The VigilanceVoice

Monday -- June 17, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 278

Picking The Bones Of The Dead
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, June 17--  Cannibalism comes in many forms.  Today, it manifests itself by family duels over compensation claim awarded to the victims of the September 11 Terrorist attack.
      Over $4 billion in federal government funds lures the cannibals out of hiding.   Some rush to file claims, hoping to collect either all or a major portion of the average $1.5 million settlement estimated to be granted to each victim of Nine Eleven from the Department of Justice's Victim Compensation Fund.

      In-fighting between relatives, former wives and husbands, children and relatives seeking to lay claim on the money reminds me of the ugliness of human nature once the stench of death has washed itself from one's nostrils, and the smell of money perfumes one's greed.  It is not an unfamiliar scene to me.
      In Vietnam, I witnessed many dead bodies picked over by our troops.   Not all of us were vultures, but just enough to make your stomach turn.  Anything of value found was stuffed into a pocket--a gold chain, a rosary, money, rings--even sometimes pictures of loved ones of the deceased.
      Protocol demanded each body be searched for any intelligence papers, but often such searching had a ghoulish rather than "intelligence" goal.  Many scavengers filled their footlocker with valuables from the dead,  used either to trade for supplies or to be sent back home.
      The news about family members fighting over the estates of the victims of Nine Eleven flashed those scenes back into my mind.
      I've also heard accusations from reliable sources that many Ground Zero rescue workers who came across Rolex watches on a fragment of an arm, or diamond rings still on fingers, or wallets full of cash, or bricks of gold that had been housed in offices, stuffed them in their boots, or in a bag and laid claim to what wasn't theirs.   Information and arrests of those caught stealing from the dead has been suppressed, I was told, to not taint the memory of Nine Eleven rescues, or scandalize the overall heroic effort to recover the fallen.

        I am aware there is a "scavenger nature" in all humans.  "Let nothing be wasted by death," is part of life.  In the animal world, death is simply mulch for the living.  Civilized man, however, is supposed to check his animal instincts--to rise above them.  Unfortunately, some look upon the bodies of others as one might a sunken treasure ship and claim "salvage rights" to whatever is found.  They ignore the "right of property," and cleave to the principle--"finders keepers, losers weepers."
       Scavenging the dead isn't new or foreign to human nature.   The tombs in Egypt are one small example.   Historically, warriors were compensated by what they took off their dead victims--it was their pay.  In many parts of our modern world it is still the primary source of tribute to a warrior. (see picture below of Rwanda carnage)

 The raping, pillaging and plundering of "tribal" or "ethnic" wars picks clean the victims in the warriors' paths.
       But to the "more civilized," this idea is revolting.  
       It rubs the grain of human compassion and fouls any sense of righteousness.
       Those battling over claim to the estate of a victim from Nine Eleven are taking on an ugliness not unlike the "body scavengers" who rifle through their victims on the battlefield.
        Some families--who immediately following the events of September 11, grieved in unity over the loss of a son, a daughter, a father, a mother, a brother, sister, grandparent, uncle, aunt or niece--are now bitterly battling one another for the pile of money that sprouts up from the grave of their lost one.  
       The coffin lids are being opened, and stakes are being driven in them by those laying claim to the gold buried in the victim's bones.   It is the "ghoul rush" of 2002.
       According to David Chen, reporter for the New York Times, in his June 16 story, "Lure of Millions Fuels 9/11 Families' Feuding," one mother is challenging the legitimacy of her daughter's marriage to an estranged husband.  In another story, Chen says: "The adult children of another victim are challenging the victim's second marriage, as well as the rights of the children from that union to any of the funds.  An unwed partner who shared a mortgage with two young children with another victim is quarreling with his teenage son from an earlier relationship."
       I understand the horror and Terror of such battles over the bones of the dead.
       When my biological father died, he issued a disinheritance clause in his will.  It excluded my sister and me, his first and second children born to his first wife, from any claims on the estate.  The clause not only expunged us from his life in a legal sense, but also included our children and grandchildren.
       My father died a drunk's death.   The will could have been easily contested for there was a large parcel of rich, valuable land at issue and he had rewritten his will in the last throes of his drunkenness.   Oddly, my father had called a few days before he died, telling me he loved me and wanted to get to "know me better."
       Death plays dirty tricks.
       I chose not to fight the issue.

