SINCE Sept. 11, the majority of Americans have been faced with tough decisions in their lives. Having never experienced such a large-scale national loss as occurred as a result of the terrorist attacks, we had no standard of how long to mourn, how much to mourn, and, most importantly, how long to wait before moving on with our lives. But as the two-month mark approaches, most people would say - as well they should - that they have started to attempt to go back to the way things were before the attacks. Thankfully, the city of New York is moving on as well.
Unfortunately, a group of New York City firefighters cannot let go of their losses and move on, and thus are holding back the rest of the city - and nation.
The city announced plans last week to reduce the number of police officers and firefighters searching through the rubble at Ground Zero for the remains of more than 4,000 people - some of whom are their fallen comrades. The reduction from around 200 to 75 personnel comes from what New York City mayor Rudolph W. Guliani calls an "out of control" work site, where large cranes and destruction machinery work side by side with people searching the rubble on foot.
A group of firefighters disagreed with this plan, and on Friday marched through the police barricades to Ground Zero, held a moment of silence, then marched to City Hall where they faced off with police in riot gear and on horseback. During the course of events, five police officers sustained injuries and 12 firefighters were arrested for allegedly punching cops and tossing aside barricades. All felony charges were dropped Saturday, but 10 firefighters still are charged with misdemeanors.
This clash was an unfortunate result of a few people who need to let go and move on. The city made the right decision in cutting back on search personnel. It has been nearly two months since the terrorist attacks, and the same nation that was united in grief now is united in its quest to live life as we always have and not allow a small minority to scare us away from what we've always held dear. It's past time to protest progress, a progress that unifies all of us as we go back to business as usual.
Aside from moving on with their lives, the firefighters and other police officers who are enraged by the city's decision need to realize that their search efforts for victims' remains are nearing futile anyway. A medical examiner told Guliani that "the crush of the buildings and the high degree of heat was going to mean that ... the majority or vast majority of people would disappear, because they would evaporate" ("Ground Zero Change Angers Firefighters," The Washington Post, Nov. 3). As sad as it is, 200 people do not need to be searching the rubble in hopes of finding bodies that already have turned to dust.
But some police officers and firefighters can't see the sad truth. One firefighter, who refused to be identified, summed up the protesters' feelings. "There are 4,000 people still missing. This is a gravesite. This is sacred ground. It's just a money thing for the city ... We were supposed to be the great heroes and now look what's happening."
But heroes know when it's time to move on. Heroes don't assault police officers that fight for the same cause firefighters do. The firefighters and police officers who worked so hard in the aftermath of the tragedy always will be heroes, as will the ones who died that day. By clashing with police and embarrassing themselves by holding on too dear, these protesters taint the names of the very men and women they're trying to find.
Labeling Ground Zero as a sacred gravesite is an entirely credible - and accurate - view. It always will be remembered for the lives lost and buried under the mass. But the area needs to be cleared, even if that clearing process removes some undiscovered bodies. There may only be a very few intact remains among the rubble, but once the area is cleared, a memorial can be constructed to honor every single life lost. By trying to salvage the honor of their fallen comrades, the protestors ironically are prolonging the time before all casualties are honored, their co-workers included.
While Guliani says the cutbacks have nothing to do with money, money indeed is a factor in today's slowing economy. Cutbacks are being made everywhere, from the smallest sector to the massive cleanup at Ground Zero. In no way does this take away from the memory of those lives lost, but in fact helps everyone move on.
The firefighters and police officers who are up in arms over the city's decision to cut back the search process need to move on as well. It's dangerous for them to dig through the rubble while machinery grinds on next to them. Their entombed friends already are heroes never to be forgotten, and their services are needed elsewhere in the city that never sleeps. If the nation is to rest easy, we all need to move on.
(Brandon Almond is a Cavalier Daily opinion editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)