Making Hay on 9/11



The Veteran in a New Field
Winslow Homer

One of my union local officers posted a piece on Facebook the other day reporting that a Florida elected official, Janet Long, was quoted as saying that firefighters, “have really taken advantage of 9/11 and what happened then and capitalized on it and the emotion” among other things.

Ms. Long is going where few mortals have gone before.  Calling out firefighters for “making hay” around 9/11 is either courageous or foolhardy and destined to get a strong response either way.

Much has been made of the fact that she is a democrat, as if friends of Barack don’t fart in church, too.  The truth is that generally, the lower down the food chain you go, the less it matters what political affiliation the person is.  And of course, the really great decider is geography.  A New York republican is likely as not to be more liberal than a blue dog democrat who vomits whenever public employee rights are mentioned.

Have firefighters taken advantage of 9/11?  Only we would know for sure.  Here’s a potential test:  If you aren’t a member of either IAFF Local 94 or IAFF Local 854 and you cited the events of 9/11 in any way that would result in personal gain directly or indirectly, you either took advantage of the situation or you were at least guilty of being tactless.  Responders who operated at the either the Pentagon or Shanksville get a bit of pass, though not much.

This is because the extraordinary losses in New York are so transcendent that they occupy an immortal space and should be the professional equivalent of sacred.

By the way, if your excuse is that FDNY members told you that you could invoke them, that’s really not an excuse.  Everyone knows that the FDNY legend is actually quite true:  They are unfailingly generous to other firefighters, sometimes to a fault, if such a thing can be.

Perhaps the real question is, have firefighters gained from 9/11?  Indeed we have, the world over.

The deaths of 343 firefighters on 9/11 was a cataclysmic professional event that still cannot be grasped by those not a part of their tribe.  We all saw it and some of us were caught up in it, but only as witnesses as a very brave crew went down with the ship.

To have gained from their loss does not necessarily consign us to moral corruption but it does mean that we must navigate a very complex passage.  We would surely founder in the end if we took advantage, especially by complicit association, because we will never know the true honor of the dead or the loss felt by those they left behind.

[We remember JP and all the others.]


The Veteran in a New Field, 1865
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Oil on canvas

Painted through the summer and fall of 1865, not long after the nation came to grips with Robert E. Lee’s surrender and mourned President Lincoln’s assassination—both of which occurred during the second week of April—Homer’s canvas shows an emblematic farmer who is a Union veteran, as is signified by his discarded jacket and canteen at the lower right. The painting seems to blend several related narratives. Most soldiers had been farmers before the Civil War. This man, who has returned to his field, holds an old-fashioned scythe that evokes the Grim Reaper, recalls the war’s harvest of death, and expresses grief upon Lincoln’s murder. The redemptive feature is the bountiful wheat—a Northern crop—which could connote the Union’s victory. With its dual references to death and life, Homer’s iconic composition offers a powerful meditation on America’s sacrifices and its potential for recovery.  MMA/New York

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