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« Fighting Against The Scum Of The Earth | Main | Treason »

On Hallowed Ground

Here's a column by Dave Barry that (unusually) is not very funny.

It's, instead, very moving. It also demonstrates once again (as did Mark Twain, and does James Lileks) that you can't be a great humorist without also being a great writer. If you don't read anything else today, I recommend this.

On This Week this morning (which was Sam and Cokie's last show--I don't know if I'll be able to stomach an hour of Stephanopolous), a couple questions were asked. One was, what changed on September 11 that suddenly made Iraq more dangerous?

The answer is, of course, nothing. Saddam was just as dangerous on September 10 as he was on September 12.

The difference was not in the actual danger but in our perception of it. We now understand that we are no longer safely cocooned across vast oceans from our enemies--they can come here and attack us on our soil, and they are among us today. We now know that when people say they want to kill us, we should take them at their word.

But something else happened on September 11. While our perception of the danger increased dramatically, the actual danger decreased. I personally felt safer flying on September 12 than on September 10, not because of the Patriot Act, or because we made airline security workers federal employees with spiffy new uniforms, and not because I could fly secure in the knowledge that my seatmate didn't have breast milk in a bottle, or a nose-hair trimmer.

No, I felt safer because I knew the danger, and I knew that my fellow citizens now knew the danger as well, and the brave, ordinary people on Flight 93 proved that never again would murderous madmen hold innocent lives hostage to evil, wretched goals.

As George Will said this morning, Americans are watching now. Even if the mindless bureaucracy of Norm Mineta refuses to racially profile, Americans are smart enough to know that the danger comes from young men (and perhaps women) from the Middle East, not little old ladies from Fargo.

Someone (perhaps Mark Steyn), said earlier this week that September 11 was like rolling Pearl Harbor and Jimmy Doolittle's Tokyo raid into a single day. We were attacked without warning, and within an hour, we were fighting back, and struck a blow against the enemy.

The memorial - the word seems grandiose, when you see it - is a gravel parking area, two portable toilets, two flagpoles and a fence. The fence was erected to give people a place to hang things. Many visitors leave behind something - a cross, a hat, a medal, a patch, a T-shirt, an angel, a toy airplane, a plaque - symbols, tokens, gifts for the heroes in the ground. There are messages for the heroes, too, thousands of letters, notes, graffiti scrawls, expressing sorrow, and love, and anger, and, most often, gratitude, sometimes in yearbookish prose:

"Thanx 4 everything to the heroes of Flight 93!!"

Visitors read the messages, look at the stuff on the fence, take pictures. But mostly they stare silently across the field, toward the place where Flight 93 went down. They look like people you see at Gettysburg, staring down the sloping field where Pickett's charge was stopped, and the tide of war changed, in a few minutes of unthinkable carnage. There is nothing, really, to see on either field now, but you find it hard to pull your eyes away, knowing, imagining, what happened there...

...we need to remember this: The heroes of Flight 93 were people on a plane. Their glory is being paid for, day after day, by grief. Tom Burnett does not belong to the nation. He is, first and foremost, Deena Burnett's husband, and the father of their three daughters. Any effort we make to claim him as ours is an affront to those who loved him, those he loved.

He is not ours.

And yet ...

... and yet he is a hero to us, he and the other people on Flight 93. We want to honor them, just as we want to honor the firefighters, police officers and civilians at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon who risked, and sometimes gave, their lives to try to rescue others. We want to honor them for what they did, and for reminding us that this nation is nowhere near as soft and selfish as we had come to believe.

We want to honor them.

Years will pass, and more people will come here, and more, people who were not yet born when Flight 93 went down, coming to see this famous place.

And so in a few years, when grass grows once again over the place where Flight 93 hit the ground, when the "X"s have faded from the hemlocks, there will be a memorial here, an official, permanent memorial to the heroes of Flight 93. It will be dedicated in a somber and dignified ceremony, and people will make speeches. Somebody - bet on it - will quote the Gettysburg Address, the part about giving the last full measure of devotion. The speeches will be moving, but they will also prove Lincoln's point, that the words of the living can add nothing to the deeds of the dead.

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 08, 2002 09:19 AM
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Tracked: September 8, 2002 07:15 PM

Here's the Mark Steyn reference, but their server appears to be down, I keep getting error messages.§ion=current&issue=2002-09-07&id=2219

Exerpts here:

It's no surprise to me that Dave Barry can write heartfelt serious prose; in order to be funny, you first have to be painful. As Mark Twain put it, "The secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven."

Rand, I think you were one of the first people to point out the end of political hijacking:

From: Rand Simberg (
Subject: End of an Era
Date: 2001-09-12 03:40:18 PST


The paradigm has permanently shifted. From this day forward, passengers will now be aware that there are worse things than letting hostages die in an aircraft.

Whoever did this screwed it up for all future hijackers, regardless of their purpose. A similar scheme will not succeed today, or tomorrow, or any time that the flying public retain memories of what happened yesterday.

No need to change procedures--the potential victims themselves have changed, fundamentally, and will be victims no more.

Let the aircraft fly.

Posted by at September 8, 2002 05:04 PM

Yes, I was stuck in San Juan (having failed to make an 11 AM flight on September 11...) and ruminating about the implications. I didn't have a weblog then.

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 8, 2002 07:11 PM

Who'da thought Dave Barry had it in him? His humor is not my cup of tea but his writing talents are prodigious. I'm jealous...

Posted by Dave Worley at September 8, 2002 07:19 PM

If anyone is surprised at Dave Barry's anniversary column, let them go back and read his column immediately after the attack. Very wrenching...
And that was a good post, Mr. Simberg.

Posted by The Sanity Inspector at September 8, 2002 09:18 PM

I recently flew to Europe for the first time. I found myself planning what my moves would be and what I could use as a weapon in case. Was there a fire extinguisher in one of those overheads? Could I stab a hijacker in the eye with my mechanical pencil? Wonder if these seatbelts come off? What use, if any, could I put my belt to?

Things have changed, forever. Barry did a great job with that column; I don't think I've ever read a piece by him that was totally serious.

Posted by David Perron at September 9, 2002 10:01 AM

In addition, Dave Barry did it using the Gettysburg / Shanksville connection, which I've seen used at least twice in the last few days.

This was an excellent, moving account, well-written and well-researched. Some reporters can get the facts but can't string the words together, some write well but don't know how to phone up sources. Barry did both, and sustained the tone over, what, 8,000 words?

In a fair world, this should win him a Pulitzer.

Posted by Bill Peschel at September 9, 2002 07:27 PM

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