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Such Emptiness! Such Depth of Preparedness!
by Peter Kurth
July 30, 2004

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Ladies and gentleman, citizens of the United States, former free persons and torches of Liberty! I don’t want to be the one who breaks this news to you, but somebody has to, and it might as well be me.

Listen up, because this is terribly important. Not just your own future, but the future of all generations after you will depend upon it.

You’re not scared enough. You’re not scared nearly enough. You should be frightened out of your wits and, apparently, you’re not.

Don’t take my word for it – it’s official. Last week, the so-called “independent” National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- otherwise known as the 9/11 Commission – concluded in its final report, not just that further terrorist assaults on the U.S. are “possible – even probable,” but that these are likely to be “deadlier” than the ones that killed nearly 3000 people in September 2001.

It’s hard to know, of course, what the commission means by “deadlier.” Do they mean that more than 3000 people will die next time, or that those who do will be more dead than the others?

No matter. “We are not safe,” the commission says.

“We were asleep at the wheel,” it says.

“We may have been shocked,” it says, “but we should not be surprised.”

Right. No “surprise” when the two tallest buildings in the world go down to fiery doom, taking everyone in and around them with it. The commission’s Republican chair, former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, adds, for the record, “Time is not on our side.”

Time isn’t on anyone’s side, when you think about it, but the only thing Kean and his crew can recommend is a new “security” chief to oversee all “intelligence gathering” in this land, a federal position – yes, another one -- to be created, appointed and approved by “the President,” whoever that is. At the moment, it’s George W. Bush, whose regime (full circle here) was “asleep at the wheel” the first time around. Just give it another week and they’ll be calling the new guy “Security Czar.”

“We deliberately made the decision not to play the blame game,” says Kean’s “bipartisan” co-chair, Democrat Lee Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana who has never in his life come down on the square side of anything. “We’re looking to the future, not the past.”

Sweet. This is where “the people” – whose husbands, wives, children and partners died in the 9/11 disaster – aren’t allowed to spit over the ropes. This is where, and how, the commission keeps them in place. This is the technique of all usurpation in our time, from the highest levels of national life to the lowest rip-offs of budget funding in Vermont: “I’m so sorry. Here, we don’t `revisit’ the past. We look to the future!”

That’s going to help a lot – really, a lot. When “the past” is forbidden territory – “past history,” as the flunkies say – and “the blame game” is never played, there’s no one to punish but you and me, down here on the street.

You think I’m kidding? Even before the 9/11 report was released last week, the American Red Cross called a pow-wow at George Washington University in Foggy Bottom, in the nation’s capital, to talk about “American vigilance” in the face of “catastrophic attack.” As I said at the start, it seems that none of you are taking it seriously enough.

“Only two in ten Americans feel very prepared’ for a catastrophic event,” according to the ARC: “Only about half of parents polled knew the disaster plans of their child’s school or daycare; the number of people who are familiar with the disaster plan at their workplace is also only about half; and the number of people who said that they have a family emergency plan that includes a place to meet if they are evacuated … has plummeted in the last year. In fact, only one in ten American households has a family emergency plan, a disaster kit, and training in first aid and CPR.”

Evidently the world still needs a lot of teaching in how to be blown into smithereens.

“We need to narrow the universe of the unprepared,” says American Red Cross President Marsha Evans, who, by the sight of her, wouldn’t recognize the universe of anyone not already outfitted like Mia Farrow in “petite” escape clothes. “Whether it’s an act of terrorism or an act of God, there are five easy steps you can take to prepare for it! You can make a plan, build a kit, get trained, volunteer and give blood – the five basic building blocks of the `Red Cross Together We Prepare’ program!”

Please note that the American Red Cross isn’t the same as the International Committee of the Red Cross -- the valiant body that goes into any battle zone, come hell or high water, to assist the dying and wounded – and that Evans is speaking only for a tiny minority of rich, white Americans on committees. She is a woman of such emptiness, such depth of non-comprehension, that she can actually add to these insults:

“Unprepared Americans fall into five categories: head scratchers,’ who don't know where to find preparedness advice; head in the sand’ types, who believe preparation is unimportant; head in the clouds’ people, who mistakenly believe they are ready; the headset crowd’ that is too busy and can't find time to do it; and people who `simply haven't thought about preparedness.’”

These are the people, I’d guess, who actually have heads. “Our goal is to achieve seamless protection,” says Homeland Security “czar” Tom Ridge, who shared the podium with Evans last week and who speaks in the voice of the Bush administration -- “a nation knit tightly together by shared vigilance.”

Knit one, purl two. When all else fails, jump under the desk.

Peter Kurth is the author of international bestselling books including Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson, Isadora: A Sensational Life, and a biography of the anti-fascist journalist Dorothy Thompson, American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson. His essays have appeared in Salon, Vanity Fair, New York Times Book Review, and many others. Peter lives in Burlington, Vermont. He can be reached at: Visit his website at:


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