Falling into History

[Ed: This is from the SF Chronicle from 2006, which seems like a lifetime ago; It was written by Neva Chonin, who has long since gone from there. I still think this essay remains the best writing about September 11 that I have encountered. This essay has fallen into the void and is no longer on their servers. I want to ensure that it remains on the web, so I am including it verbatim. Oh, we're keeping it on top today--Tengrain]

He’s one of those average men you pass without noticing. A little tubby, wearing beige Dockers and a pink polo shirt. Not much to look at, were it not for the fact that this particular guy is flying. No, flying is the wrong word — he’s falling, falling through the blue sky, a lifetime of memories clutched in his outstretched hands and nothing we know about below.

He’s falling into history.

I can’t remember when or why I started Googling the words “Sept. 11″ and “falling.” I was looking for … something. Chills? Answers? What I found were pictures of the jumpers — the people trapped on the upper floors of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, who chose to breathe free one last time before dying. Some leaped from their offices holding hands, lines of them, clinging to one another until gravity and wind tore them apart. A solo jumper, dubbed “The Falling Man” by media, went on to become emblematic of that day’s unanswered questions.

But it’s the guy in the Dockers, my own private falling man, who haunts me. He’s helped me, too, because five years later I think I finally know why the day of his death owns a horror all its own. It’s got nothing to do with flags and national security and God bless America. It’s basic and internal. It’s this: the disorientation of witnessing the average turn surreal, like a Magritte painting that has escaped its frame and invaded the world to upset the equilibrium of what we earnestly call “reality.”

This, too: It’s the shock of seeing an arrogant and seemingly untouchable superpower sucker-punched on its own turf for the first time, not by another superpower but by humans as puny as we are, whose only weapon is their confounding will to die. It’s the eeriness of watching two iconic towers taken out by passenger planes turned passenger missiles. It felt, then as now, like a conspiracy against reason. Jets do not fly into buildings. Except when they do. A guy in Dockers doesn’t fall from the sky. Except when he does. The whole day defied logic, because it couldn’t have happened. Except it did.

I can grasp the horror of civilians in war zones, living under daily bombardment and burying neighbors and family after every air raid. That was my mother’s life, and her stories are programmed into my brain. What I can’t imagine are the feelings of those trapped in either missiles or targets on Sept. 11. I can’t, for instance, fathom seeing office cubicles disintegrate around me, or watching from a coach-class window seat while my plane descends toward the World Trade Center or the wretched Pentagon or, in the case of United 93, a rolling rural blankness. These experiences remain so defiantly strange and outside the repertoire of war that I’m left without context, and without context I’m bewildered. Their singularity defies description. Maybe it was like walking on the moon or surviving a death camp; you had to have been there to know what it was like.

That’s the revelation my falling man gave me: That I will never understand. For me, the tragedy of Sept. 11 has always been measured in political fallout. I remember a friend commenting, two days after the planes hit, “Well, that’s it for Iraq.” He saw the future closing in even then, and he wasn’t the only one.

But the rest of the country — liberal, conservative, atheist, evangelical, gay, straight, black, white — was too busy waving flags to hear reason. Polls continue to show that at least half of the American public believes Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks. Yes, they are just that stupid. Don’t make excuses for them. Don’t blame Fox News for telling them what they want to hear.

Let’s talk about liberal responsibility, instead. Let’s talk about why Democrats of all stripes felt free to put our civil rights into our president’s neoconservative hands. Do you remember what you were doing in the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001? Do you remember your cowardice? I do.

I remember Sandra Bernhard, daring to tell an anti-Bush joke at the Warfield that fall, being booed by a “liberal” San Francisco audience. I also remember writing a column at about the same time questioning where all the flag-waving and jingoism would lead us, and receiving hundreds — yeah, hundreds — of hate letters. That’s not counting the death threats. And I remember getting a few pathetic messages from self-identified Bay Area “progressives” saying they shared my misgivings, but “would never say so in public, of course, ha ha” (actual quote).

Ha ha. See you at the next protest picnic, heroes. If you still think the White House cared about anything more than its own agenda and the cost of real estate when it watched the twin towers go down, if you still believe Bush and company shed one tear for the people trapped in those buildings, well. Wherever your mind’s at must be a sweet, peaceful place. I hope I never go there.

Five years after reality went boom, taking our Constitution, civil rights and common sense with it, I can finally cry for the people who died that day, those whose deaths have been so ruthlessly exploited and memories abused. This, thanks to the image of a guy in Dockers falling through the warm September air. I cry for the unique terror of his death, and I cry because he reminds me of how far we’ve all sunk. His descent lasted less than a minute; we’ve been in a free fall ever since.

