Monday, February 07, 2005

(D) Return to Ground Zero

I'm still working on the "Little Eichmanns" essay.

It began as a short essay. I didn't know how long it would be when I started it. I think I expected it to run maybe a thousand words. It's well past that now. And it's beginning to pull me in. I mean, really pull me in.

I think in part that's because Churchill did such a sloppy job with the material. It makes me embarrassed for the profession. I feel like it's not enough to "mutter about free speech," as Joe Scarborough puts it. I've got to show that this material can be handled better. That it's possible to use a phrase like "little Eichmanns" and have it mean something. Or failing that, to figure out for myself, independently, just how bad an analogy that is.

So the books start to pile up the way the books do when you're chasing down the past. I'm primarily a 19th century historian, so when I use evidence it's mostly books, articles, and old newspapers, letters, and diaries. But because this past is so recent, I find myself working with sources I have never used before. For instance, this afternoon I spent a couple of hours watching 9/11, a documentary made by two brothers--Jules and Gedeon Noudet--who by happenstance were within a few blocks of the World Trade Center on September 11.

Until the first plane struck the WTC (the film is one of the few sources to show the initial strike, the Noudet brothers were working on a documentary about a rookie New York firefighter. They quickly became swept up in the NYC firemen's effort to control the fire at first the North Tower and then, within a quarter-hour, the South Tower as well. The firefighters, not the "technocrats"--the "little Eichmanns"--are the focus of the film. But at intervals the scenes shot within the lobby of the North Tower are punctuated by massive whacks, as if huge boulders were crashing nearby. These were in fact the sound of bodies striking the ground outside.

Reviews of 9/11 (I tried to pick non-obvious reviews)

Spirituality and
Reno, NV, Gazette-Journal
BBC News 1-Year Retrospective on 9/11. Has a 25-minute interview with the Naudet brothers.

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