I recently saw a post on social media discussing the new HBO mini-series: Chernobyl, so I thought I would check it out. Before I was an author, I was a NYC cop. I remember when the incident occurred back in April 1986, and all the ensuing media coverage. What I didn’t expect was the flashbacks I would experience and the parallels, to what occurred on September 11th that I would be presented with.
First, let me say that, from a historical perspective, I highly recommend watching this show. They have done an amazing job and it is quite compelling. That being said, as I watched it I began feeling more and more anxious and recalling my time in lower Manhattan following the September 11th terror attack.
Here are a few reasons:
1. After the explosion at Chernobyl, police and fire responded to the scene, completely unaware of the dangers they would soon face. Even after they realized something wasn’t right, they continued to stay and perform their duty. By the same example, on the morning of September 11th, it was obvious we were under attack, but that didn’t mean anything to the first responders. Even after the South Tower fell, everyone remained behind; and continued in the evacuation and rescue efforts.
2. Residents from nearby Pripyat gathered on a train trestle to watch the incident in the distance, unaware of the danger that lurked in front of them. In one scene, you can see the radioactive ash that was being carried along by the wind, enveloping the onlookers, while children played in it. It became known as the Bridge of Death. Sadly, I remember the streets of lower Manhattan being covered in the same ash. It wasn’t radioactive, but it was certainly contaminated with toxins. Everywhere you walked you breathed it in and kicked it up with your footfalls. It reminded me of a grey snowstorm, but instead of it being a winter wonderland it was actually a nightmare.
3. In one scene, a mask is given to one of the miners, brought in to dig beneath the destroyed reactor. He asks if the mask will do anything, and the reply is ‘probably not.’ The same thing happened on 9/11, when we were given basic painters masks to wear. It seemed ludicrous to me, knowing the masks provided zero protection from the particles we were dealing with. It was so bad that even the cartridges on the heavy duty respirators were clogging in minutes. There is only so much you can do before you end up just accepting your fate and work without the useless equipment.
4. Lies – Socialism is many things, but transparent it is not. The residents and responders were lied to ‘for their own good.’ The international community was even lied to when they were told the situation at Chernobyl was minor and that it was under control. Everything was about assuaging their fears, but the reality was that the lies were all designed to protect the government, not the citizens. We like to believe that our government is different, but it is not. After 9/11, the focus was on returning New York City (and the Stock Market) back to normal, as quickly as possible, following the attack. The EPA Director came out and emphatically stated that the air around Ground Zero was safe; it wasn’t and they knew that. It was bad enough that they lied to the first responders and construction workers, but they re-opened the area and exposed innocent civilians to risk, many of whom are now sick and dying. There was no consideration given to the secondary contamination risk and the majority of us brought our uniforms and gear home, exposing out families to the toxins. Sadly, the government won’t even acknowledge this, even though the data shows an increase in medical illnesses among family members versus the general public. In the case of Chernobyl, the State was aware of a flaw in the RBMK reactors, but they chose to bury that fact. Prior to 9/11, the government was aware that there was actionable intelligence of a planned attack, yet this fact was kept out of the 9/11 Commission Report. Ironically, the death toll from Chernobyl is estimated between 3,000 and 100,000 (initial explosion and long term sickness), although the official number stands at only 31. We lost 3,000 people in the initial attack on the World Trade Center site and since then almost the same number have died and there are nearly 100,000 people that are sick from their exposure.
5. Promises – Interestingly enough, the brave men they sent in were promised that the State would take care of them. I wonder how many went in believing that the State would keep its promise, only to find out it was a lie. It’s easy to promise something in the middle of a crisis, but when the crisis is over memories fade quickly. Today, 17 years after the terror attack of September 11th, the heroes and victims are still fighting our government to receive the care and compensation they were promised. Today, June 11th, 2019, Actor / Comedian Jon Stewart and many of the responders testified before Congress. Sadly, while the gallery was packed with those who were sick and dying, very few representatives even bothered to show up for the hearing. I don’t think I can put it any more poignantly than Mr. Stewart did: “What an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting healthcare and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to. Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders—and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress."
At the end of the HBO show I was left asking myself a very difficult question: What separates the United States from Soviet Russia? The answer I arrived at: Nothing.
This isn’t an indictment of our system of government, but rather it is an indictment of our governmental leaders. The people of the Soviet Union didn’t elect their leaders, but we did. We expected them to be different, but in the end they caved to their own greed and hubris, just like those in the former USSR. This isn’t a democrat or republican problem, it is a CONGRESS problem. Both sides have turned their back on the victims and heroes.
To be fair, when the renewal for the Victim’s Compensation Fund came up, many eagerly jumped on to co-sponsor the bill, but they were the exception, rather than the rule. No, the vast majority of those current sponsors have had to be forced to support it. To them #NeverForget is a catchy phase they dust-off once a year; a campaign slogan that is hollow. It doesn’t personally affect them and they don’t care. The only time they care is when they are shamed into it at the threat of a political challenge.
No, the people of the Soviet Union didn’t have a choice, but we do.
I implore you, as a 9/11 cancer survivor, on behalf of all those who are sick and dying from the toxins they ingested, take one moment and contact your elected representatives and demand they take action to fully fund the Victim’s Compensation Fund. This September 11th should send a resounding signal to those who gave every last measure that day that their sacrifices will Never Be Forgotten.
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