rarely talked about their experience. The closest I ever came was a man who landed at Normandy a day or two after the initial assault.
"You saw the movie, 'Saving Private Ryan?' he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"It was like that."
That was all. Saying more would say too little and too much. We sat for a long important moment. His silence said more than his words.
September 11 was not like that. While there was nobility and courage and death and destruction, it was nothing like war, or movies about war.
I can say that because it all happened less than a mile from my home and work. I saw it, heard it, felt it, smelled it, was covered by the falling dust of pulverized buildings and people, organized memorials, and performed funerals. One was a British fellow married to an Indonesian Muslim, whose family recited the Al Fatihah prayer in my church that October. I marched with other clergy in honor of the hook and ladder company from our neighborhood that was wiped out. Their truck was the one in the NY Daily News photo seen going over the Brooklyn Bridge toward the towers before they collapsed. My son visited their house on a school trip in first grade.
(You can read about my experience as a near bystander by clicking the link on the right, "The Days Grow Short." You will not find anything more honest or real than that, for those of us who were in NYC then and the days thereafter.)
September 11 was not like Normandy or even Pearl Harbor because it was not an act of war.
It was simply, horribly, cruelly, despicably, murder. Mass murder.
And that's how we should have treated it, and should now. Treating it as an act of war actually ennobles the criminals, making them into warriors for a cause.
I know why we called it a war. It makes the dead more than mere victims. No one wants to think their father or brother or son or daughter or wife or sister was 'just a victim.' We want them not to have 'died in vain,' that is, for no reason.
But they did die for no reason, meaning one they chose to serve. None of them were soldiers willingly putting their lives on the line for cause or country. In all honesty, brutal honesty, they died for no more reason than those caught in an earthquake or tsunami.
Unless we count the reason the criminals gave. By calling it a war instead of a crime, we paradoxically gave the criminals precisely what they wanted: importance. See how calling it war has done honor to the victims nine years later?
I have said too much.
Unlike the man who went to war.