Constitution.”
            Time Magazine reports that over 5,000 uncharged foreign nationals are being interviewed, and 1,200 have been detained.  All without Constitutional protection.
            I understand military tribunals.  In Vietnam I went to the Blue Dragon Battalion, a fierce fighting unit from South Korea that served as a potent ally with us during the fighting of the Viet Cong.   One of the Korean soldiers was accused of raping a villager.   The commander held the trial.   The woman accused him in front of the battalion.   The soldier was brought up to the commander.  So all could see, the commander took out his .45 caliber pistol and shot the accused in the head.
            Justice was swift that day, but was it “just.”    No one will ever know because the trial didn’t offer any evidence other than the accuser.   Back in my unit, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, a rape case of similar nature was underway.   One of the Marines had gotten drunk and raped a woman villager.   I sat in on that trial.  The peasant woman sat huddled and frightened outside the tent waiting to testify against the American.    She was shaking as they led her into the tent.   She mustered the courage to speak out the accusation angrily, telling what he had done to her.   The accused did not deny raping her.  His lawyer, appointed by the commander, presented his case.  He was drunk.  He was not responsible for his actions.  He had a Bronze Star.  He was a war hero.  
            The officers of the court conferred, and found the Marine “not guilty” of rape for reasons of “temporary insanity due to alcohol.”   The commander noted that the judgment was made in part because of the Marine’s outstanding record of “heroism in the field.”
            I remember the look on the Vietnamese woman’s face.   It was filled with hate, not terror.  And I remember the smirk on the Marine’s face who was set free.   And the handshakes of his defense lawyer.
            “Justice for all?”
            As a Parent of Vigilance, a Grandparent of Vigilance, and a Citizen of Vigilance, I find it incomprehensible that a nation who has prided itself on bending over backwards to allow our Constitution to embrace all people—especially the most heinous of criminals such as Timothy McVeigh who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City—would let the United States government destroy the “Justice for all” portion of our Pledge of Allegiance.
            What do I tell my grandson
            “Matt, Justice for all excludes anyone we think is a Terrorist.  And, if the government unilaterally decides it wants to include people who protest war, or don’t agree with their policies, then we could become Terrorists too.   So, from now on, when you say the Pledge, just mumble the words, Justice for all.   Or, better yet, say, Justice for Some.”
            As a Parent of Vigilance I have a duty to not just whine about this issue.   In keeping with the Three Shields of Vigilance, I must find the Courage, Conviction and Action necessary to lodge my fears and concerns that the U.S. government is destroying the rights of my grandchildren, and my children.

            I’m writing letters.  I’m publishing my thoughts.   I’m telling my grandson and children to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance.  
            Terrorism from within our country is far more devastating than anything from without, I believe.

            If  the U.S. government looks at its decision to secretly try and convict Terrorists, it will see Air Force One flying toward the U.S. Constitution, bent on smashing it and its principles with far more viciousness and insidiousness than the Terrorists’ planes that attacked the World Trade Center on September 11.

            Courage, Conviction, Action.    Write your Congressperson today.   Voice the concerns of your children, and their children’s children.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands; One Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for  all.

                                                  Cliff McKenzie

Nov. 20, Tuesday--Ground Zero Plus 70

            I was listening to television last night as I worked on the web page, cocking one ear toward MSNBC's "Hardball” and the constant flood of anti Terrorism information, and one eye trying to focus on the words my fingers were writing. 
            The words “dirty bomb” caught my attention. 
            The commentator’s guest was talking about bin Laden pulling off one last gasp of Terrorism before he got blasted into a zillion pieces, or, was captured and paraded as the 21st Century Hitler.
            Apparently, he has been bragging over the years of making a “bomb,” and the commentator, a former CIA agent, was talking about whether he had the capacity to create a nuclear explosion—his swan song to a legacy of Terror that has infected the world, and especially driven its fecal-tipped wedge into the heart of America.
            While it was assumed he didn’t have all the technology to assemble and detonate a nuclear device as we know them, the CIA guest was more concerned with the ability he had to release either around Wall Street or Washington, or some other major selected site, a “dirty bomb” that would release nuclear radiation and render unusable the real estate it afflicted for miles and years until the radioactivity dissipated. 
            I shuddered.
            For whatever reason, Terrorism’s Fear gripped me as I thought about the pollution of radioactive waste some Terrorist cell leader might ignite either upon bin Laden’s death, or his capture as a form of retaliation, or symbol of horrible tribute to his fallen leader’s name.
            “Dirty Bomb!”
            The words crept through me.   They brought back memories of when I was a child in school after the end of World War II when the sirens would go off for our “nuclear bomb drills.”

