War is Hell...The old veteran laughed when I asked him about a popular movie's depiction of D-Day. He'd driven an ambulance during and after that June morning and had too many stories, most of which he didn't want to tell. "What's missing is what's in between the action, the hours of fear, the hours of boredom -- combined!" Bored and fearful at the same time, nothing to do but wait... Another old veteran, well-known as a major newspaper columnist, said much the same thing, suggesting that the actual combat was bearable because it had to be. If you couldn't bear it, you didn't. But, the in-between -- now, that's where you might lose everything: mind; sense; grip. Is it like that in Washington and New York?
William Tacumseh Sherman
We have things to do, of course. At the Pentagon, they're waging a war, as well as managing a three hundred billion dollar enterprise. In New York, millions of business owners, managers and workers are frantically avoiding getting caught up in a widening recession, fallout as much from the artificial run-up of the market in the last years of Clinton/Gore as the al Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11th. And there's something else. At Omaha Beach, you knew where the hostile fire was coming from; if you were lucky you could find a little cover. But in Washington and New York, the only cover is a great police force, but one not well-attuned to nor well-equipped for the tactics of terrorists. Subway riders stare at the wall and at each other, wondering: will they do it here? Office workers lunge through doors, watching the skies through windows from the high floors, all too aware that their only cover is the occasional National Guard F-16. We all hope the waiting will go on until the war ends, but we don't know and we have little reason to believe in more than good luck. We feel this way because a lot of us saw those towers get hit and fall, including the writer.
On the networks they chatter on and on about anthrax and other dangers through the mails and through the air and water. Many wonder who reporters are working for, as their stories about forty patients and four deaths have caused almost as much terror as the bombing of the World Trade Center, which cost more than four thousand lives (or auto accidents, which, since September 11th, have gone on at their mad pace -- 3,500 in a month; or heart attacks, which kill 20,000 a month or more). In New York, a sharp, brutal divide, artfully covered for years, has opened up between the elite class of politicians, managers, media mavens and educators and the rest of us. The booing of Senator Clinton was not confined to police and firefighters who listen to Rush Limbaugh and read the Post. To many she's become even more repugnant as a representative of a class which has no apparent loyalty to this nation, its people, or its history and ideals.
The divide is laughed off by the elite, as they sneer at Post journalism and consume the increasingly hallucinatory stories of the "newspaper of record," which some wag described as "The Theological Journal of the Upper West Side." While that paper talks about fashion and the aftermath of "the events of September 11," the Post names names, issues warnings, praises heroes, and prays for successful conclusion to the war. The elite seem puzzled that the police and firemen haven't gone back to their kennels like good dogs; they're amazed to see them regarded as magnificent human beings.
Some of the same steel riggers who built the Twin Towers are now cutting up the wreckage to be carted off for FBI and police examination at the Arthur Kill dump, re-opened after the terrorist attacks. The hurt is burned into their faces; generally, construction workers don't intend for their work to be blown up by scum from the Middle East. They take immense pride in what they've built; they point out projects to their grandchildren who are properly awed.
Funerals are still going on from September 11th's harvest of death. The memorials never seem to stop.
And yet in Washington, Michael Jordan is back, scoring 19 against the
Knicks last night in a losing effort that still electified the crowd.
The Yankees, although only down 2-1, are on the ropes; everybody knows
it. But, nobody cares that "Mr. Smooth" O'Neill can't get around
on the high fast one anymore, or that Jeter is clearly injured from his
dive into the seats against Oakland, or that there hasn't been such a devastating
pair of starters aimed at an opponent in the World Series since Sandy Koufax
and Don Drysdale in the 1960's. Who cares? They're out there.
And when we're out there, I find we all concentrate more on work and play
than any of us have in years, if ever. Conversations break out in
the most unlikely places. We have no reason to be bored. If
something happens, and we escape, we can turn for solace to church, friends,
relatives, and colleagues. We can go to a concert and weep at an
We can keep cheering a basketball team, think back on recent memories
of another World Series. All these are luxuries that no soldier has
ever had. Wherever they are, when the action pauses, and drilling
goes past old hat into a realm of stupefaction, whether on an aircraft
carrier or somewhere on the ground, there's nothing for them but boredom
and fear. Send a long letter if you know a soldier, a sailor, an
airman or a Marine; send a long, talky tape. Nowadays, you can even
call on a cell phone. Help; otherwise all you have to do in the silent
moments is wait and fear.