Listening to Rudy Giuliani talk the other day before the 9/11 commission brought back the memory of standing along lower Broadway one evening after the buildings fell and the world changed forever. The purple twilight was still filled with the dust and scent of disaster and the sidewalks were crowded with people looking for anyone or anything that might help them find a loved one lost in the rubble of war’s first strike.
When trucks would rumble through the dust that covered the roadways, carrying relief crews into the smoldering grave site or out at the end of a long shift spent searching for the dead, people would applaud the noble effort the men and women made with heavy hearts.
Earlier, Bush the President had come to New York. Bullhorn in hand, he seized office with his declaration that those who committed murder in Manhattan would soon hear from all of us.
The crushing loss of life, the sadness, the primal instinct for revenge, the collective outrage that united the country, all of it is still fresh in the mind.
I did not lose a child that day. I did not suffer the death of a wife, a parent or a co-worker so I cannot speak to the rage that consumes some of those who were disappointed, even outraged at the testimony and tone of questioning of Giuliani by the 9/11 commission.
I am like a lot of Americans. I knew more than a few who were killed Sept. 11, some better than others. And there are moments when I still look to the skyline, amazed that the two towers are gone. But lately I find myself wondering what happened since then. The morning Bush grabbed that bullhorn he could have asked or even demanded a lot from a wounded nation. Surrounded by flags everywhere, he could have planted his own and asked the country to follow him.
And we would have, too. Make a few sacrifices along the way? No problem. After all, look at the sacrifices that had just been made by so many.
When the President came to New York in September 2001, gasoline was $1.55 a gallon. I just paid $2.20 a gallon to fill the tank. Imagine if Bush had suggested a tax on gas after Sept. 11, asking that the extra revenue be dedicated to getting the best minds in America to develop alternative fuels to help detox ourselves off energy supplies we purchase from people who hate us and want to kill us.
But he didn’t. And he hasn’t. So what happened?
Most of us haven’t been asked to make a single sacrifice. And some of us have even been rewarded with tax cuts while only a few - those in uniform - pick up the tab.
I heard Giuliani the other day, but what I really heard was the muffled sounds from memory of ordinary people - the wounded and the sorrowful - as they quietly applauded the noble effort of rescue workers searching for those who sacrificed everything. Nobody had to ask them to do their duty. And, ironically, nobody has ever asked the rest of us to do anything either.