 It was all "blood money" to me. When the battle was over, if we had won, I would have felt the stickiness of the blood on my fingers the rest of my life.  I already had far too much blood on my hands from Vietnam.
      I also chose not to fight because my half-sister would have been caught in the crossfire.   She was the heir at the expense of my sister and me.   To go to war meant we would have to accuse her of certain crimes of intent, or manipulation.   In the end, what would have been left after the lawyers' take would have been so soiled and drenched with bitterness and the value of any compensation would be nullified by the horror it cost to acquire it.
       The American Indians has a way of reducing "after-death cannibalism."   They had all their wealth piled upon their bodies and buried with them, or burned.   Each person was expected to "earn" his or her way in life.   No one waited for another to die to find "their way."
       My former secretary years ago was Warren Buffet's daughter, Suzy.   Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, is known for his belief in not passing on his wealth to his children--but instead, giving it to the world.   Each of his children have grown up with an "individuality factor," not dependent on any "estate" they might inherit.
       Some businesses such as UPS were created with "anti-nepotism" clauses to avoid similar battles.   In the company charter the children of the founder cannot rise to the top of the company by inheritance.  
       Nine Eleven battles over money saddens me.    I understand the angst of the families who have suffered economically--especially the mothers and children.  And, I understand the horrible job of those who have to make the decisions as to who is the rightful heir.  I would not want to decide which body to cut in half, as Solomon did, to seek the rightful recipient of the compensation.
       A number of years ago I enrolled in law school to "reinvent myself."  One of my favorite courses was Property Law.   I learned the complexity of passing on the wealth of one to another, and the formulas of adjudication.   Some made little sense.  All seemed open to a wide variety of interpretation and challenge.  Thus, the battle for the compensation of the victims will rage.
       But, I believe there is great treasure willed to us all from the victims of Nine Eleven that doesn't require us to fight for our right of "ownership."  It is the treasure of Vigilance.
       All of us who survived that day inherited something far more vast than any material items. which are transient in nature.   The material comes and goes, but the real treasure, the real inheritance lasts forever.
       The true estate of those who died cannot be measured monetarily.   It is the legacy of Vigilance that is the real booty.  Vigilance is composed of the jewels of Courage, Conviction and Right Action.  These are the precious legacies willed to us all by those who fell on September 11.
       What are these worth?
       They are priceless in my opinion.  They supercede any material worth, for they are immortal treasures of the human soul, brought to life in the death of those who fell and offered to each of us free of charge.  The only cost to acquire them is Vigilance.
        The battle over the material bones of the survivors represents the shallowness of human nature.   But, just beyond the shallowness is the depth.    Those who pick at the remnants of human vestiges of material wealth are like beacons, reminding us of the futility of trying to place material value on a single life.
       That's why cannibalism of the dead is so ugly.
       In Vietnam, a dead body was nothing more than mulch--just a rag doll of death after life.  I paid little heed to them as one quickly learns to deny death in any battlefield.  Were one to stop and agonize over every dead body he would die a mortal death, for the sadness would be far worse than a bullet, bomb or booby trap.  One inures himself to ignore the loss of life in war as a form of protection against falling to pieces, of crumbling.
       But the humanness of the dead was quickly erased when I would see someone picking the corpse's pockets.   As I watched them kneeling over the remains, going through their "human estate," the value of that being rose up. The dead came to life.  As the living ravaged the dead's body, I would began to see through the ugly shroud of cannibalism of the living.   I would see the spirit of the soul who once resided in the body fighting the grave robber.   That part of my humanity refused to accept the "right" of the living to pillage the "dead."  Sometimes I would get angry and make the grave robber put back anything he took.  I began to see that the dead were not dead at all...that some power of life existed in those possessions that were part of them upon their death, and that to take them without permission seemed a violation of their immorality...their right to die in honor..   

        The "grave robbers" of Nine Eleven enhances the Spirits of Vigilance.   It reinforces their value as "Souls of Vigilance."   It reminds those of us who believe no one dies without a purpose, that the material life is only a passageway to a greater goal.
        The 2,832 souls who perished at the World Trade Center are on such a journey to a greater goal.   In my estimation, hey have risen above their bodies.  The battle over their "remains" represents the folly of Human Terrorism of the dead.   Terrorism, in any form, believes it can kill Vigilance.   Terrorism believes it can drive the Spirit of Vigilance away by setting the hounds of discontent upon one another.  The "grave robbing" sets relative against relative, brother against sister, mother against daughter, friend against friend.
         Terrorism cannot defeat Vigilance unless we allow it to through Complacency.

     To battle the Terrorism of the "grave robbers" requires we, who look at the vultures picking at the bones, realize that human sacrifice far exceeds the value of $1.5 million per person, or the collective $4 billion that represents the "survivor's compensation pool."
      The compensation of the dead depreciates their real value as "heroes," and as "legacies" that cannot be bought off for a few pieces of gold as Judas tried to sell the soul of The Carpenter 1,969 years ago.
        Human sacrifice for values far beyond our imagination  will last through centuries.   The money will come and go as the wind does, but the value of what the Sentinels of Vigilance did for all of us will not perish.
        We will be reminded always they died so we might replace our Fear with Courage, our Intimidation with Conviction, and our Complacency with Right Action.
        These are qualities which cannot be picked from their bones by any vulture.