The Greatest Sedition Is Silence: Four Years in America

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Almost companies that did not regularly grant stock options in September now did so. By the time of this speech, President Bush had already urged us to prove our patriotism by going shopping. And in Washington the marionettes of the military-industrial-security complex salivated at the prospect of a windfall rising from the smoldering ruins.

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Grief would prove no match for greed. I decided not to cancel the speech. I was talking about something deeper, something troubling at the core of politics. I intended to talk about this today — about the soul of democracy — and then connect it to my television efforts and your environmental work.

That was my intention. We have been reminded that while the clock and the calendar make it seem as if our lives unfold hour by hour, day by day, our passage is marked by events — of celebration and crisis. We share those in common. They create the memories which make us a people, a nation with a history. It changed their world, as it changed them. They never forgot the moment they heard the news.

For my generation it was the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the dogs and fire hoses in Alabama. Those events broke our hearts. For this present generation, that moment will be Sept. We will never forget it. In one sense, this is what terrorists intend. Sure, they aim to annihilate the targets they strike. But their real goal is to get inside our heads, our psyche and to deprive us — the survivors — of peace of mind, of trust, of faith, to prevent us from believing again in a world of mercy, justice and love, or working to bring that better world to pass.

This is their real target, to turn our imaginations into private Afghanistans, where they can rule by fear. Once they possess us, they are hard to exorcise. This summer our daughter and son-in-law adopted a baby boy. On Sept. He got there in time to see the eruption of fire and smoke. He saw the falling bodies. He saw the people jumping to their deaths. It took him several days fully to get his legs back. Now, in a matter-of-fact voice, our daughter tells us how she often lies awake at night, wondering where and when it might happen again, going to the computer at 3 in the morning — her baby asleep in the next room — to check out what she can about bioterrorism, germ warfare, anthrax and the vulnerability of children.

The building where my wife and I produce our television programs is in midtown Manhattan, just over a mile from Ground Zero. It was evacuated immediately after the disaster, although the two of us remained with other colleagues to help keep the station on the air.

Pardons Granted 88 Years After Crimes of Sedition

Our building was evacuated again late in the evening a day later because of a bomb scare at the nearby Empire State Building. We had just ended a live broadcast for PBS when the security officers swept through and ordered everyone out of the building. Could our marriage of almost 50 years end here, on this dim and bare staircase? I ejected the thought forcibly from my mind; like a bouncer removing a rude intruder, I shoved it out of my consciousness by sheer force of will.

But in the first hours of morning, the specter crept back.

Returning from Washington on the train last week, I looked up and for the first time in days saw a plane in the sky. And then another, and another — and every plane I saw invoked unwelcome images and terrifying thoughts. Unwelcome images, terrifying thoughts — embedded in our heads by terrorists.

I wish I could find the wisdom in this. But wisdom is a very elusive thing. Someone told me once that we often have the experience but miss the wisdom. Wisdom comes, if at all, slowly, painfully, and only after deep reflection. Perhaps when we gather next year the wisdom will have arranged itself like the colors of a kaleidoscope, and we will look back on September 11 and see it differently.

I have wanted to stay busy, on the go, or on the run, perhaps, from the need to cope with the reality that just a few subway stops south of where I get off at Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, three thousand people died in a matter of minutes. Not out of some macabre desire to stare at death, but to see if I might recognize a face, a name, some old acquaintance, a former colleague, even a stranger I might have seen occasionally on the subway or street. That was my original purpose. But as the file has grown I realize what an amazing montage it is of life, a portrait of the America those terrorists wanted to shatter.

I study each little story for its contribution to the mosaic of my country, its particular revelation about the nature of democracy, the people with whom we share it. But back home in Peru his family depended on Luis for the money he had been sending them since he arrived in New York two years ago speaking only Spanish, and there was the tuition he would soon be paying to study at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

So on the 11 th of September Luis Bautista was putting in overtime. He was His shift ended at 6 a. I figure we were kindred souls; she too, was a Baptist, and sang in the choir at the Canaan Baptist church. They had their parents come to New York in August to meet for the first time and talk about the plans. They had discovered each other in nearby cubicles on the th floor of One World Trade Center and fell in love.

They were working there when the terrorists struck. He lived with his three sons in the Bronx and was to have retired when he turned 65 last year, but he was so attached to the building and so enjoyed the company of the other janitors that he often showed up an hour before work just to shoot the bull.


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He loved his men. But he never told his daughters in the suburbs about the bad stuff in all the fires he had fought over the years.


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This morning, his shift had just ended and he was starting home when the alarm rang. He jumped into the truck with the others and at One World Trade Center he pushed through the crowds to the staircase heading for the top. The last time anyone saw him alive he was heading for the top. As hundreds poured past him going down, Fred Scheffold just kept going up through the flames and smoke.

Talking about my work in television would be too parochial.

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Americans rallied together in a way that I cannot remember since World War Two. In real and instinctive ways we have felt touched — singed — by the fires that brought down those buildings, even those of us who did not directly lose a loved one. Great and ordinary alike, we have been humbled by a renewed sense of our common mortality. Those planes the terrorists turned into suicide bombers cut through a complete cross-section of America — stockbrokers and dishwashers, bankers and secretaries, lawyers and janitors, Hollywood producers and new immigrants, urbanites and suburbanites alike.

One community near where I live in New Jersey lost 23 residents. A single church near our home lost eleven members of the congregation. Eighty nations are represented among the dead. This catastrophe has reminded us of a basic truth at the heart of our democracy: no matter our wealth or status or faith, we are all equal before the law, in the voting booth, and when death rains down from the sky.

The Greatest Sedition is Silence: Four Years in America by William Rivers Pitt

Not all off-shore money is linked to crime or terrorism; much of it comes from wealthy people who are hiding money to avoid taxation. And right-wingers believe in nothing if not in avoiding taxation. How about that for patriotism?

Better terrorists get their dirty money than tax cheaters be prevented from hiding their money. Those brave firefighters and policemen and Port Authority workers and emergency rescue personnel were public employees all, most of them drawing a modest middle-class income for extremely dangerous work. They have caught our imaginations not only for their heroic deeds but because we know so many people like them, people we took for granted.

I find this thrilling and sobering.

Pardons Granted 88 Years After Crimes of Sedition

It could offer a new beginning, a renewal of civil values that could leave our society stronger and more together than ever, working on common goals for the public good. This is such a moment, and it could go either way. In the wake of Sept. This newfound hope for public collaboration is based in part on how people view what the government has done in response to the attacks.

President Bush acted with commendable resolve and restraint in those early days. But this is a case where yet again the people are ahead of the politicians. It means a courageous rescuer or brave soldier. Instead of representatives spending their evenings clinking glasses with fat cats, they are out walking among the wounded. In Washington it seemed momentarily possible that the political class had been jolted out of old habits.

Some old partisan rivalries and arguments fell by the wayside as our representatives acted decisively on a fund to rebuild New York.