Wednesday--September 17, 2003—Ground
Zero Plus 735
Picking The Bones Of The Dead
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Monday -- June
17, 2002—Ground Zero
Picking The Bones Of The Dead
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, June 17-- Cannibalism comes in many
forms. Today, it manifests itself by family duels over compensation
claim awarded to the victims of the September 11 Terrorist attack.
Over $4 billion in federal government funds lures the
cannibals out of hiding. Some rush to file claims, hoping to
collect either all or a major portion of the average $1.5 million
settlement estimated to be granted to each victim of Nine Eleven
from the Department of Justice's Victim Compensation Fund.
In-fighting between relatives, former wives and husbands,
children and relatives seeking to lay claim on the money reminds me
of the ugliness of human nature once the stench of death has washed
itself from one's nostrils, and the smell of money perfumes one's
greed. It is not an unfamiliar scene to me.
In Vietnam, I witnessed many dead bodies picked over by our
troops. Not all of us were vultures, but just enough to make your
stomach turn. Anything of value found was stuffed into a pocket--a
gold chain, a rosary, money, rings--even sometimes pictures of loved
ones of the deceased.
Protocol demanded each body be searched for any intelligence
papers, but often such searching had a ghoulish rather than
"intelligence" goal. Many scavengers filled their footlocker with
valuables from the dead, used either to trade for supplies or to be
sent back home.
The news about family members fighting over the estates of the
victims of Nine Eleven flashed those scenes back into my mind.
I've also heard accusations from reliable sources that many
Ground Zero rescue workers who came across Rolex watches on a
fragment of an arm, or diamond rings still on fingers, or wallets
full of cash, or bricks of gold that had been housed in offices,
stuffed them in their boots, or in a bag and laid claim to what
wasn't theirs. Information and arrests of those caught stealing
from the dead has been suppressed, I was told, to not taint the
memory of Nine Eleven rescues, or scandalize the overall heroic
effort to recover the fallen.
I am aware there is a "scavenger nature" in all humans. "Let
nothing be wasted by death," is part of life. In the animal world,
death is simply mulch for the living. Civilized man, however, is
supposed to check his animal instincts--to rise above them.
Unfortunately, some look upon the bodies of others as one might a
sunken treasure ship and claim "salvage rights" to whatever is
found. They ignore the "right of property," and cleave to the
principle--"finders keepers, losers weepers."
Scavenging the dead isn't new or foreign to human nature.
The tombs in Egypt are one small example. Historically, warriors
were compensated by what they took off their dead victims--it was
their pay. In many parts of our modern world it is still the
primary source of tribute to a warrior. (see
picture below of Rwanda carnage)
raping, pillaging and plundering of "tribal" or "ethnic" wars picks
clean the victims in the warriors' paths.
But to the "more civilized," this idea is revolting.
It rubs the grain of human compassion and fouls any sense of
Those battling over claim to the estate of a victim from Nine
Eleven are taking on an ugliness not unlike the "body scavengers"
who rifle through their victims on the battlefield.
Some families--who immediately following the events of
September 11, grieved in unity over the loss of a son, a daughter, a
father, a mother, a brother, sister, grandparent, uncle, aunt or
niece--are now bitterly battling one another for the pile of money
that sprouts up from the grave of their lost one.
The coffin lids are being opened, and stakes are being driven
in them by those laying claim to the gold buried in the victim's
bones. It is the "ghoul rush" of 2002.
According to David Chen, reporter for the New York Times,
in his June 16 story, "Lure of Millions Fuels 9/11 Families'
Feuding," one mother is challenging the legitimacy of her daughter's
marriage to an estranged husband. In another story, Chen says: "The
adult children of another victim are challenging the victim's second
marriage, as well as the rights of the children from that union to
any of the funds. An unwed partner who shared a mortgage with two
young children with another victim is quarreling with his teenage
son from an earlier relationship."
I understand the horror and Terror of such battles over the
bones of the dead.
When my biological father died, he issued a disinheritance
clause in his will. It excluded my sister and me, his first and
second children born to his first wife, from any claims on the
estate. The clause not only expunged us from his life in a legal
sense, but also included our children and grandchildren.
My father died a drunk's death. The will could have been
easily contested for there was a large parcel of rich, valuable land
at issue and he had rewritten his will in the last throes of his
drunkenness. Oddly, my father had called a few days before he
died, telling me he loved me and wanted to get to "know me better."
