Cliff McKenzieŚNew York City Combat Correspondent

       GROUND ZERO,  September 11, 2001-- It was a horrible day to die.

        People screaming.  Running.  Crying, "It's The End Of The World!  We're All Going To Die!"
        We were jammed in a narrow street, a few blocks from the burning World Trade Center.  Confusion maddened the moment.   People shoved to get out of the area.  People shoved to get in.
        Then the ground exploded.   It heaved like a great beast was rising up from the bowels of New York's subways.   The roar of its anger froze people in their tracks.   Thousands sucked a deep breath.  
         It was the moment of reckoning.   It was the moment of fear.
         The Beast had been born.  It bashed out of its embryo with a deep, rumbling cry, as though its Voice had been constructed from the bowels of Hell itself.  The herd ran, screaming, shoving, pushing.   There was madness, survival.  Death was on its way.  Life tried to outrun it.  It was too late.
         It came at us furiously.   A huge, ugly fist of boiling dust and debris, convoluted so it looked like an exposed brain, balls of black and gray piled upon balls of black and gray, racing toward us down the narrow street as fast as a steam engine, shoving the air in front of it out of its way, creating a hissing, heaving gasp of air rushing past as the hateful fist of fear drove its way toward us.
        The words were useless.
         It slammed into us, the blast driving some to their knees, others to their backs.   The hissing stopped.  A deadly, grim silence descended on the street that moments ago had filled with screams of agony and fear and sounds of feet rushing uptown, shoving, pushing by frightened people whose eyes bulged, and faces twisted in their visit with death.
        The deadly silence hung as blackness fell around us, hovering as a death shroud cast upon our bodies, smothering the fresh air with death's ugly breath. 
        Emptiness.  Nothingness.
        I held my arms around the women who were crying next to me, sobbing it "was the end of the world."  I pressed them against the wall to protect them from bodies stumbling, smashing into them in the void, the emptiness, blind souls seeking their way out of their moment of living Hell.
         I opened my mouth.   Thick, black particles clogged the air.  It was an  unknown fallout, an ugly black rain with no texture, no body, no shape-- amorphic death hovering around the nostrils and mouth.  Unable to hold my breath any longer, I  gasped short breathes, heart beating madly as the question of what was in the fallout raged through my mind.
         "We're going to die!"
         I put my hands on the women's shoulders.  Three were huddled together on my left.  One sole woman on my right.  Their faces were buried in their hands or in handkerchiefs.  Sobs wracked through them, muffled through the cloth, the thickness of the soot blackening the day into a nightmare of darkness.
         "Think of something beautiful," I gasped.  "If we're going to die, think of something beautiful.  Make it your last thought."
          I took a short, jerky breath of sooty air.  I gagged.  Chalky flakes coated my mouth. They were heavy, unctuous particles, tasting like cotton.
          I held onto the women's shoulders as the gray particles showered down.  Sobs muffled in the handkerchiefs.  Their bodies shook.  Slowly, a dim light began to ooze through the black so you could see your hand.   Silhouetted figures staggering up the street, bent over, coughing, wending their way through the rubble, feet plowing through a mattress of paper and soot as the fallout continued to snow down, turning everyone into ghostly shapes, all the same bland color..
          "Think of something beautiful..."
           I took short breathes.   I waited for the searing, scalding attack on my lungs or my nervous system.  I was sure the explosion had cast the air with some bio-death that would blister my lungs, drive me to the ground wheezing, gagging, spitting blood, clutching my guts, wishing someone would come by and shoot me to end the pain and agony.  
          "We're going to die...die..."
          I held the women.   I wanted to be near another human when it happened.   We waited.  Whatever it was, it was too late to run.  More light struggled in.   We could make out the street, visibility maybe ten feet, and increasing.
          The group of three women turned, still sobbing, clutching one another, and started up the street.  The one that was left was frozen, unable to move, crying into a scarf.
         "Are you okay?   Do you need any help?  Everything is okay now," I lied."
         She turned away from the wall where we took shelter, saying nothing, sobbing uncontrollably.  She stumbled to the middle of the street, head down...a low whine in her sobs, deep from her soul, a mourning cry   I called after her.  She waved me off, shuffling her feet toward uptown.  I watched her disappear in the haze of the fallout.
          Others stumbled after her. No one ran.  They moved to the pace of a funeral dirge, hands to their faces, anonymous gray ghosts of human beings crawling through the cloud of death of destruction; shocked, dazed, bodies numbed by the nearness of their own death, by the proximity of the fragile line that separates the living from the dead.
          I coughed and lowered my head and moved toward the epicenter, toward the hole in the earth that had released the Beast of Terror, toward the nucleus of Terror, toward its birthplace. I was compelled to look the Beast in the eye, to see him again, as I had thirty-five years before in Vietnam when he tried to kill me, when the Beast of Terror fought viciously for my soul.  Now I was his hunter.  I was not afraid of him.
           I knew he wasn't back to haunt me. He had found new, fresh victims of his Terror.  I could smell his fetid breath in the aftermath.  I could hear his laughter in the dead calm as I walked down the naked street where no one was but the soot and rubble and millions of pieces of paper fluttering about.  He was there.  All around me.  I could feel his scales falling down in the ghostly rain,  the psoriasis his scales was showering its ugliness on the land I called home.
         The Beast of Terror had finally come ashore.   He had come to America.  He attacked it viciously, without warning.  It was his style.  To kill innocent people.  To drive the stake of Terror in their hearts and laugh and run and hide. 
         This time I was going to hunt him down, not be hunted by him.   I was going to find him and flush him out in the open.  Then I was going to kill him.   Not with my sword this time. He could not die with violence.  I had tried that.  Everyone had.  I was going to kill him with  my pen.  With words.
         I was going to drown him in the ink of Truth.   I was going to bury him in a tomb of Vigilance from which he could never escape. I knew him too well.  I knew he thrived on the violence of the sword, but feared the deadliness of Truth.  He feared those who could expose him to the sunlight of knowledge, those who knew where his lair was and could enter it with torches and drive him into the light where he shriveled into nothing, as all bogeymen do when the lights are switched on and the shadows of ignorance as washed away with knowledge and vigilance.
         Yes, I thought.  This time I will spear the Beast of Terror with the point of my pen.  He will not escape again.  Not this time.

