Year Zero

An occasional series of essays on the practical and moral implications of our situation post-9/11. I am entitling the series "Year Zero" with a sidewise glance at the 1962 Ray Milland movie about America after a nuclear war, and with reference to the powerful feeling shared by many people that there is a rift in our history at 8:42 a.m. on Tuesday morning September 11, 2001. On this side of the rift, everything we thought we understood must be re-examined and in many cases, constructed anew. Subscribe here.

Jonathan Wallace


Watching the War (March 29, 2003)
The war is being reported the same way local stations report the traffic--vehicles and movements, but the dead bodies are not mentioned.

In memory of Salman Hamdani (March 29, 2003)
Words I sent to be read at an antiwar demonstration. Salman Hamdani, a young Pakistani American who was an emergency medical technician, vanished on September 11 and was accused of being a terrorist. Until his body was found at Ground Zero, where he had gone to save lives.

A Hard Rain (September 11, 2001)
Someone tried to drop the World Trade Center on my head.

What War Will Mean (September 16, 2001)
This is not your father's Pearl Harbor.

No Breast-beating (September 18, 2001)
The people writing essays and list messages today, urging that we negotiate, that we understand, that we placate, are just wrong.

War and Law (September 24, 2001)
The police force we need to arrest bin Laden is the U.S. military.

I Didn't See Terror (September 24, 2001)
The crowds I saw under the World Trade Center were frightened but they were not terrified.

The Missing (September 29, 2001)
There were hundreds of posters all over Manhattan of loved ones missing at the World Trade Center.

In the Valley of the Black Pig (October 3, 2001)
I am really fucking weary of the world's empires.

Red Cross Courier (October 20, 2001)
Looking at the heaps of concrete and the twisted steel skeletons in Ground Zero my mind went quite blank.

Anthrax and Authority (October 20, 2001)
In a sense, the postal workers died not just of anthrax but of obedience to authority.

The Urns (November 19, 2001)
"The people of the city of New York express our most deeply felt condolences and, in honor and remembrance of your loved one, give you this urn."

Military Tribunals (December 1, 2001)
I want the defendants tried, in our federal courts, here in New York City, publicly and with all the rights and safeguards guaranteed them by the Constitution. That is the only end to the story which makes any sense to me. Everything else is a fraud, a theft of an ending.

Steganography, My Ass: The dangers of private and self censorship in wartime (December 11, 2001)
I have a "pay to play" theory of democracy. I made a partial payment on September 11, and I'm willing to pay more. What I want in return is very simple: my seat at the table, and the information that goes with it.

God v. God (December 19, 2001)
Belief in God turned Mohammed Atta from an empty sociopath into a mass murderer.

Huge (January 8, 2002)
Why build something huge if you cannot make it safe or human?

Falling Flights and Meteorites (January 30, 2002)
At the Ramada Inn, where the families of the flight 587 passengers were gathering, people were screaming and collapsing everywhere.

Gulfari and the Magic Button: the ethics of bombing (February 18, 2002)
If you press the magic button and drop some precision guided munitions, you will protect 260 million American citizens from terrorism. The kicker is that you will also kill 21 Afghan civilians, including an eighteen month old baby, and you will splatter a sixteen year old girl named Gulfari with the blood and body parts of her relatives.

Memory. Fear. Hope. Closure (March 25, 2002)
For a while the fear was palpable as fog. Now we are starting to forget it, with that remarkable human capacity for self-deception, because nothing has fundamentally changed.

Safe Horizons Caseworker (May 23, 2002)
The most unusual request I fielded was from an Indian man arranging a cow ceremony for his deceased daughter. I saw the correspondence from the temple in India which would dedicate a cow to her and then take care of it for the rest of its life.

Memorials (May 26, 2002)
Grieving and remembering is just one use of the area, and it should take its place as part of the entire skein of ongoing downtown New York life, next to flirting, lunch, bargaining, jokes, business meetings and playgrounds.

Democracy is Leaking (September 1, 2002)
We are at risk of throwing away the very thing we are fighting for.

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (November 2002)
I hope that George W. Bush's confidence is better placed than George A. Custer's, who shouted "Hurrah, boys! We've got 'em!" as he led the charge of 225 cavalry against 3,000 Sioux at Little Big Horn.

Mad Cowboy Disease (February 16, 2003)
There was a crazy wired energy arcing through the crowd at the demonstration.

Dictator Removal Service (February, 2003)
The President's moral absolutes are, in reality shifting realpolitik concepts, to be taken out of the closet as needed and laid away again when they become inconvenient.