With the second anniversary of 9/11 almost upon us, we’re about to be inundated again
by television documentaries on the World Trade Center, the attacks on it and the
Pentagon, and even by a fictionalized replay of those events
— although public officials and the news media have made less extensive
to mark the anniversary than last year.

I may be no one to talk, having done my share of 9/11 stories: A deadline report on the day of the
, another on the day
, a week later when the New York Stock
Exchange reopened
, and yet again on the first anniversary of
. But here’s the TV deluge anyway:

Amid all this, perhaps we should keep in mind Jimmy Breslin’s single-minded, little-publicized
columns about not making martyrs of those who died at Ground Zero. Breslin argues against
memorializing their deaths more than we do others who have died under ordinary circumstances.
He wrote on Friday in

[N]obody … has exclusive ownership for memorials and the like. Since the
attack, some 140,000 New Yorkers have died. … It happened to be pretty tragic for their loved
ones, too. If we have a memorial for some people, then we should have one for

Breslin, ever the contrarian, has been arguing for a long time against turning Ground Zero
into a glorified cemetery. It’s not a popular position to take. Neither is his position on future
skyscrapers at Ground Zero. He sees no virtue in them because he believes they’ll be flattened
again. He thinks their reconstruction is a symbol of overweaning pride. Breslin has always
been wary of hubris. It’s one of the lessons of his streetwise education — and he
keeps reminding us that it’s a lesson worth remembering, especially for those in power far above
the streets.

It’s not that he fails to sympathize with the families of the WTC victims. His columns have
told many of their stories. Just a week ago he wrote about a mother’s desperate
for the transcripts and tapes that recorded the last words
of a daughter who died on the 106th floor of the north tower.

He has criticized what he regards as empty
that do not help the grieving
families and poured contempt on Rudolph Giuliani, whom he regards as a
self-aggrandizing phony:
“Mention the World Trade Center to Giuliani and to him that means I, me, my catastrophe, my
site, my workers, my fund, my all of it.” And he has railed against the lies of the Bush
administration and the Environmental Protection Agency
when they assured the public it was safe to breathe air at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the
Further, Breslin wrote about another building’s collapse, a whole book
in fact: “The Short
Sweet Dream of Eduardo GutiĆ©rrez.”
(Free registration
In it he memorializes a 21-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant day laborer whose
death on a construction site in Brooklyn was caused not by terrorists but by the more common
causes of building-code violations, corruption and greed. This is a death that implicates all of us in
a tragic betrayal of America’s promise, Breslin warrants, and it’s no less notable than 3,016
murders by terrorists. Is he right? Make up your own mind. But Breslin has me wondering.


Straight Up reader Shane Hockin writes that he agrees with much of what Jimmy
Breslin has to say about George Bush (“I agree with anyone who says he’s a liar”), rebuilding
skyscrapers at Ground Zero (“They should include big red targets on them to make them look
appropriate”) and Rudolph Giuliani (“To hear him talk you’d think he’d personally escaped
the towers and carried thousands of people on his back to safety”).

“But I totally disagree with Mr. Breslin’s stance on the memorial,” Hockin continues. “There
is so much more to it than just honoring the victims and their families. This is an event that we
need to remember, because it had a major impact on every single person in the country, and that
impact will be felt for a long time. The memorial in no way slights everyone who has died in New
York, as Mr. Breslin seems to insinuate. That is ridiculous.

“The fact of the matter is you can’t erect a big memorial for every single person who dies, but
you can for a group that symbolizes something that is a major part of our recent history. Besides,
almost everyone else who dies under ordinary circumstances gets a memorial from their family. So
I guess I just don’t get his argument. I understand the protest against building towers and such,
but being anti-memorial does not make any sense to me.”


This e-mail comes from a Straight Up reader who prefers to remain anonymous:

“I say BRAVO, Jimmy Breslin!!! I was across the street from the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001
and witnessed a jetliner traveling at ground level down Columbia Pike toward the Pentagon. I’ll
never forget the day — the smoke-filled air, the smell of burning diesel and charred flesh, people
screaming and crying.  Confusion and chaos.  A horrible tragedy …

“There were many acts of courage and heroism that day. The firefighters and police were
awesomely brave in their dedication to helping, at terrible risk to their own lives, those in trouble.
… As a nation, we should honor them for their astounding courage. … But were those who died
martyrs? I kinda think they’d be the first to tell you they were doing what they were trained to do
and what their hearts directed them to do. No one intended to die on that horrible day, their
intentions were to save life, not sacrifice it.

“Another example:  I’m very happy Jessica Lynch made it home. But let’s face it, she
probably wasn’t the bravest soldier in the conflict, she was simply someone in a terrible
circumstance with a newsworthy story. Perhaps we delude ourselves into believing that if Jessica
Lynch could be saved then maybe all those innocent kids dying in a strange place so far away
from home could somehow be restored to us as well. But if Jessica is a hero, then every
single soldier in Iraq is a national hero. Why don’t we hear their stories, too?

“Sometimes, people find themselves in bad places in bad times, but this in and of itself does
not make one a hero or martyr. It’s as if simply being human makes us heroic these days. I don’t
have a problem with 9/11 remembrances so long as we use it as an opportunity for healing and
not as a platform to further anyone’s political agenda or help someone become famous for
inappropriate reasons.”

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