Monday, May 2, 2011

The White House and Ground Zero: Bearing Witness

It was seeing the crowds that got to me.

I was a child in the sixties. Crowds gathering in front of the White House then did not come in a spirit of unity.  They came in anger, anger at a war they did not believe in.  Later they came to drive a crooked president from office.

Last night they came to the president's house in solidarity, in response to the news that a man who ordered the death of 3,000 Americans had died.  And that he had died knowing that after nearly ten years, American soldiers were bringing the war that he declared to his doorstep.  The man who so casually sent others to their deaths was himself the latest casualty in that war.

They came.  By the dozen, then by the hundreds, they came. Just to be there, and to be together.

News commentators compared it to V-E or V-J day in 1945.  That may be too much, but certainly it is historic. There has been nothing quite like this in my lifetime.

And then there were the people flocking to Ground Zero in New York. 

I was born and raised in New Jersey, and New York is the major city I know best.  I've been to the city many times since 9/11, but I never could go to Ground Zero.  I knew no one who died there that day, and the idea of going there seemed like worst kind of macabre voyeurism.  It was not my place.

But all kinds of people went there when they heard the news.  Many had lost someone on 9/11.  Others were young, and probably count not remember a time when that man and the threat he represented did not hover over them like the mushroom clouded hovered over my childhood in the years after the Cuban missile crisis.

They reclaimed that space.  It will always be a place of mourning.  But tonight it also became a place of vindication, one for all Americans.

The horror he started will not automatically end with his death.  He was just one man.  This is not a movie.  Killing the bad guy does not mean it is over. 

But for one night at least, Americans could take some satisfaction in knowing that the living embodiment of the evil of that awful day had to, at last, pay for his crimes.  As the crowds spontaneously moving to the White House and Ground Zero said with their actions, it was an occasion for bearing witness.

No comments:

Post a Comment