Brave New Films has a heartbreaking new video up detailing the malfunctioning radios that undoubtedly led to the deaths of untold numbers of firefighters on 9/11. Police in the helicopters saw the towers leaning ten to fifteen minutes before they came down and sounded the alarm and most of the police, who heard the warning, got out. But the firefighters were carrying radios that hadn’t functioned in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. After seven years of dawdling, Rudy Giuliani gave a no-bid contract to Motorola to replace them (with the price jumping from $1.4 million to $14 million) but the radios they delivered in 2001 didn’t work either, so they were recalled and firefighters were re-issed the old radios.
The results, as the video depicts, were devastating.
But the most outrageously galling part is how Rudy tries to spin the death of the firefighters:
Rosaleen Tallon (brother Sean killed on 9/11): Their radios failed them and that was Giuliani failing them.
Giuliani (appearing before the 9/11 commission): Their willingness, as I describe it, to stand their ground and not retreat and the fact that so many of them interpreted it that way kept a much calmer situation and a much better evacuation.
(people start screaming “No!” from the back of the room)
Mrs. Riches (son Jimmy was killed on 9/11): To say that they heard the command to get out and then didn’t…how dare he!
Mr. Riches: And disobeyed their orders…no.
Maureen Santora: (son Christopher killed on 9/11): It was such an unbelievable statement…
Eileen Tallon (son Sean killed on 9/11): That our sons practically wanted to die…
I’ve long believed that the right wing doesn’t really care about abortion (it’s the misogyny that counts, and Rudy makes National Merit on that test). But he’s got a big problem on the firefighter front.
Susan Faludi in her book The Terror Dream talks about how firefighters became mythologized in the days following 9/11, filling a deep psychological need for superheroes in the wake of the tragedy:
“If one hero has come to stand for it all, it is the New York City firefighter,” a New York Times op-ed piece decreed two days after the attacks. They were our most glorious combatants. Under the headline “The Firefighter: An American Hero,” People began its homage this way: “Along with the roughly 3,000 civilians killed in the World Trade Center attacks, 60 police officers also died, as did 2 fire department paramedics and 3 court officers. Yet it is the firefighters, valiant warriors on a flame-filled vertical battlefield, who have taken on the mantle of legend, like the Spitfire pilots in the Battle of Britain or Leonidas’s 300 Spartans holding the line at Thermopylae — the few, to paraphrase Churchill, giving so much for so many.”
In our “different kind of war,” these uniformed men were assigned the role of our new supersoldiers, Green Berets in red hats. “These are the men who will fight our wars,” President Bush intoned, after posing with the firefighters at the smoldering ruins, bullhorn in hand, as if he were their commanding officer. “These men are fighting the first battle,” Mayor Giuliani declared. In fact, he maintained, they had already won it. “Our firefighters helped save more than twenty-five thousand lives that day — the greatest single rescue mission in America’s history.” That was a claim the surviving firefighters themselves would regard as preposterous.
The need to lionize the firefighters as the true heroes of 9/11 left the public (and the media) with little appetite to hear how they had been betrayed by Rudi Giuliani. Falludi goes on to recount how, when Giluliani tried to claim in his appearance before the 9/11 commission that the firefighters had “stood their ground,” one of the people in the back of the room shouted “My son was murdered! Murdered because of incompetence, and the radios didn’t work.” Tom Kean tried to shut her up, saying “You are simply wasting time here.”
But Rudy’s running for President now, and his whole shtick depends on him being the true hero of 9/11. The fact is, however, that in a competition the firefighters have a much more solid hold on that place in the firmament. It’s ironic yet fitting that the power they derive from the national need to fill that void will be used to take Rudy down, but if the families are successful and the New York City Council launches an investigation of what happened with the radios, I frankly don’t see how he overcomes it. Even the true believers will have to side with the firefighters, having erected all their justifications for a five year war on the need to avenge their deaths.
If Rudy is revealed to be a greedy, incompetent, excuse-making churl in the process, he can try and follow the right wing playbook and smear the firefighters like they were some brain injured 12 year-old boy.
Good luck to him with that one.