Saturday--Ground Zero Plus 81
DECEMBER 7, 1941—A DAY OF INFAMY!
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001—A DAY OF TERRORISM!
Today, obviously, is not December 7, the day sixty years ago that America
was attacked by the Japanese.
Instead, it is the
first day of December. It is a time of Vigilance. A time to
prepare for what “did happen” sixty years ago. A time to
remember we can never forget what can happen if we fall into a state of
complacency; if we aren’t keeping one eye open all the time to the message
Terrorism brings to us—the message of Vigilance. If we forget to
remember, then Terrorism seizes upon the opportunity to attack when least
expected, as it did on Sunday, December 7, 1942, or, on September 11, 2001.
In this case, we have six days to prepare to remember Pearl Harbor.
half-Century ago, America was complacent about being attacked.
Even though Hawaii was thousands of miles from the mainland, and, at the
time, not even a State of the Union, the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl
Harbor represented an assault on America. It launched us into a World
War, just as the attack on September 11 has done. Some
historians say it was the result of complacency—a lack of preparation of
mind and attitude that led us into the disaster.
then, Americans flooded to the recruiters stations across the land to sign
up and fight the “evil ones”—to defend Old Glory, and to remember the
memories of the men and women who died that day, the “day of infamy.”
December 1, 2001, we can turn our clocks back and look down the road at what
happened on December 7. If we look carefully, we will see a
nation that wasn’t vigilant—unprepared for Terrorism from another land far,
far away. Like the Terrorists of today, the Japanese agenda was
to instill fear, intimidation and complacency on America. Their
sneak attack was designed to “cripple” America’s fighting spirit, and shun
us from attacking them.
reverse happened. America’s power and might grew from a grass roots
foundation. Men and women went to war--civilians went to
building ships and planes. The entire country rallied in support
of the war effort. Unity ruled. The Evil Ones bonded
Similarly, America today has thrown its grass roots convictions and actions
into defending our country from future attacks. Rare, is the anti-war
agenda. Jane Fondas of the world are muted by a spirit far
greater than activism has known for decades. Not one single
Voice in Congress voted against the “act of war.”
Today, we are
bent on the “destruction of the enemy.” Back a half-Century ago our
final knock-out blow against the Japanese came in two nuclear bombs, dropped
on a country that had thrown the “first punch.” The random
killing of people in Japan ended the war, and, we thought, warned any nation
that an attack on America would be met with brutal retaliation. It was
a warning to the world—“don’t mess with America.”
world of Terrorism has faint memories. The bin Laden’s of modern
times know that annihilation of their armies is impossible. They are
not sovereign entities, but rather bands of gangsters who shove guns in
children’s faces and threaten their parents with the destruction of their
children if they do now kowtow to their demands. These are
not the warriors of the past. They are the monsters of the 21st
Century—men and women who will kill anyone and anything to achieve their
makes December 1st important, is that it signals the
necessity of preparedness in the future. Had America been more
vigilant back then, perhaps the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor,
and the 1,500 who were killed that day, might be living today.
If we had kept one eye open to Terrorism then, we might have thwarted
Japan’s boldness and aggression.
December 1, we must remember Pearl Harbor as a symbol of never forgetting to
remember what can happen when we let down our guard.
One day, the desire to keep one eye open to fight
Terrorism will grow tired. The eyelid will droop. We will want
to forget September 11. We will let it fade, as we let Pearl Harbor
fade. As our eyelid grows leaden, the Terrorists of the world will
watch it shut. And, as complacency grows, so will Terrorism’s
boldness. When our eye finally shuts, when we feel safe and
secure, then the unexpected will happen. The gates to our
kingdom will be opened to all the ghouls of the world.
So, today, December 1, start remembering Pearl Harbor. Keep one
eye open. Don’t wait until December 7 to remember.
