Images reminds us of Sept. 11 evil
4/12/2002 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
If you destroy it, they will come.
I don't mean to be overly glib, but that's what I keep thinking about the site where the World Trade Center used to be. In the movie "Field of Dreams" Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, clears much of his Iowa cornfield to build a baseball field. The presumably divine voice in his head keeps telling him, "If you build it, they will come." The "they" are untold numbers of Americans from all walks of life.
"People will come, Ray," explains James Earl Jones' character at the end of the film. "They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door, innocent as children, longing for the past. ... Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."
Something similar is happening in New York City. Even though recovery efforts are winding down, Americans and foreigners are swarming to Ground Zero in ever greater numbers. Richard Stepler, a director of the South Street Seaport Museum, which issues about 6,000 tickets a day for observation decks looking out on Ground Zero, told the Associated Press, "The crowds have grown significantly since the cold winter months," he said. "There's absolutely no indication that it is slacking off in any respect at all. We always issue all of the tickets we have each day, and often within two hours."
The people going to Ground Zero aren't gawkers seeking titillation. I've been there a few times in the last seven months and the atmosphere is always somber, serious and amazingly quiet for downtown New York. Flowers, children's drawings and touching little tokens of solidarity can be found on walls and fences surrounding the area.
I think there are many reasons why people want to see the rubble and destruction of Ground Zero, even though there's not much to see anymore. Curiosity about the most dramatic and historic image ever captured on video is a natural human response.
But, among all of the motives, one stands out to me as the most important. People feel compelled to come to this field of nightmares, as it were, because they want to be reminded why they are angry.
American news networks have done something very strange. They've decided America should not see why it is at war. By the evening of Sept. 11, the news networks unanimously decided that Americans should not see any footage of people leaping to their deaths from the top of the World Trade Center. Most American networks have never shown these pictures even once.
However, these images were broadcast for weeks around the world on foreign television networks, and have been often been cited as a chief source of the world's support for the war on terrorism. When visiting the United States, Hamid Karzai, the interim president of Afghanistan singled out these images as the essence of the evil we face. Alas, most Americans had never even seen them.
It is a rare thing in the history of warfare that the galvanizing images for a nation's battle are more likely to be seen by the enemy than by its own citizens.
Erik Sorenson, the president and general manager of MSNBC, explained his network's decision not to show such horror. He told the Sept. 13 New York Times, "We chose not to show a lot," he said. "How more horrifying and graphic can you get than a 110-story building blowing up and disintegrating right before your eyes?"
A lot more horrifying is the answer to that question - after all, no network has shown images of American corpses either. But never mind that because within a matter of weeks the networks decided to stop showing the footage of that 110-story building collapsing, too. The execs concluded such images would be too sensational.
NBC ran a single clip of a man plunging to his death and then admitted it was a mistake. "There was so much stuff coming in, and I understand how it got on once," NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley told the Times. "But once it was on, we decided not to use it again. It's stunning photography, I understand that, but we felt the image was disturbing."
That's the point. The networks shouldn't be protecting us from being disturbed when being disturbed is what we need to be. Anger is not an evil emotion when it is a response to evil. Indeed, the networks seem perfectly willing to disturb us when it helps them explain the need for gun control, hate crime laws, etc.
Reminding Americans why and how this war got started is more important now than it was in the first days after Sept. 11, regardless of where you stand on the war. Besides, Americans want to be reminded. At least that's true of the thousands of people visiting Ground Zero every day.