Falling into History, 21st Edition

Got it: white is patriotic.

Today is the 21st(!) anniversary of the 9-11 attacks and there are many tributes and remembrances on all the usual pundit sites, many of them maudlin and almost all of them self-serving.

What I don’t see a lot of is anger.

An entire generation of Americans has only known us to be at war, and the end result is what, exactly? We were lied to from the start (thanks a lot Chimpy) and cajoled into a 20-year catastrophe, until President Handsome Joe Biden thankfully pulled the plug. And it is not lost on me that the same voices from Dubya’s Reign of Error that marched us into the sands are now opining on all the news networks, including the allegedly liberal MSNBC. They lost the war, but they won the career.

Today, Americans are joining in volunteer projects on a day that is federally recognized as both Patriot Day (Freedom Fries half-off, patriots! Never forget!) and a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

Meanwhile, the Trump Virus —which through neglect, mismanagement, and Republicans cynical political calculation has killed more people than the 9-11 attacks by several orders of magnitude— is on-going and has no commemoration. The screams of those innocent victims go unheard.

We’ve been running this post since the blog began. It is from the SF Chronicle circa 2006 —I don’t even know how many Friedman units ago that is. One of the reasons it endures and resonates so well with me is because it is angry, rightfully so.

This essay itself has fallen into the void and is no longer on the SF Chron’s servers. I want to ensure that it remains on the web, so I am including it verbatim. Bad Blogger!

This essay was written by Neva Chonin (author of the long gone and lamented Live! Rude! Girl! column), who has since left The Chron; I do not know where she writes now and I wish I did. I think this essay easily remains the best writing about September 11 that I have encountered.

Oh, we’re keeping it on top today, anything new will be below–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.

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9 Responses to Falling into History, 21st Edition

  1. Jimmy T says:

    It’s a heartfelt tribute to the people that died on that day, and for those of us who survived only to watch the insanity unfold. I never understood why we attacked Iraq when it was painfully obvious that 09/11/01 was funded and conducted by the Saudis. I suppose we had to hold someone to account, but of course not the Bin Ladens. The Bushes and the Bin Ladens had a long time business relationship as spelled out in the book “House of Bush, House of Saud.”
    Wikipedia does a review…


    Liked by 3 people

    • *FelineMama* says:

      Oh, yeah. BTW, Prick Rump, BFF of the saudis, where were YOU on that morning?? Oh, yeah. Walking around the destroyed city bragging about YOU having the tallest bldg, now !!!
      NEVER FORGET !!!!!!!!!!!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. laura says:

    I very much appreciate you rerunning the excellent Neva Chonin piece – it’s humanity and scale pierce through the miasma of jingoism and hucksterism that continues to cloud our national psyche. An American tragedy followed by the worst business decision War For Profit!
    Show of hands- who still has a let’s get shopping bag?


  3. Redhand says:

    I have the painful feeling that this fateful date is itself “falling into history” as we confront internal threats to our democracy even worse than the physical attacks on 9/11. It’s hard to focus on the past when we are engaged in a major fight now, one no less deadly than that on 9/11.

    To me, 1/6 must join the pantheon of dates to remember in American history. It is as momentous as Apr 12, 1861, when Fort Sumter was shelled, Dec 7, 1941, and 9/11 itself. Memorial plaques should be placed where each person in the Capitol died, with contemporary photographs, so that tourists and visitors see that bloody recent history and what we are now fighting to preserve.

    One thing cannot be doubted: the pernicious causal thread running through all of this is the GOP. It the last two decades show anything, it is that that Party deserves to die and that it cannot be trusted to hold the reins of power again. However, the battlefield cannot be conflict with an armed mob. It must be a sound defeat at the ballot box to cut down another armed insurrection at its roots.

    I don’t want anybody to think that I dismiss the significance of 9/11. My old office in North Jersey and my home there two decades ago were within sight of the smoke pyres from the WTC. I saw the smoke pillars with my own eyes for days afterward.

    In February 2001 I went with my future Russian wife to a romantic dinner at the Windows on the World Restaurant in the North Tower. It was my way of telling her that I wanted us to be a couple from there on out–and we are.

    In recognition of that fact, I asked out waiter to take a picture of us together at the table. He did, as I’m sure he did for many other couples, and we still have it.

    You cannot imagine how many times I have thought of that moment and the fact that the entire staff of the restaurant working on the morning of 9/11 died that day. As the Wiki article states: “All of the staff members who were present in the restaurant on the day of the attacks perished.”

    I’ll never know if our waiter was one of them.

    So, yeah, that place is gone, disappeared into thin air, and the dust and death of that day, but not the memory of it. 9/11 is personal to me.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. w3ski4me says:

    Each time I see the falling man report, I initially shy away from reading it. Real Death and Destruction are not my thing. Then I begin to feel guilty for not reading it again and eventually, I give in and read it, again. And I feel very uncomfortable again after reading it. Which is now see is the point. We are not supposed to be comfortable about it. It should always give us a shudder and a moment at least of sadness.
    And now we face our own people no less intent on destroying our lives, but so far not quite as dedicated as our flying bombers were.
    So sad to always be at war of some sort.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. roket says:

    In the future (if there is one) your average historian will have no problem drawing a straight line between 9/11 and the Dobbs Decision. Also too. You know, as in 6 degrees of separation.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. MDavis says:

    It’s back. No picture, though. Just picture invisible bicycle cat, but the cat is the guy in dockers fully seated in mid-air.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. pagan in repose says:

    It seems as though our species has been at war with every living thing on this planet at one time or another. One long war since our time began. We is what we are, I guess.
    For profit or fear or vengeance we will start a war and destroy everything in sight.


    • w3ski4me says:

      We have been killing each other since Cain slew Able, and we are not one bit better as a species for any of it.


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