10 years ago today

Chimpy and the banner

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. (Applause.) And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.”

…and of course Commander Codpiece was wrong again, terribly, tragically wrong. From invading the wrong country, to fighting the wrong war, to having no exit strategy, to, well, infinity.

On this day in history: 2003

The 2003 State of the Union Address was a speech delivered by U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday, January 28, 2003. It outlined justifications for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It began his discussion of the “war on terror” by asserting, as he had before September 11, 2001, that “the gravest danger facing America and the world, is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.” Of such regimes, that of Saddam Hussein was the worst, and “a brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States.” The domestic brutality of Hussein and the benefits of liberty and freedom for the Iraqi people were briefly noted near the end of the speech.

…and so Chimpy added to his long list of crimes against humanity.

(WikiPedia)

Today in History…

  • 1930: Five socialists expelled from the New York Assembly
  • 1999: Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial fails in the Senate 55-to-45 on perjury vote and 50-to-50 on obstruction of justice vote
  • 2006: Tom DeLay resigns as House Majority Leader after being indicted

Perhaps there is no relationship between these things, or perhaps there is some. Still, seems like a momentous day in History.

Today in History: 1984

10/7/84

In their first debate in Louisville, Kentucky, Walter Mondale clearly beats President Reagan, who terrifies viewers by demonstrating how he answers questions when his wife isn’t standing next to him. In the course of 90 minutes, the President:

  • Talks about a law he signed in California as if it was signed by his Democratic predecessor
  • Reprises his 1980 hit line, “There you go again,” only to have it thrown back in his face by Mondale, who knows he won’t be able to resist repeating it and is ready with a stinging rejoinder
  • Blanks out completely in the middle of an answer, stalling for a mini-eternity – “The system is still where it was with regard to the … uh … the … uh … the … uh … the … uh …” – until he comes up, who knows how, with the missing word, “progressivity”
  • Claims that the increase in poverty “is a lower rate of increase than it was in the preceding years before we got here,” though in fact it is higher
  • Explains that a good bit of the defense budget goes for “food and wardrobe,” becoming the first US President to so refer to military uniforms
  • Admits, as he prepares to deliver his closing statement, “I’m all confused now.”

Afterward, a frantic Nancy Reagan confronts White House aides, demanding, “What have you done to Ronnie?”

Paul Slansky, The Clothes Have No Emperor

PS – The Clothes Have No Emperor makes a wonderful gift… you know, for the snarker on your holiday gift list. Factual, historical, and amusing.

Today in History: 1982

Scissorheads -

Exciting news: Mr. Slansky has contacted us, and has asked that we include a link to his e-commerce page for The Clothes Have No Emperor — which we are delighted to do. I know some of you have bought the book, and someone commented to Mr. Slansky that you found his book through us here at MPS.

But here is what has my eyes bright and my tail wagging: he likes us!

“Yes, someone bought it today, and commented that they learned of it from your frequent postings, which is what prompted me to write. As much as I scour the web, I’d missed your wonderful site until now. Thank you.”

Mr. Slansky has NOT asked us to cease and desist posting from his book, and so it is with great pride (and a deep laugh) that tonight’s quote is from Saint Ronnie:

10/4/82
Addressing an Ohio veteran’s group, President Reagan discusses plans to strengthen three military divisions in Western Europe, “two of which are in Geneva, and one, I believe, still in Switzerland.”

Paul Slansky, The Clothes Have No Emperor

Regards,

Tengrain

PS – The Clothes Have No Emperor makes a wonderful gift…

Today in History: 1985

10/2/85
Rock Hudson dies of AIDS. Shirley (wife of Pat) Boone rushes into his home, grabs his legs and speaks in tongues for a half hour in a futile effort to resurrect him.

Paul Slansky, The Clothes Have No Emperor

(Ed. – While every death from AIDS was and is a tragedy, Rock Hudson’s death was significant because he was a famous actor, and his death really highlighted how AIDS and HIV could happen to anyone, even the rich and powerful. This was a wake-up call for the country.

That said, Pat Boone’s wife yanking on the corpse and babbling in tongues is an image that is both funny and terrifying. That sort of magical thinking still exists today with the Xristian Xrazies. –Tengrain)

Today in History: 1987

10/1/87
TV evangelist Pat Robertson – who stayed at a friend’s house there for three months in 1959 – returns to his “roots” in the Brooklyn ghetto of Bedford-Stuyvesant to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. “Bigot!” local residents chant, proving that you can’t go home again. “Bigot!”

Paul Slansky, The Clothes Have No Emperor