Monday -- June 17, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 278
Picking The Bones Of The Dead
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
These are qualities which cannot be picked from their bones by any