Then, we might remember to not forget September 11 or the need to be Semper
Vigilantes—Always Vigilant—in our fight against Terrorism both within, and
Friday--Ground Zero Plus 80
TERRORISM’S ONE-PERCENT OF GOOD OVERPOWERS
NINETY NINE PERCENT OF ITS BAD AND ITS UGLY
I was once told by a wise old man to find at least One Percent Good in the
worst of things. Using that simple formula, I looked hard to
find something good in the aftermath of the Terrorists’ attacks on September
my One Percent Good Factor was like hunting Osama bin Laden in the ancient
caves of Afghanistan. However, I was luckier than our Special Forces
scouring a far-off land in search of the “evil doers.” My hunt ended
at the annual Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree
I had read the history of the tree’s lighting. In 1941, just
after the attack on Pearl Harbor, New Yorkers lit the tree but not candles
in the buildings’ windows, as was originally planned. Until 1945, they
exercised a blackout on the tree lights to preserve electricity and to keep
the city safe from “sneak attack.”
Times have changed.
In 2001, sixty years after Pearl Harbor, the citizens came to celebrate
their heroes of September 11 in blazing color. They came to
honor the “victims,” and to “rejoice” in America’s recovery from a stunning
blow to her security and sanctuary. The Associated Press quoted
a24-year-old, Breena Salberg, of Rockland County, who summed up the power of
Americans to stand tall in the face of danger.
“I figured that
after all we went through,” she said, “we might as well come down and face
our fears. New York is still the best!”
comment and the lighting of the tree were two more symbolic arrows in the
quiver of America’s Vigilance to stand tall in the face of Terrorism’s
nefarious shadow. Terrorism’s goal is to inflict fear,
intimidation and complacency upon its victims—both during the attack, and in
the shock waves that follow. Fortunately, America hasn’t
cowered. It held its World Series with the President of the United
States throwing a perfect strike. The wife of one of the victims
of the flight heading to crash into the White House rode on the same flight
her husband took that ill-fated day, sitting in the same seat he had been
assigned to show Terrorism fear wasn’t an option.
despite the anthrax attacks and warnings of bin Laden that he would attack us
again, has fought Terrorism’s fear with courage, its intimidation with
conviction, and complacency with action. The “evil one” hasn’t
fragmented America, but instead, has unified it. And the Rockefeller
Tree Lighting was just one more punctuation point I wanted my grandson to
lock into his thesaurus of memories.
I felt all these
glorious feelings about the tree lighting for about an hour. But
as the clock ticked and the waiting and standing and pushing and jostling
began to wear on me and the 45-pound five-year-old I had safely tucked on my
shoulders to avoid being crushed into mulch, I grew more and more restless.
Matt, sitting on my shoulders, had a prime view of a dark tree and the backs
of people’s heads. I asked him how he was doing. He leaned
down and yelled loudly in my ear: “G-Pa, I’m bored!”
hours of him squirming on my shoulders, draping himself around my neck like
a human scarf, telling me stories about how the tree’s roots held it in the
ground, and why the star was shaped the way it was for angels to sit on—we
finally asked somebody what time the lighting was going to take place.
When they said “about
nine-o’clock,” Matt immediately had to go to the bathroom and so did I.
We had already been mushed into a sandwich of “early-bird” bodies for over
two hours. Staying meant another two-hours of being crunched until the
lights went on. We decided to bail out for one good reason.
I didn’t want Matt to remember the historic event as the night he peed on
“Want to go to the
toy store?” I asked, knowing the answer before the question passed over my
Yes!” Matt exclaimed.
We jumped the
restraining fences corralling the crowd. There was no way we could push and
shove our way to the front to be released by one of many hundreds of police
herding the masses. As we left, we immediately collided with throngs
of people mashing and squishing their way toward the Plaza. The battle
to move forward was not unlike swimming upstream in a flood. Finally, we
broke out onto 5th Avenue and started walking up the street
toward the toy store.
where I found the One Percent of Good.
Everywhere I looked, American Flags prominently blended into the Christmas
decorations. The Christmas lights--usually white--were a mixture
of reds, whites and blues. The finest stores in the world
displayed America’s colors, some with masterful elegance, others lighting up
Peace Symbols artfully so the political versus the seasonal didn’t clash.
