Self-Censoring?

On Wednesday of last week, those of us who participate in Friday Fictioneers got our photo prompt for our 100-word stories for Friday. On Thursday evening, I drafted and edited a story and scheduled it through WordPress to publish at 0600 on Friday morning. (You can find the story, “Status Update,” by clicking on the Friday Fictioneers tab above and selecting it from the drop-down list.)

It is absolute and utter coincidence that the story, “Status Update,” is about a terrorist who is preparing a bomb to blow up a school, and it’s a poetic justice story–the terrorist blows himself up instead. I like poetic justice stories, and I like writing stories where bad people get their comeuppance. Again, this idea came into my head on Thursday, and I wrote it on Thursday, at least twenty-four hours before the horrible events in Newtown, Connecticut.

Over the weekend, several readers of this blog suggested I take the story down, and, frankly, on Friday, I did consider just that, mainly because the story involved an act of terror at a school.

Then, I remembered I don’t let murderers and terrorists dictate my behavior, and I certainly don’t let them make me censor myself.

I was a federal employee during both the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11. On both occasions, we were sent home–for a day only. The following day we were back at work, doing the people’s business. That was especially important after the Oklahoma City bombing because a federal building had been attacked.

Had we not gone back to work as soon as possible after Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh and the anti-government types would have won; they would have shut the government down, which is what they wanted. Had we not gone back to work on September 12, 2001, al Qaeda would have won a battle, and that was not acceptable. Believe me, with the Pentagon smoldering a few miles away, it was difficult, as a supervisor, to explain to people why they had to be at work the day after, but they understood the simple concept of not letting the bad guys win.

With the cursor hovering over the “Delete” icon for that Friday Fictioneers story on Friday afternoon, I remembered that feeling of carrying on, of not letting the bad guys win. I realized if I took that story down, I’d be hiding a possibility people needed to know.

People exist who want to blow up schools because they think teachers are union thugs or the curriculum isn’t biblical enough or because they believe children are kept from praying. They’re out there right now, ranting and raving, plotting and planning, but most of them are too cowardly, thank goodness, to follow through. They are an unfortunate reality we have to face, and I’ll write more about this on my political blog on Wednesday.

For this, my writing blog, I’ll just say, no, I wasn’t prescient. Because of research, I know how people like this think, and it’s not fun or pleasant. Further, I’d never glorify people like the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in my writing, but I will make certain in my stories the bad guys get justice, poetic or otherwise.

No, I won’t stop writing about characters who carry guns to protect themselves or to achieve that justice, and, no, I won’t stop writing about people who do bad things and the bad things they do. I will keep writing about getting justice for the oppressed, the injured, the murdered.

Even in real life when justice seems elusive, in fiction you can provide it, and you can get closure. And the bad guys will always lose.

 

Remembering 9/11

Click here to view my political blog, “Politics Wednesday.” This week’s post, a day early to commemorate the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, is a reprint of an editorial I wrote within a week or so of the event. The original appeared in FAA Aviation News magazine, of which I was the editor from 1991 to 2002.

September 11, 2001

My first attempt to acknowledge this significant anniversary of an horrific event was far too self-indulgent to post. However, the emotions I had suppressed from September 11, 2001, began to come to the fore in the past two weeks. I wrote them down and will deal with them. Just not here. That would trivialize the deaths of thousands.

The closest I was to anything that happened on 9/11/01 was three miles–the Pentagon was just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, where I worked for the Federal Aviation Administration. My actions that day and in the weeks after were those of support, and perhaps later I can tell that story.

People often remark that 9/11/01 was such a beautiful day–bright, sunny, cloudless–and that something so horrible shouldn’t have happened on such a glorious day. The fact is, the hijackers kept an eye on the weather; the horrible terror they perpetrated was easier on a visual flight rules day. How might things have changed had that day dawned cloudy and dreary.

The scenario the terrorists opted for could have cost tens of thousands of lives, and some have sighed in relief that it was only 3,000 or so. That is survivor guilt, that is the expostulation of someone relieved they were no where near New York City, Arlington, VA, or Shanksville, PA, that day.

I know the emotion of ten years without a loved one, and it heals; it gets better; but the hole never closes. I was an adult when I lost my parents nearly thirty years ago, so I can’t relate to losing a parent when you’re ten or fifteen or two. The lost opportunities to see school plays, sports events, weddings, births of grandchildren are weights hard to bear.

I hated the fact that religious zealots used as an instrument of destruction the industry I’d given most of my life to preserve, and yet, as I reviewed the pilot records for each of the hijackers, I saw typical men who trained typically as pilots. Nothing jumped off the page to shout “Terrorist!” Life is never that simple.

“Why?” is the question still asked about 9/11/01. As with other acts of terrorism, like, say 4/19/95, we take the easy, un-intellectual route–the perpetrators were evil. We never look beyond, into the black box of the psyche of terrorism so we can stop the next 9/11/01. We react. Restricting the carriage of liquids on board an aircraft, taking your shoes off at the TSA checkpoint, getting groped by perfect strangers doesn’t really prevent anything. It’s a false security. To me it’s a bitter reminder that we gave up freedoms to feel safe. Not be safe. Just to feel as if we are protected. We never once, as a nation, as a government, stopped to reflect on which of our policies or actions contributed to this.

You see, terrorism doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We like the neat package of “Oh, they were evil! That’s why they did it.” We know how and who and where. We’ll never know, nor do we want to, why.

If we want to honor those who died ten years ago today–from the people on Flight 93 who took their destinies into their own hands to the first responders who gave full dedication to their duty to those who died merely because they came to work that day–let’s re-dedicate ourselves to public service, to re-creating a nation of the people, by the people, for the people.