Thursday, May 20, 2004

When a NYFD chief reminded the September 11 commission this week that it was never in “anyone’s consciousness” that the Twin Towers would fall, he underscored the terrible truth, often forgotten, that we now live in the Age of the Unthinkable. Seared into our consciousness is that the Twin Towers could and did fall — as could the Empire State Building, the U.S. Capitol and the Superdome. Our children know, as we never before imagined, that passenger planes may become guided missiles, and skyscrapers may turn to scorched rubble. Islamist jihad indeed has expanded our consciousness.

But if we look back on the blinkered bliss that ended with the catastrophic triumph of a despicable Islamist conspiracy, we also see the shining wellspring of courage and sacrifice the day revealed. It is painful to behold, but it has steadied and strengthened a reeling nation. What could be worse, two-and-a-half years later, than to watch it sullied by a poisonous government commission?

There is a strange pathology in the September 11 commission that goes beyond the Bush-bashing grandstanding of the old days (remember Richard Clarke?), back when the president of the USAG (United States of Abu Ghraib) was taking it on the chin for not having enacted serious measures, pre-September 11, to stop Islamist terrorists — such as putting women’s underwear on the heads of racially profiled Muslim men at airport check-ins, I suppose. In the commission’s findings, there now emerges a weird sense that what happened on September 11 — when out of the most heavenly azure sky, al Qaeda simultaneously launched four air attacks on American cities — was something the Big Apple should have planned and drilled for to the point of preventing all casualties. Indeed, according to commission thinking, it is almost as if New York’s response to al Qaeda’s attacks created all the mayhem in the first place.

Built into this twisted point of view is the equally bizarre notion that, given enough tax-payer-funded analysis, the federal commission will discover just what caused 3,000 Americans to lose their lives on September 11 — and, in so doing, presumably make New York City safe from terrorism. Forget about a surprise attack launched in broad daylight by soldiers of a Muslim army hidden from detection by our own politically correct blinders. Were New York’s Finest at fault? Were New York’s Bravest sloughing off? Could Mayor Rudy Giuliani have done more?

The most egregious example of commission scapegoating concerns the stalwart service on September 11 of Deputy Assistant Chief Joseph W. Pfeifer. Chief Pfeifer arrived at the north tower six minutes after seeing the first jet strike, helping to bring order to the fearful chaos in the lobby and direct rescue units to the upper floors. He also sent his only brother, Fire Lt. Kevin Pfeifer, up the stairs. “We spent a couple of seconds looking at each other,” Chief Pfeifer told the New York Times. “He didn’t say anything. It was just a look.” Lt. Pfeifer was among the 343 members of the NYFD who died in the inferno.

Now, two-and-a-half years later, Chief Pfeifer is being raked over September 11’s coals for a command decision he made to switch radio channels from a stronger signal the chief says wasn’t working that morning, to a weaker, functioning alternate, thereby losing the ability to communicate with all units, and thereby failing to learn immediately when the south tower collapsed. The commission finding is that an unnamed chief — Chief Pfeifer — was mistaken: The better, stronger radio channel was indeed working. The chief robustly disagrees. He also points out that even with the weaker radio signal, he was able to direct the evacuation of the north tower for a hellish hour — plus until it, too, collapsed. His actions saved the lives of countless civilians and firemen.

Why should this man be called on to sweat over and defend his undeniably valiant service on September 11? Is Chief Pfeifer — a dutiful, courageous fireman, who, following his best instincts, helped saved thousands of Americans on September 11 — to blame for even one death? Two deaths? One hundred deaths? The implications of the commission’s findings — that America’s heroes share blame for the carnage — are outrageous.

When commissioner Bob Kerrey asked World Trade Center director Alan Reiss whether he was “angry” (is this “Oprah”?) the FBI didn’t reveal more about al Qaeda before September 11, Mr. Reiss, according to the New York Post, “shot back” he was angry at “19 people in an airplane,” not the FBI.

Nineteen men in an airplane is right. Of course, if the “chatter” before September 11 had been listened to, these men would have been racially profiled right off their flights. That’s the only logical conclusion of any serious inquiry into how September 11 might have been prevented — one to which the September 11 commission will never get.

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