 - end-



Note To My Readers:   In 1965-65 I experience the Beast of Terror in a land called Vietnam.  There, I faced its uglinesses, its horrors. 

I have written these diaries, and will continue to, on the basis that Fear must be replaced with Vigilance before we can say we've conquered the "Beast of Terror."  In my own case, I have learned that Terror lives within us when we are afraid of facing it.   We must learn to "live with the Beast of Terror."  We must shine as much light on it as possible, drive it out of the dark corners of our minds, never let it feel comfortable or relaxed by assuming we can bury its memory, or deny its existence, or, become complacent about managing its thirst to drive us away from life into a Living Hell of Fear and Apprehension, of self-loathing and self-defeat.

You will find my diaries of Ground Zero full of reflections not only on Vietnam, but also rifled with reflections of my childhood..   The Terrorism we feel so strongly today is a mirror of the Terrors of many shapes and sizes, a sum of the "Tiny Terrors" we carry with us from other times in our life when we were shaken to our roots, when we wanted to crawl under a rug and "die."

        The Beast of Terror was not born on September 11, 2001.   It was a magnification of other Terrors within.   And we can use that terrible experience to help us expose not only the Terrorists without, but the Terrorists Within--the thoughts and feelings we have that make us feel uneasy, frightened, fearful, powerless. 

        By weaving my own understanding of Terrorism of the Self into my writings, hopefully you will be able to shine light on some of your "Internal Terrorisms," which feed the "external Terrorism."  The more knowledge you have about your feelings, the more "Vigilance" will result in your stand against "external Terrorism."

        We all know that Terrorists seek to use Fear and Apprehension as their ultimate weapons.   They want us to feed on ourselves, to destroy our will to fight from within so they can be victorious in "killing our human value."   We cannot let that happen.  If we do, they have won.

        That's why the theme, "Semper Vigilantes" is so valuable.   It will remind you as it reminds me, to be wary of "self-defeat."  It tells me not to "give in" to complacency, or to stop struggling to fight off the Fear and Doubt and Confusion, Terrorism creates.   

        I hope you enjoy reading my writings.   And, I believe that if you are "vigilant" you will live free and happy, not bound and gagged by Terrorism's eternal threat.  If, for some reason, you haven't read the opening page Questions & Answers, so you can enjoy a deeper, richer understanding of my qualifications to write on this subject, click this link and read through them. Who We Are!

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