FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Former NYC Firefighter on the Death of Bin Laden

“Hey man, aren’t you from New York. A plane just hit the World Train Center.”

“What? What kind of plane?”

“It’s all over the news.”

I put down the bar bells, hustle into the television room of my gated Florida community and see wreckage, smoke, and flames.

My first counterintuitive thought is, Wow, what a job, I wish I was working.

I was lucky.

What follows is the worst day in department history. New York City lost 343 firefighters.

I lost 45 friends.

Unless, God forbid, a worse disaster befalls us, my career will always be defined by 9/11. After serving 23 years in the busiest houses, I feel like a soldier who missed World War 11. Whenever I say I was a N.Y. firefighter, invariably the next question is,

“Were you at the World Trade Center?”

Now Osama Bin Laden is dead. “Justice has been served,”President Obama says.

I hope so.

My heart screams, “You sonofabitch, rest in pieces.”

But as a Vietnam vet, and a 62-year-old man who has seen first hand suffering and death, I was troubled at the hairless faces swelling in the streets chanting,  “U.S.A., U.S.A.”

If you wear the other man’s caftan, one man’s terrorist becomes another man’s patriot.

What if an Iraqi assassinated George W. Bush and then screamed “justice” while Arabs danced in the streets?

When Muslims dance over our misfortune, we’re repulsed. Similar reactions by Americans send the wrong message throughout the Arab world.

This isn’t a sporting event. These inappropriate celebrations violate human dignity, and the inherent sanctity of human life.  Celebrating death, even an enemies, reminds me of the anger I felt at seeing Afghans dancing in the streets the day the Towers fell.

Veterans and firefighters have no monopoly on graphic, agonizing memories, but men in uniform are painfully aware that casualties have faces, lives and stories.

Numbers can be adjusted, or corrected, people can’t. Bones shatter; blood spills and limbs detach.

The words  “rescue worker dead” flow easy from a commentator’s well-paid lips. But someone who compresses his comrade’s head to prevent his brain from sliding into the desert sand won’t describe death so casually.

The uninitiated can’t conceive what effect fire or explosives has on human flesh or human psyche. We live in “The United States of Amnesia.” Unless tragedy affects us personally, images of unknown heroes helping faceless victims won’t last.

Men who survive disaster or combat see victims differently, not as strangers but as unlucky reflections of themselves.  By vicariously reliving their own nightmares, they share the agony of the fallen: “There but for the grace of God.”

Bin Laden’s assassination might bring closure to 9/11 victims’ families whose experience with the attack was personal. One victim’s brother had tears streaming down his face, but he wasn’t dancing. We shouldn’t either.

This is no game, no time to rejoice, and no time for partisanship. I encourage you to demonstrate the angels of our better nature, expose America’s compassion.

History’s most expensive manhunt is over. I pray Bin Laden’s death brings the victims’ families peace. Bush’s mission completed, our boys should come home from Afghanistan.

But, as a former bookie, I’ll lay odds against it.

Bill O’Connor is a Vietnam veteran, former Bronx firefighter and pub and restaurant owner. He is a stand-up comic and a recent UF journalism graduate. The irreverent and acerbic O’Connor has a weekly column that can be found on-line entitled, “Confessions of a New York Bookie.” He can be reached at: Oconnor.WilliamP@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail