Every time the subject of 9/11 comes up, the sunshine soldiers and summer patriots of the “could’ve, would’ve and should’ve” school of criticism lecture us about all of the mistakes that were made when 9/11 happened and in its immediate aftermath. Back in the real world, 9/11 was the most deadly attack on American citizens – claiming thousands of victims – that has occurred in the long history of this country. Further, the strike was unexpected and without warning or suspicion of impending doom. Of course, once it happened, the city could have been simply shut down. But, since New York is the central financial hub of both the U.S. and the world, not only would America’s economy have been ruined, but there would have been a worldwide economic collapse.
On June 22, 1941, when Russia was attacked by Germany, Joseph Stalin was so paralyzed that for days he locked himself in a room in his Dacha, paralyzed into inaction, while the Nazis overran his country, killing and capturing literally hundreds of thousands of soldiers and destroying the Russian air force – and this was after he was warned by numerous sources that the attacks were about to occur.
This was not what happened here in New York. The institutions of government were reconstructed on an immediate basis. If business did not go on as usual, at least there was a reasonable facsimile thereof. On the West Side Piers, there was the astounding spectacle of each of the city agencies up and running in makeshift, but functioning, mode. Large signs were hung over desks indicating “Corrections Department,” “Sanitation Department,” “Water Department,” “Social Service Department,” etc. Huge fax machines spewed out hourly updates on the conditions of gas and power lines in the smitten area.
The mayor gave almost hourly reports to the public, keeping them informed and calm in the knowledge that there was a steady hand at the helm. An adjacent building was turned into a survivor’s center where missing loved ones could attempt to be contacted through a network of hospitals and aide centers. While all the searching went on, chaplains, aide workers, Red Cross workers, etc. were available both to administer to the families’ needs and take care of children at a play center while the adults went about their grim business. Sadly, there were literally no survivors, but that was the fault of the despicable fanatic Muslims and certainly not the fault of any city official.
Furthermore, notwithstanding any temporary confusion, the federal government immediately recognized who the guilty parties were; the armed forces were mobilized and accomplished devastating strikes against the right people.
With the visual acuity of hindsight, the Emergency Response Center could have been constructed differently and in a different location. Different precautions could have been taken to protect first and second responders. But who knew? If we knew when it was going to rain with any degree of certainty, we would never be caught without an umbrella. The city acted on the best available information both before and after the event – and, incidentally, as far as the Emergency Response Center was concerned, various federal agencies were located in the same building and in the vicinity, and they, too, were devastated.
Anybody who witnessed New York and the downtown area immediately after 9/11 at the same time had to be appalled at the degree of devastation and marvel at the correctness of the response of a mayor who led rather than dithered. He wrote the textbook for the role public officials should assume when catastrophe strikes. The people coming out of the woodwork now could well fit under the category, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” Let us and public officials – including the mayor – be praised for what we did that was right and not condemned for what could have been done differently, because we view and judgment is made through the prism of time and knowledge certainly not available on 9/11.
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