Elizabeth Arden’s front window displayed a graceful American Flag along with
the words “Peace To All.”
was still alive, I thought. As the Season of Joy neared, I had
wondered if perhaps America’s previous complacency might settle in and
evaporate the unification that had been the hallmark of the Terrorist
fallout. Pre-September 11, America was divided into social,
political, economic, ethnic and religious camps—each fighting one another to
either gain or retain control as the “dominant” source of freedom, or the
greatest “victim” of it.
As Matt and I
strolled up 5th Avenue, peering into the windows of some of the
world’s most renowned stores, America’s Flag flew at high mast.
Store window after store window glittered and sparkled, not with just the
commercialization of the Holiday, but instead brightly reflected the spirit
of American strength and commitment. Norman Rockwell, who had so
reverently displayed on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post Americana in
its most humble and simplistic forms, would have been proud.
I realized I was witnessing
the Spirit of September 11--not just at Rockefeller Center, in the symbol of
a giant Norway Spruce with 30,000 lights and a star atop it—everywhere I
looked. I saw people consuming the joy of unity.
I thought about all those
who had died that terrible Second Tuesday of September in the tragic event
that scarred America’s heart and soul. I thought of the power of
their sacrifice to unify a nation—five-thousand citizens—giving their lives
so that 300 million other Americans might cast aside their prejudices, their
bigotry, their self-pity, their separatism, their disunity.
I felt their presence in the atmosphere. Their spirits were not
limited to Rockefeller Center; they were the ambience of the night.
They were alive and re-spiritualizing the value of being an “American.”
underscored that feeling. He danced and skipped up the street, eyes
agog as he stared into store windows gleaming with figures and characters of
the Holiday. Each display was anointed with red, white and blue
lights, or the American Flag, or some message designed to make the viewer
proud of our homes, our country, of our citizenship.
For the first time in
thirty-five years, I felt proud of America. When I came back from
Vietnam, Americans spat on me, called me a “baby killer,” and admonished me
and all my comrades
for fighting a
“dirty war.” The ripping and shredding of America’s patriotic
threads post-Vietnam seemed to be re-stitched, re-strengthened—at least for
me. It was as though those 5,000 heroes of September 11th
had sewn back the fabric of Americanism—not just the “rah rah rah”
militaristic patriotism—but the kind that makes you proud to be one.
The kind that crosses ethnic, political, religious, cultural barriers as a
brotherhood and sisterhood of citizenship should be.
As Matt and I waltzed
through the Walt Disney store on Fifth Avenue, and his face beamed at a part
of the magic that has made America great, I felt that those who had died on
Nine Eleven left a legacy of unity for all of us to cling to in desperate
While there was no
justification for their deaths, there was “value” in their sacrifice.
The compensation for their loss of life came in the unification of a nation
around their memories as Americans who died in honor, not as victims of a
In memory of them, I daily
wear a black armband with the words Semper Vigilantes on it which
stands for “Always, Vigilant.” It has the date, 09-11-01
stitched under the Latin phrase. There is an American Flag in the
middle of the armband, and underneath it I had the statement embroidered:
“United, In Death and Life” to symbolize the power of their memory—that
they live on as Sentinels of Vigilance, reminding me and anyone I talk to,
that we must stay unified in respect for their sacrifice.
The founders of America
knew symbols of unity were vital to the preservation of a nation of
diversity. They designed a slogan then that is as apropos today as it
was over two-hundred years ago. E Pluribus Unum—Out of many.
As Matt danced about, face
beaming, I felt the Tree Of Unity being lit. It was inside us.
It was shining out through Matt’s eyes, and all the children in the store,
on the streets.
E Pluribus Unum.
thought. The lighting of the American Spirit of “unity and vigilance”
was the One Percent Factor. The good that resulted from the
horror was the unity of a nation and its families and its children.
Now, the challenge was to
keep the vigilance so that the unity would last beyond the Holiday, and into
the coming year, and the years following.
If we could always
remember to be Semper Vigilantes, then those who died would never have died
Vigilance would keep them
sitting on the star atop the Christmas Tree as long as we didn't
forget to remember.
To: "Proud To Be An American"
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