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Jan Herman

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Empty Ceremonies:
Grandees Gather for 9/11

Posted: 09/08/11 05:31 PM ET

Jimmy Breslin was right. It's a lousy idea to turn the victims of 9/11 into martyrs and just as lousy to turn Ground Zero into a glorified cemetery. It was wrong in 2003, when he railed against both ideas in his newspaper column; and it is now, when the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is about to be commemorated exploited in a solemn fit of national mourning.

It's not that Breslin failed to sympathize with the families of those who died in the attack, as I've written before. It's that many more who have died under ordinary circumstances, caused not by terrorists but by common corruption and greed in American society, are no less important. In Breslin's words, their deaths were "pretty tragic for their loved ones, too. If we have a memorial for some people, then we should have one for all."

As to building new skyscrapers at Ground Zero, he saw no virtue in that either. He figured they'll be flattened again. Besides, they would be a symbol of overweaning pride for Breslin, who has always been wary of hubris. It's one of the lessons of his streetwise education, worth remembering by those in power far above the streets.

The official grandees who will trot out to lead the Ground Zero ceremony on Sept. 11 -- two presidents, three governors and two mayors -- will include the former Bullshitter-in-Chief, of course, and Rudolph Giuliani, for whom Breslin had special contempt: "Mention the World Trade Center to Giuliani and to him that means I, me, my catastrophe, my site, my workers, my fund, my all of it." Or as Joe Biden famously said: "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence -- a noun, a verb, and 9/11."