Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ever Forget: Things We Should Try Not To Remember About 9/11

You'd think that it would be pretty hard to screw up a "20 lives touched by 9/11" story in the newspaper, but USA Today did so manage. Although its profiles include brave heroes, mournful loved ones, and grateful survivors, the story leads off with Amiri Baraka (nice name) whose connection to 9/11 is a little more ... unusual

9.11.2001: Amiri Baraka, a radical African-American poet and political activist once known as LeRoi Jones, watches from the third-floor bathroom window of his home in Newark as the World Trade Center towers burn and fall.

Why it was like he was working at Cantor Fitzgerald! Baraka reacted the only way he knew how: by writing a poem.

10.01.2001: Baraka begins to distribute a poem he has just finished, Somebody Blew Up America. The reception from friends and colleagues is "positive," he will recall.

Hmm. USA Today doesn't quote from the poem, even though it turned out to be (drumroll) controversial. In the mean time, Baraka is named poet laureate of (snicker) New Jersey. Gov. Jim McGreevey - another guy we should be trying to forget - does the honors. But, trouble arises when the dreaded Bill O'Reilley gets a hold of Baraka's poem and harshly criticizes its anti-semitic/anti-American content.

9.20.2002: On Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly blasts Baraka forSomebody Blew Up America. Calling the poet a "pinhead," O'Reilly says Baraka is "full of racism, full of anti-Semitism." "Every Jewish person tonight watching this in New Jersey is going, 'I don't want that guy to get a nickel'" of the poet laureate's honorarium, O'Reilly says.

This causes the ADL to wake up and write a letter to McGreevey helpfully quoting the offending passages

9.27.2002: The Anti-Defamation League writes to McGreevey to complain about Baraka's Somebody Blew Up America, especially this passage: "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed/Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers/To stay home that day/Why did Sharon stay away?" The ADL says it implies "that Israel was somehow involved in the terrorist plot."

Who knew? Nobody did, idiot. Because those things didn't happen except in the minds of America's hard left, which was driven insane by 9/11 and the events of the following decade.

In the ensuing climate of hate, Baraka loses his laureate laurels. Of course, he didn't shamefacedly resign his position and return the $10,000 honoraria. Baraka refused to go, so New Jersey had to pass a law eliminating the poet laureate position (actually they called it "terminating the reign of the current poet laureate"). But, don't worry Baraka landed on his feet.

11.21.2002: The Newark school board creates a new position — school district poet laureate — and appoints Baraka, an act characterized by The New York Times as "an act of defiance aimed at the state's political establishment."

And here's my favorite part:

11.13.2007: While attending a book fair in Venezuela, Baraka hears that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider whether his First Amendment rights were violated when New Jersey lawmakers eliminated the position of poet laureate in 2003 with him in it. After hearing the news, Baraka performs Somebody Blew Up America.

A Venezuelan Book Fair? Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! I'm guessing Bill Ayers was in the next booth.

The obvious comparison to a real 9/11 hero like Welles Crowther is almost painful to read, especially when you realize that most folks on the left find greater meaning the story of Baraka than in the anonymous heroism of a young equities trader thrust into the middle of events he couldn't possibly comprehend, yet for which he rose to the occasion (h/t Tigerhawk, who is Crowther's step-cousin):

9.11.2001: Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader, is working on the 104th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center when the first hijacked airliner hits the building's twin. He leaves a reassuring phone message for his mother at home in Nyack, N.Y. After that, nothing. His parents are left to wonder: How did he die? What was he doing at the end?

11.1.2001:Ladies' Home Journal publishes a first-person account by Judy Wein, an AON Corp. vice president who was injured and narrowly escaped from the south tower on Sept. 11. She writes: "A man with a red handkerchief over his face seemed to appear out of nowhere and pointed to the stairs. 'Anyone who can get up and walk, get up now,' he urged the other people on the floor." But she cannot identify the man. Crowther was a volunteer fireman who always carried a red-print bandanna in his back pocket. But his family and friends, who'd have made the connection, don't see the article.

3.19.2002: Crowther's remains are found near firefighters and emergency workers killed at a command center in the lobby of the south tower. Notified three days later, his family will note the significance of the date he was found: 19 was his lucky number — the one he wore playing varsity hockey at Nyack High School and lacrosse at Boston College.

5.25.2002: A New York Times article about the upper floors of the Trade Center on Sept. 11 says a "mysterious man appeared at one point, his mouth and nose covered with a red handkerchief" to help rescue several women from a dark, smoky stairway. One, Ling Young, says that she was steered toward safety by the man; that he called, "This way to the stairs!"; that he followed her down the stairs, carrying a woman on his back; that when they reached clearer air, he put the woman down and went back up the smoky stairs. But no one can identify the man.

5.26.2002: "Oh my God, Welles, there you are!" Alison Crowther reads the Times story and realizes the unidentified hero was her son, who since elementary school had carried a bandanna — a habit he picked up from his father, Jefferson. She overnights Ling Young, who's mentioned in the story, a photo of her son. Young confirms that the man, who'd taken off the bandanna to speak to her, was Crowther. "You don't forget a face like that," she tells Alison. Two weeks later, the TheJournal News of Rockland County, N.Y., identifies the man in the red bandanna as Crowther. It quotes Young as saying that although he saved others, "he didn't save himself."

6.23.2002: Alison and Jefferson Crowther have lunch at home with two women Welles helped, Judy Wein and Ling Young. Young is still in a wheelchair, recovering from burns. They drink water from Lourdes, the pilgrimage site in France, which Alison says helped her deal with despair over the loss of her son.

6.8.2003: Crowther's parents remove a red bandanna to unveil a bronze plaque dedicated to their son at Empire Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 in Nyack. Crowther joined his father as a volunteer at the fire company when he was 16. Ling Young attends the ceremony. "This brings back memories," she says. "I'm glad I found him and know who he is."

12.15.2006: Crowther becomes the first person to be posthumously made an honorary member of the New York Fire Department. "Under the most hellish of situations, he … saved all those lives," Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta says.

10.20.2007: The annual Red Bandanna Run, a 5K run around the campus of Boston College and the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, raises funds for the Welles Crowther Memorial Trust. Crowther graduated from BC in 1999. There's also an annual Red Bandanna Skate in his hometown. "When children and adults hear Welles' story, it changes them," says his mother, Alison. "It brings such a light into their soul — it's a beautiful thing for us."

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