Don's Newseum Speech
On April 9, 2016 Don gave the following speech at the Newseum in Washington DC.

Soon after September 11, 2001, a charismatic young woman whose mother was a passenger on American Airlines flight 11, set up a Yahoo group email platform for families of those killed in the attacks that day to safely communicate with one another and on Friday October 26, 2001 she, a civil engineer/lawyer who lost his daughter on flight 11, a Virginia man who had knowledge of Washington’s ways whose wife was on American Airlines flight 77; a doctor in Sudbury who lost his wife; a peace activist who lost his son-in-law; and several others met at the Newton Marriot just outside Boston. My wife, Sally, was among them. It was at that meeting Families of September 11 was conceived.

The next day, Sally and I traveled to New York City and Sunday were bused with other families to a Memorial service alongside the remains of twin towers that once dominated the Manhattan sky. We stood at the back of a crowd of thousands cast with the same identity: “Family Members,” our private lives stripped from us and our grief and the lives of the lost subsumed, swept away by powerful currents over which we had no control. We were grieving parents, spouses, children, siblings, partners – lovers of all kinds – together, yet alone, listening to politicians and religious leaders talk of America’s greatness and God’s redeeming love. Andrea Bocelli sang “Ave Maria;” Renée Fleming sang “Amazing Grace”: the applause awkward and muted. Fire hoses wet still smoldering debris. American flags waved, uncertain, smoke and vapor rising past them to the heavens and lingering in my consciousness, veiled by my global ignorance, the words “Allah Akbar.” To me it was surreal and unsettling, a grasping – uncomprehending – for something vital drifting out of reach.

I never liked the appellation “Ground Zero”: not for its association with nuclear weapons, but for its inert earth connotation – as if no flesh, bone, nerve and blood were there – and its focus on nothingness, the “zero” in it an expression of absolute absence connoting unquantifiable emptiness – the last particle of existence gone. It was not empty to me. It was full, profound and mysterious. A place with answers to eternal questions hidden in the detritus. Fecund. Pregnant with all it means to be human in its vast array of the beautiful, the banal and the base. More like infinity than zero. Each unknowable. But, zero was nihilism to me: without room for gayety, tenderness, sadness, compassion, solace, regret, wonder, imagination: the stuff of life no single sense can monitor or record and without which there can be no humanity. A concession to worthlessness. All hope lost or worse a decent into the moral abyss the Irish poet, George Russell, so bemoaned in his essay The National Being: Some Thoughts on an Irish Polity, written during the carnage of World War I when he observed that “[a]ll great wars in history, all conquests, all national antagonisms, result in an exchange of characteristics.” It was not Ground Zero to me. I would not let it be. And I suppose that is what impelled me to my involvement with Families of September 11.

On Thursday November 1st Sally participated in a phone conference with some of those who attended the meeting outside Boston the Friday before and on Monday, November 5th, she along with others on that call were in Washington DC. They met with lawyers and media consultants to discuss the name, purpose, organizational structure and launch of Families of September 11. They planned for a website and fund raising, selected a logo, chose a name and developed a mission statement:

1. To promote the interests of survivors and families of victims of the September 11 attacks and similar acts of terrorism and
2. To advocate public policy to help prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

During the remainder of 2001 into the Spring of 2002, Families of September 11 tried to (and I like to think did) establish itself as an honest broker of information on a wide range of subjects gnawing at the innards of Family Members: Notification of discovery of remains of their loved ones; honoring anonymous remains buried in the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island; access to the Medical Examiner’s office and to the Family Room at One Liberty Plaza; distribution of charitable donations; compensation alternatives – the Victims Compensation Fund or litigation with limited insurance and legislative grants of uninsured immunity; unwarned graphic images in the media; emotional and mental health counselling; the children of September 11; aviation security; skyscraper safety; emergency response protocols; public memorial design; islamophobia; and the agonizingly slow (and sometimes inconsistent and implausible) disclosures of what our government knew, had reason to know and should have known about the hijackers, their trainers and enablers and what would come to be known about them – answers to the seminal questions plaguing every Family Member: Why my dear one? Why me? Why us? Why?

For the next two and half years Families of September 11 continued to address all these issues, though its primary focus was on finding and reporting to its members such sensible answers to the question “why” as could be gleaned from the media, the trial of Mounir al Motassadeq in Germany and of Zacarias Moussaoui here and urging Congress and the President to create, adequately fund, properly constitute and yield to reasonable demands made for testimony and documents by the 9/11 Commission, reporting to its members, and then, after the publication of the 9/11 Commission Report in July 2004, getting congress to pass and the President to sign meaningful intelligence reform legislation to reduce the risk of replication of the events of 9/11, all the while preserving the civil liberties that have defined us as a nation.

The ensuing years were committed to the Children of September 11; addressing terrorism as a global phenomenon – its history, naming, adherents, rationales, and root causes; and remaining a reliable resource for Family Members and the broader public on such issues as the International Freedom Center and the Mosque and Islamic Center proposed for 51 Park Street (sadly, both scuttled), recognition of traumatic grief in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which did not happen) and, of course, the Curriculum Project and the For Action Initiative which did happen and found their way here.

In his little book, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, the French philosopher, Alain Badiou, addresses first what is Good. He argues that what is Good is sui-generous. He says “If Evil exists, we must conceive it from the starting point of the Good.” He argues that what is Good derives from a Truth that emerges from an event, from a void in it, sustained by a fidelity to it by its subjects. It is from these voids in our understanding of ourselves and our world out of which truths emerge. He points to concrete circumstance: someone in the thralls of an amorous encounter, the sudden feeling that a poem was addressed to you, a scientific theory whose initially obscure beauty reveals itself, or the active intelligence of a political place. I believe that Badiou would say that my love of my son, the love of the lovers of all those lost with him, is True and Good, as are the discoveries in mathematics by Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, in astronomy by Nicholas Copernicus, in physics by Marie Curie and in computer science by Alan Turing; the political movements of Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King, Jr.; and, I think too, emergency responders entering burning buildings; the kindness of strangers; teachers giving their collective wisdom to future generations; Farkhunda confronting charlatan misuse of Islam in Afghanistan; the Jersey Girls standing resolute in the face of secular power here; the political cohesion of the 9/11 commission; and for me a poem sent to Sally and me by the wife of an Episcopal priest written by a Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn:

I hold my face between my hands
no I am not crying
I hold my face between my hands
to keep my loneliness warm
two hands protecting
two hands nourishing
two hands to prevent
my soul from leaving me
in anger

After his discussion of what is Good, Badiou presents his understanding of Evil. He argues that Evil arises from, is a consequence of, what is True, and consists of three essential elements:

Simulacrum of truth, which he calls “terror,”
Failure to live up to a fidelity to a truth in the sense of betrayal, and
The identity of truth with total power.

I think he would say that whatever Truth emerged from 9/11 cannot last unless those of us who were subjects of it guard against its identity with total power, stay faithful to it, and renounce all simulacrum of it. He repeats, over and over again, a simple phrase he ascribes to faithful guardians of what is true: they “just keep going.” This is what we tried to do and now ask you to do for us with children who were not yet or only newly born on September 11, 2001. Just keep going with the truths that emerged from that day, point to and challenge all simulacrum of them, caution against their identity with total power and help us preserve our fidelity to them.
Thank you.

Donald W. Goodrich
Father of Pete