17, 2002—Ground Zero Plus
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, July 17--Terrorism comes in the shape
of a crooked spine. The picture of your spine, crushed down by
gravity and years of physical activity, reminds you of your limited
nature, of the end of an era of physical agility.
I recently had two MRI's on my back,
the result of a herniated disc, between the 4th and 5th lumbar, basically
down near the small of my back. And, to top it off,
there was a big glob of tissue, "more than likely benign," shoved up against it.
MRI showing neurofibroma
My doctor is a humorous guy.
One that goes to the bottom line. "I've never seen one as big as
this--you get the prize, Cliff."
He was talking about the lump, the
big glob on the MRI about the size of six pieces of chewed bubble gum--an
alien piece of material roosting next to my spine.
As a cancer survivor (colon) I am
wary of any "lumps" or "masses" that cohere to parts of my body.
Cancer to me is physical internal Terrorism, little cells that like to eat
good cells. I find it ironic that Terrorists work in cells,
just like cancer. They seek to destroy the good and replace it
with the bad.
Big guys like me, 6-4, 270 pounds,
who have been active all their lives, tend to damage their backs, compress
the discs, weaken their ability to serve as shock absorbers.
I've done a lot of things--climbed mountains, fought in wars, lifted
weights far greater than I should, high dived yet I never gave much of a
second thought about the infrastructure of my body, the spans of the
bridge that supports my ability to stand tall, to assume an imposing
figure of bone, muscle, and (sigh) yes, some fat.
But looking at the pictures of my spine,
seeing the damage that time and gravity and weight has done, was shocking.
It tells me I am degenerating. All of us degenerate, but we don't
pay much attention to anyone else's degeneration. It's
our own that haunts us.
In Pakistan, for example, tribal leaders
retaliated against another tribe by brutally raping a young school
teacher. It was their way of preserving "honor," compensating
for one of their tribe's arrest for brutalizing a young 11-year-old boy.
I read the story this morning and thought how, in
the 21st Century, such civil cruelty can exist. It was a story
of spinal degeneration, of how modern man and modern woman has hardly
inched forward from the caves and gnawing on bones.
After the press got hold of the story, four tribal leaders were arrested
for the rape. The Pakistani government sent the victim, a young
woman who teaches school in the village, $8,000 for compensation, and
promised to build a school and pave the roads in her village. The spine
of society has its flaws too.
Then I read about the Terrorists in Spain who
were arrested with video films of various American structures such as the
World Trade Center, Brooklyn Bridge, and Golden Gate Bridge.
The article noted how the pillars of the Golden Gate Bridge were the focus
of one film, taken from all angles, as though the lens of the camera was
searching for some way to put a "cancer cell" into the pillar, to weaken
the bridge's spine, to herniate its discs with explosives.
Then there was the trial of Charles Schwarz, the
police officer accused of assisting in the broomstick sodomy of
Abner Louima five years ago. He was found guilty of perjury, and the
jury deadlocked on the other counts. Far from Pakistan, New
York City, the hub of civilization, is not that far removed from the caves
of human degeneration.
Schwartz in center
The spine of America's financial
structure is also herniated. The robber barons of Wall Street
raked in millions by selling stock before their companies were exposed for
juggling the books, cooking them, as the lingo goes. WorldCom,
Enron, Martha Stewart, all fall into the same pot as the Pakistani tribal
leaders who made up their own laws, who carried the weight of
righteousness on their shoulders, and were crushed by its weight--their
spines also herniated
by the theft of honesty, the stealing of integrity from the skeleton of
How about hormones? All over
the country women who have relied on the faith and confidence of a little
pill to help them live a more gracious and worthy life, free from the
emotional Terrorism of menopause, now face the dilemma of its side
effects. Do they continue to take the pills or stop?
Do they go back to the caves of emotional dysfunction or risk their health
and life by continuing?
Finally, there is the big flap about the
lionization of Adolph Hitler by CBS as it prepares a miniseries called
"Young Hitler," focusing on him from age 18-34. Jewish
spokespeople of the Anti-Defamation League are up in arms that the film
preens the young Hitler, perhaps creating an idol for those fringe
personalities who gravitate toward the obscenities of human nature. The
Jewish forces claim the production is "vulgar and exploitive."
Downey, Jr.- possible Hitler role
CBS president, Leslie Moonves, said he
thought Hitler was a "fascinating character."
So I got to thinking about my country's
backbone. I thought about how, as a young nation, we started
off with Puritanical principles. These led to witch hunts, and
prosecutions not unlike those in Pakistan where instead of raping women,
we burned them at the
We moved slowly through different eras, each one
seeking to shore up our spine, to give us strength to carry any weight.
We ended up in a liberal state, able to say anything, to abort our babies
at will, to make Young Hitler films to sate the public's thirst to look at
the "dark side."
Now, we have to look at our spine.
We have to look at the herniated discs of civilization, not only here, but
abroad, and ask ourselves how far out of the caves we have crawled since
the dawn of human existence.
| caves near the city of Jericho
When I was looking at my spine,
I saw the history of mankind. It was worn and fragile,
vulnerable to future damage, riddled with pain and caution.
No longer could I walk or lift or carelessly act without suffering the
consequences of destroying my infrastructure. I would have to become
more Vigilant. I would have to reduce my Fear of hurting myself with
the Courage to live within the limitations of my spine. I would have
to conjure the Conviction to not try and be what I was and to not be
Intimidated by what I had become. And, I would be forced to
take Right Action rather than become Complacent that I was decaying,
and apply variations to my life style that would lengthen my mobility and
not expand the pain.
Modern society, I believe, is
in the same fix.
The spine of our culture as
civilized beings is under attack. It is time to take a look at
our MRIs. It is time to ask ourselves how important Vigilance
is to combating the Terrorism of cultural spinal degeneration.
If we are concerned about the
future of our society, our civilization, there is a back brace we can wear
that will keep our spines from unnecessary damage. It is the Pledge
of Vigilance. When we take the Pledge, and use its
foundations to support our evolution as an individual, a parent, a citizen
of our society and the world, we are forced to stop and think about
whether the actions we are going to take are in the best interests not
just of ourselves, but for the children in the world, our own first, and
The young woman who was gang raped in
Pakistan thought deeply about killing herself after the ordeal.
The shame she suffered was oppressive. But she has chosen to
live. She has chosen to watch the Terrorists brought to justice.
And then to go on and teach the children of her village about Courage,
Conviction and Right Action.
She has braced her spine with the
Pledge of Vigilance, in her own way, despite the crushing of all her
beliefs in others. She sees the responsibility to giving the
children the treasures of her broken spine, so they might not be victims
of a similar barbaric attack, and if they are, that they might chose to
live to teach the principles of Vigilance rather than fall victim to the
Terror of Complacency.
My back? It is a symbol
of how precious time is. It tells me that I must fight harder
for Vigilance and not surrender to the Complacency of pain and suffering, so
easily sought when the Terrorism of gravity and age sets itself upon one's
I will think of the young woman in the
Pakistani village when I fill myself with self pity. I will make
her my symbol of Vigilance.
My point? Take a look at your
spine. See if you need a brace. And if you do, take the
Pledge of Vigilance. And, if you think you don't, take it
anyway. You never know when you're going to trip and fall.
To July 16--Dust-to-Dust, Ashes-to-Ashes--The End Of Vigilance?
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