            We would crawl under our desks and pull our shirts over our necks, huddled like frightened mice until the “All Clear” horn sounded.  As I huddled on my knees, head bent down against the dirty floor, visions of a white explosion ran through my mind, and human bodies seared of their flesh, leaving nothing but glowing skeletons raced around my mind.   I often saw the mushroom cloud rising, and images of the horrific blast smashing through the windows and buildings, and then sucking everything back toward the blast’s epicenter like a great wave receding, taking everything out into the empty, black sea.
            As a child of the Atomic Age, I grew up with the constant fear of nuclear attack.   I always wondered back then why my parents didn’t build a bomb shelter and stock it with food like you saw on news clips at movies.   It seemed to me the only place we ever were protected was at school.
            Some of the drills included us all marching down the stairs quietly and lining up in the hallways near the lockers.   We would kneel down on the cold floor in a long line, children on each side of the hall, kneeling, pulling the clothing over the neck and head, and locking our fingers behind our heads and waiting for the wailing siren of Fear to stop so we could return to class.
            I remembered all this last night—like a flash photograph in my mind—drawing me back to the Terrorism that existed then of Russia sending its nuclear missiles to my hometown, obliterating everyone.
            We were schooled in radioactivity.   What to eat.  What not to eat.  How to wash ourselves if we got exposed.  The signs of nuclear sickness.   I remember the stories about how your teeth fell out, and often had dreams of being exposed and walking around as each of my teeth just crumbled in my mouth, or dropped out as I took a bite of food.
            But the worst memory was of that ghastly silence of the soul, that impaled fear of the heart as you knelt down, covering yourself with your clothes, waiting to die in the mock drill of death.
            Hollywood at that time wasn’t kind to us children.    It seemed the movies were constantly showing the effects of destruction from nuclear holocaust.  Everyone was dead but for a few people, mostly adults—usually an Adam and Eve figure.   I always wondered why children never survived in those movies.  
            Then, over time, the Fear of nuclear war ebbed.  The bomb shelters seemed to melt away into storage bins; the drills stopped.   People began to lessen their concern for “radioactive poisons” and “nuclear holocausts.”  I suppose that happened because time passed and nothing happened.   Complacency took over.  And why not?   Living in Fear is not a pleasant experience.
            But all those old fears revisited me last night.
            Instead of myself being the “victim” I saw my grandchildren and daughters and son-in-law suffering.   All the old images of “horror” and “destruction” roiled through my mind.  I even dreamt of my teeth falling out last night.
            My point with the “Dirty Bomb News” is that Terrorism of the child doesn’t ever go away.   The feelings I just related were feelings I felt a half-century ago, that were buried deep inside some aging gray matter, doing pushups, waiting for a bin Laden to release them with some horrible image of destruction.
            The reality of the situation represented a “clear and present danger,” however.   I knew much of the nuclear material formerly guarded by Russia had been “missing,” and the scientists who worked on them were also “missing” in many cases.  Both the materials and resources were “floating around” the third-world countries, sought by tyrants like bin Laden to increase their power and threats.
            The feelings of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency rattled around inside me—for what could I do to possibly ward off the evils of a “dirty bomb’s” impact on my progeny, or their progeny, or any child for that matter?  The best I could do is teach them how to kneel down and cover their heads, or, how to wash off cans before they opened them.   
            I wasn’t even sure if New York City or its citizens knew what a nuclear siren sounded like, that slow, grinding wail that sent shocks through the system as its ghostly moan filled the air as though the sound was stalking you, hunting you down no matter how deep was the hole you crawled into.
            Where would I find the Courage, Conviction and Action necessary to battle this new Terrorism that filled my mind with memories of the past?
            My solace was that I knew there was a solution.   Instead of facing Fear alone, I knew I had the Three Shields of Vigilance to protect myself.   I could look for Courage.  I could seek Conviction.  And, I could take Action.    I could find some way to communicate my experience to my children and grandchildren—what little I knew.  And, by itself, that was comforting.      
            “Dirty Bomb,” I thought.   After all these years, the “dirty bomb” had returned to haunt me.   Or, perhaps, I thought, to test me.   Perhaps it was another way I could remind myself that being a Grandparent Of Vigilance, a Parent of Vigilance, a Husband of Vigilance, a Brother of Vigilance, a Nephew of Vigilance—wasn’t such a bad idea after all.   At least I had a purpose.   At least Fear, Intimidation and Complacency couldn’t steal from me the responsibility I knew I had to find Courage, Conviction and Action to replace them.
            That’s when I realized my teeth had not fallen out!  Not yet, at least.
                                                                                               Cliff McKenzie

Nov. 19--Monday--Ground Zero Plus 69

 A lesson in parenting from the man who designed the Twin Towers

              It was hard for me to imagine watching the largest, most grand buildings I had engineered, crumbling before my eyes, killing thousands.
                Yet that’s Leslie E. Robertson, 73,one of the main engineers responsible for the structure of the Twin Towers, did on September 11, as he watched the Twin Towers implode and kill 5,000 people.
                Structural engineers are responsible for assuring the edifices built can withstand the gravity of the wind, rain, sleet, snow, the earth shaking and fires raging.   But few are built to withstand the impact of jetliner carrying 10,000 gallons of jet fuel.   Nevertheless, Robertson carries the weight of thousands of deaths upon his shoulders because “he was responsible.”   

