16, 2002—Ground Zero Plus
A Place Where Vigilance Can't Be Buried
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, July 16--Years ago, in the jungles of
Vietnam, I watched the pyres burning the bodies of victims of war,
reducing the physical form to ashes, returning it to the soil from whence
it came, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Yesterday, the final ashes of the victims of Nine
Eleven were sifted for the last time. Fresh Kill was closed,
an ironic name for a land fill facility on Staten Island, New York,
utilized to scour
through the debris shipped there from Ground Zero in hopes recovery
workers might find enough remains to identify the loss of thousands who
were not identified.
But the dust of the earth reclaimed the
particles of human presence, recycling its nutrients back into the earth,
seeding the soil with the Vigilant Spirits of those who disappeared in the
holocaust of that day, the Second Tuesday of September, 2001.
That was 307 days ago, Plus One.
My day counting excludes Ground Zero...for
to me...it was Zero Day...the hallmark of a new era...the Birth of the Era
Zero is not a number that means nothing.
It instead, is the whole of all the parts. It contains within
its orbit all the other numbers, as the womb contains the souls of all the
children it issues. Zero is the beginning, the point of
renewal, the debarkation of what can be, what is, from that which was.
That's why I shy away from the idea of an
"End Of Nine Eleven."
Ceremonies which attempt to memorialize the
dead are, to me, attempts to sweep the ashes of the dead into the past, as
we did with Pearl Harbor, or Vietnam, or Korea, or World War II, or World
In each of our conflicts we try to
"erase" the memory of "war" and "pretend" that it is over, that we are
"safe," that by crushing the "enemy" the "enemy" will be buried, never to
That isn't possible. The
"enemy," no matter what form it takes, lives. It recycles in
other forms. It appears when least expected. It waits
patiently for the Complacency of the broom trying to sweep it away to feel
it has "cleansed" the soil, then it strikes, suddenly, viciously, as it
did on September 11, 2001, at 8:43 a.m.
I can still hear the roaring of the
jetliner overhead. I can still see its gleaming underbelly rocketing
through the sky. I can still smell the scent of burning
bodies, sweet, sickening acrid fumes, violating at my nostrils.
I knew that smell well. Once
you know it, it wretches your memory. It spikes your instincts to
crouch and tense, drawing from the well of your primal nature the threat
of the Beast of Terror whose voracious appetite seems insatiable and
indiscriminate. It will eat your Loved Ones without a blink, gnaw on
the innocent, laugh as it consumes the arrogant, and belch with
satisfaction on all those who cower in its presence.
Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust.
The closing of Fresh Kill is temporary.
It will reopen again, in another place, at another time when the next
Osama bin Laden attacks in some other form.
This is not to mean we are fugitives
of the Beast. It means only we cannot turn our backs to
him. We cannot close a page of Beast Hunter and expect to sleep with
both eyes shut.
This weekend my wife and I went to
see the new movie Reign of Fire. It is about people being hunted by the
Terror of primal beasts who have taken over the earth, and spew fire from
their mouths--dragons if you will.
The surviving society had opted for
"defensive" posturing against the "Beasts Of Terror." They were
Intimidated by them, Fearful of them, and Complacent about being able to
eliminate them. Their children chanted the rules of survival,
one of which included "sleeping with one-eye open."
I was struck by the simplicity of
that command. We, as Citizens of Vigilance, need to sleep with
one eye open. Terrorism doesn't sleep. And,
employed properly, neither does Vigilance. It is only when
Vigilance shuts the other eye that Terrorism has its hey day.
In Reign of Fire, the primary treasure was
the children. They were the core of everything in the final
society, the reason to risk one's life to defeat the Beasts of Terror.
Fresh Kill's ceremony to end the
search for the remains of the deceased seemed unnecessary to me in one
aspect. Those who remained unidentified haven't passed into oblivion. They survive.
Along with those identified, they are the Sentinels of Vigilance, standing guard over the World Trade
Center, the spirits of nearly 3,000 men and women from over 80
countries--mothers, brothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts,
grandparents, loved ones--holding up their Shields of Vigilance with the
words Courage, Conviction and Right Action blazed into the steel, warding
off Terrorism's Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
Ashes to Ashes? Dust to Dust?
I believe that happens when we let
the memories of others die. The most important memory being
that of the Beast of Terror.
In my own case, I thought I left the
Beast of Terror buried back in Vietnam. Three decades later it
appeared in Lower Manhattan, jaws wide, teeth gnashing, breathing fire and
Hell, threatening to consume my children and grandchildren.
I believe when we try and close
the book on the past, we release the Beast. When we think
we can sleep with both eyes closed, the Beast opens his.
And I'm not talking about our
government, military or police or fire personnel. They are supposed
to not sleep at all, but they do. The right and left hand
doesn't know how many fingers or toes each other has. We
can't even find Osama bin Laden, let alone identify the birth of the next
So why should we, as Citizens
of Vigilance, the first line of defense against Terrorism, sleep with our
eyes shut? We shouldn't.
We can teach our children how
to sleep with one eye open by taking the Pledge of Vigilance. It's
all about keeping one eye open.
A Child of Vigilance is simply
one who understands that Terrorism takes its most beastly form in the
shroud of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency. A Child of
Vigilance is not afraid to be afraid, or to share that Fear with a Parent
or Loved One of Vigilance. He or she knows that his or her Parent of
Vigilance will help teach him or her how to hold up the Shield of Vigilance, to muster the
Courage, Conviction and take the Right Action necessary to drive the Beast
of Terror away.
There is no victory
over Terrorism. There never has been. There never
But there is a safe
ground from Terrorism. It is the high ground. It is the place
where Courage drives Fear away, where Conviction thwarts Intimidation and
where Right Action starves Complacency from metastasizing.
When we realize
that Vigilance is not just a response to Terrorism, but the front line
defense against its invasion, then our children will be able to sleep
soundly--but always with one eye open--with a constant reminder that the
presence of Vigilance is a wall separating us from Terrorism.
To July 15--Fresh Kill: Racers Of Vigilance
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