It’s getting cold again in New York. Tomorrow could be as cold as December 30, 1999, the day we were setting up for the huge Times Square 2000 celebration.
Back then, a car filled with explosives had been stopped at a border crossing, and the driver said they were intended to go off during a New Year’s Eve event. Our production truck was located at what we then referred to as ground zero, the base of One Times Square, the building on top of which the illuminated ball descends.
There was a huge security zone around us. There were police cordons within police cordons within police cordons. There were credentials upon credentials. And, for good measure, all of the manhole covers were being welded shut.
Suddenly, there was a loud explosion, and the truck rocked back and forth. Some gas had collected near one of the manhole covers, and the welding set it off. Sometimes protective measures have unforeseen consequences.
Protective fencing is going up along some parts of the Central Park roadway. I don’t think it has anything to do with terrorism. It’s more likely for the upcoming marathon.
The park is filling with gorgeous fall colors — brilliant yellows and oranges and some red. The red reminds me of another strange agricultural facet of New York City. I’ve mentioned the Manhattan honeybee hives. There’s also maple syrup made in the Bronx. And I once saw a VERY small cornfield (about one foot by three) on West 73rd Street, just west of Columbus Avenue. No one disturbed it.
One of the more-recent New York institutions is The Onion. It’s not an edible bulb but a satirical publication. It was founded in 1989 by University of Wisconsin students in Madison but moved to Manhattan in January. You can check them out here: http://www.theonion.com.
Two weeks after the attack, The Onion began finding humor associated the events. You may have seen some of their coverage. One story about a press conference by God has been making the rounds.
I preferred their list of protective measures being taken to make America safer. It included these: “KFC to move sporks behind counter,” “U.S. maps re-drawn with thicker, bolder border,” and “$10,000 reward offered for any information leading to eradication of evil.”
Many of the supposed measures were related to air travel, such as: “Airlines to add ‘Are you a terrorist?’ to list of pre-flight questions” and “All commercial flights to taxi to their destinations.”
When I think of strange airline procedures, I sometimes recall my trip on Uzbekistan Airways. The flight to Amsterdam left New York in the evening for morning arrival, but the lights in the plane never went off, there were no pillows, and music blared most of the night. When the return flight left Amsterdam mid-day for late afternoon arrival in New York, pillows were immediately distributed, the lights went out, and the pilot’s last announcement before the PA system went silent asked people to lower their window shades so as not to disturb sleepers.
The airline magazine had some weird jokes and some nice photos of beautiful architecture in Samarkand. The duty-free service offered U.S., Italian, and French products. I asked if they had anything from Uzbekistan, which is how I ended up with a small statue of a man in fancy central-Asian dress. I think it’s supposed to be Tamerlane.
Tamerlane (Timur the lame) ruled his 14th-to-15th-century empire from Samarkand in what is present-day Uzbekistan. The empire stretched, in modern terms, from Turkey to India and incorporated all of Afghanistan. The Taj Mahal was built by one of his descendents. Tamerlane is said to have been equally ruthless in his treatment of both infidels and fellow Muslims. But he is said to have also been a patron of the arts (whew!).
One movie shown on the Uzbekistan Airways flight was “The American President.” It began with the FBI notice that it was licensed for home viewing only.
The FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list features Osama bin Laden (they call him “Usama”) in first place, based on reward amount. Number two is Eric Robert Rudolph, also accused of terrorist acts.
What is a terrorist? One radio talk-show host I heard yesterday said it was someone who kills innocent people, but that definition could apply even to a driver who loses control of a vehicle. Someone who INTENDS to kill innocent people seems more to the point.
Should the World War II Germans who sent buzz bombs and rockets to explode in London streets, the Allies who firebombed Dresden and Tokyo, and those who dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki then be considered terrorists? When is any bomb dropped on any city ever unlikely to kill innocent people?
It is said that the Inuit (whom we used to call Eskimos) have many words for snow and ice because they deal with them so much. What does it say about us, then, that we have so many words for causing the death of another person — assassination, bumping-off, capital punishment, doing-in, execution, hit, homicide, killing, manslaughter, murder, slaying, slaughter, termination, etc.? Then there’s the recent euphemism, “collateral damage,” which doesn’t even suggest any loss of life — it sounds as if there were a leak in a safe-deposit box.
In the attack of September 11, one particularly heinous aspect of the crime was that the second hit did not occur immediately. There was sufficient time for rescuers to show up first, so they could be killed, too. That is certainly a terrorist procedure.
On January 16, 1997, a bomb exploded at the Sandy Springs Professional Building, which housed the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Service. The bomb was designed to cause as much harm to people as possible. And, an hour later, after rescuers had arrived, a second bomb went off.
On February 21, 1997, a bomb exploded at the Otherside Lounge in Atlanta. Authorities found a second bomb there, too. It had been set to go off when and where rescue workers would have set up.
Eric Robert Rudolph was charged with those bombings as well as with the deadly bombing at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park in 1996 and the deadly bombing at the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama in 1998. The Olympic Park bombing killed Alice Hawthorne, who was visiting the city with her daughter. Melih Uzunyol, a Turkish videographer, also died on the scene, although not killed directly by the blast. The Birmingham explosion murdered a police officer, Robert Sanderson.
There is no doubt that these were terrorist acts, even though they killed fewer than the attacks of September 11 did. But the FBI does not think they were committed by someone of middle-eastern descent. The Bureau’s description of Rudolph lists him as a blue-eyed, fair-complexioned, male, white American who was born in Florida.
We think of home-grown American terrorists as criminal anomalies. Even though something called the Army of God claimed credit for the bombings with which Rudolph was charged, we think of them as the acts of a deranged loner.
I worked last week with someone who readily acknowledged the existence of these individual American terrorists. He was also convinced, however, that a large proportion of the Islamic world, unlike us, either actively or passively supported terrorists.
Are we really so different? Here are some headlines about the search for Rudolph in North Carolina from the Raleigh News & Observer:
April 19, 1998 – “Sympathizers Likely Helping Rudolph Stay Hidden”
July 19, 1998 – “Some in Andrews Say They Would Not Turn the Bombing Suspect In”
July 21, 1998 – “Clergy Split Over Fugitive”
That last one noted that some religious leaders “would not condemn anyone who helped the 31-year-old suspect in the bombing of an abortion clinic escape.” And it wasn’t a matter of sanctuary-for-all.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview that was part of “The World Today,” transmitted on June 11 of this year by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The interviewee was Shaun Winkler of the U.S.-based Aryan Nations group:
“As a matter of fact, I’d say about 90 percent of Americans would refer to [Timothy McVeigh] as a monstrous man that took a hideous — committed a hideous terrorist crime. But to us, you know, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s — we look at him as a very patriot — he took a stand against the Federal Government.”
The interviewer later asked, “So his only failing was not killing enough people?” Winkler responded, “Well, exactly.”
I believe it’s a lot more than 90 percent — nearly 100% –who consider terrorism monstrous and hideous. And I believe that percentage is pretty much the same all over the world.