Leslie Robertson

                The comparison to the impact of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers is best expressed by what happened in the Oklahoma City bombings.   In relation to that attack, the energy released in Oklahoma is estimated to be equivalent to 51 gallons of jet fuel, versus the 10,000 gallons that filled the tanks of the terrorists’ planes.    That’s nearly 200 times the amount of energy.
                Robertson, known as the “man who designed the Twin Towers,” (he worked with a team but is touted as the “designer”) looks out of his 48-story office window every day in lower Manhattan at the gaping hole with plumes of ghostly smoke rising from the bowels of the building, and is constantly reminded of what happened that day to his monument, and to the lives of the those trapped inside.
                One consolation he has is that 25,000 people escaped the holocaust.  Still, he thinks constantly, “what could he have done better that might have caused the building to stand another minute, or two extra minutes, or three.”    The South Tower lasted one hour and eleven minutes before it collapsed.  The first plane hit it at 8:46 a.m. and it fell into itself at 9:59—an hour and eleven minutes.   The North Tower was struck at 9:06 and it imploded at 10:28 a.m.—an hour and twenty-two minutes.
              Robertson is like the fireman who, exhausted, legs shaking from carrying out helpless people from the ruptured viscera of the building, wonders if he could have saved “one more person” had he not fallen from exhaustion.   He’s like the emergency services paramedic who couldn’t stop the bleeding to the jugular of the man who died in his arms, or the port authority officer who was trapped in the rubble next to his friend who kept saying, “don’t forget I died trying to save you,” and couldn’t do anything about the death of his buddy, his pal.
             The weight of five thousand deaths blurs the imagination, yet I was part of the death of over a million people in Vietnam—my own comrades, the enemy, and hundreds of thousands of civilians caught in the cross-fire.   But today’s news is about Robertson.   It’s about the yoke of responsibility he carries, and will carry, until he passes from this earth.
              But his weight will be minor compared to a parent of a child who ignores the warnings of Terrorism and becomes Complacent, thinking the “world of Terrorism” will end with the deaths of bin Laden and his crew.
             Like Robertson, a parent is a “structural engineer.”   It is a parent’s responsibility to build the structure of a child to withstand the countless attacks of Terrorism that will do everything in their power to try and crumble a child’s “Twin Towers.”    In Robertson’s case, nearly 83% of the people in the building got out of it, and 17% died.

            Structurally, if a parent builds a child’s mind to withstand the pressures and gravity of Terrorism—Fear, Intimidation and Complacency, and a child is able to withstand the pressures of life by 83%, that’s a pretty good achievement.   I do not mean to statistically demean the victims of the tragedy—those 17%--who gave their lives that day, but I wish to illustrate the point of sound engineering in a child.
             The entire structural engineering community today is pouring over the reasons why the buildings fell.  Their investigation includes why it withstood the shock of being ruptured as long as it did, and, how it could have been built better so it might have stood another minute, or ten minutes, or an hour.  The most powerful of all goals of the research is how it might not have fallen at all.
             If a parent is a “structural engineer” of a child’s self-image, of a child’s “structural integrity,” then what are parents doing each day to reinforce the child’s infrastructure to battle the onslaught of Terrorism?   How are parents fighting the dangers of  Fear, Intimidation and Complacency to assure a child won’t crumble and fall under the weight of a Terroristic Thought such as “I’m too fat,”  or, “I’m too ugly,” or, “I’m not smart enough,” or, “I’m not good enough," or, "Why don't you love me?"
              Parents need to heed the issue facing Robertson and all the structural engineers of this nation and the world.    “How to build better children!”    A building is a living organism.  Like a child, it  is designed to last “forever.”   In the formative design, the issue facing all structural engineers is “gravity.”   How can you build something that will withstand all the pressures you can imagine, all the events you can conjure?
            The first step, of course, is the foundation.   If the foundation isn’t properly created, “the roots”, then the superstructure is in peril.
            Are we, as Parents of Vigilance, building our child’s sense of Courage, Conviction and Action daily?  Are we examining all the different ways to protect a child from Fear, Intimidation and Complacency?   Do we make that our “prime directive” when our child awakes, and before we tuck the child in?   Or, is it something we wait for until a September 11 happens to think about?   Does it take the awful crumbling of a building and the deaths of thousands for us to reexamine our roles as “structural engineers” of a child’s self worth?
           I’ve hammered you with a lot of questions this morning.    My goal is to have you think of the Pledge of Vigilance as a structural engineer.   If your child suffers through life on the razor’s edge of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency, it will fall back upon the drawing tables of your design.   You are the chief engineer or building your child’s foundations so he or she can withstand the shock of both large and small Terrorist Attacks on his or her self-worth.
           Are you armed to do that task?   
           If you are, then you’ve take the Pledge of Vigilance and you constantly ask yourself:  “What can I do better to help my child’s Twin Towers stand a little longer under the attacks he or she will suffer in life?”   If you are on top of the issue, Terrorism will not target your child, because you built his or her Twin Towers to be virtually indestructible.
                                                                                                             Cliff McKenzie

Go To: "Do We Tuck Our Kids In With A Semper Vigilantes?"

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