Death plays dirty tricks.
I chose not to fight the issue.
all "blood money" to me. When the battle was over, if we had won, I
would have felt the stickiness of the blood on my fingers the rest
of my life. I already had far too much blood on my hands from
I also chose not to fight because my half-sister would have
been caught in the crossfire. She was the heir at the expense of
my sister and me. To go to war meant we would have to accuse her
of certain crimes of intent, or manipulation. In the end, what
would have been left after the lawyers' take would have been so
soiled and drenched with bitterness and the value of any
compensation would be nullified by the horror it cost to acquire it.
The American Indians has a way of reducing "after-death
cannibalism." They had all their wealth piled upon their bodies
and buried with them, or burned. Each person was expected to
"earn" his or her way in life. No one waited for another to die to
find "their way."
My former secretary years ago was Warren Buffet's daughter,
Suzy. Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, is known for
his belief in not passing on his wealth to his children--but
instead, giving it to the world. Each of his children have grown
up with an "individuality factor," not dependent on any "estate"
they might inherit.
Some businesses such as UPS were created with "anti-nepotism"
clauses to avoid similar battles. In the company charter the
children of the founder cannot rise to the top of the company by
Nine Eleven battles over money saddens me. I understand
the angst of the families who have suffered economically--especially
the mothers and children. And, I understand the horrible job of
those who have to make the decisions as to who is the rightful
heir. I would not want to decide which body to cut in half, as
Solomon did, to seek the rightful recipient of the compensation.
A number of years ago I enrolled in law school to "reinvent
myself." One of my favorite courses was Property Law. I learned
the complexity of passing on the wealth of one to another, and the
formulas of adjudication. Some made little sense. All seemed open
to a wide variety of interpretation and challenge. Thus, the battle
for the compensation of the victims will rage.
But, I believe there is great treasure willed to us all from
the victims of Nine Eleven that doesn't require us to fight for our
right of "ownership." It is the treasure of Vigilance.
All of us who survived that day inherited something far more
vast than any material items. which are transient in nature. The
material comes and goes, but the real treasure, the real inheritance
The true estate of those who died cannot be measured
monetarily. It is the legacy of Vigilance that is the real booty.
Vigilance is composed of the jewels of Courage, Conviction and Right
Action. These are the precious legacies willed to us all by those
who fell on September 11.
What are these worth?
They are priceless in my opinion. They supercede any
material worth, for they are immortal treasures of the human soul,
brought to life in the death of those who fell and offered to each
of us free of charge. The only cost to acquire them is Vigilance.
The battle over the material bones of the survivors
represents the shallowness of human nature. But, just beyond the
shallowness is the depth. Those who pick at the remnants of human
vestiges of material wealth are like beacons, reminding us of the
futility of trying to place material value on a single life.
That's why cannibalism of the dead is so ugly.
In Vietnam, a dead body was nothing more than mulch--just a
rag doll of death after life. I paid little heed to them as one
quickly learns to deny death in any battlefield. Were one to stop
and agonize over every dead body he would die a mortal death, for
the sadness would be far worse than a bullet, bomb or booby trap.
One inures himself to ignore the loss of life in war as a form of
protection against falling to pieces, of crumbling.
But the humanness of the dead was quickly erased when I would
see someone picking the corpse's pockets. As I watched them
kneeling over the remains, going through their "human estate," the
value of that being rose up. The dead came to life. As the living
ravaged the dead's body, I would began to see through the ugly
shroud of cannibalism of the living. I would see the spirit of the
soul who once resided in the body fighting the grave robber. That
part of my humanity refused to accept the "right" of the living to
pillage the "dead." Sometimes I would get angry and make the grave
robber put back anything he took. I began to see that the dead were
not dead at all...that some power of life existed in those
possessions that were part of them upon their death, and that to
take them without permission seemed a violation of their
immorality...their right to die in honor..
The "grave robbers" of Nine Eleven enhances the Spirits of
Vigilance. It reinforces their value as "Souls of Vigilance." It
reminds those of us who believe no one dies without a purpose, that
the material life is only a passageway to a greater goal.
The 2,832 souls who perished at the World Trade Center are
on such a journey to a greater goal. In my estimation, hey have
risen above their bodies. The battle over their "remains"
represents the folly of Human Terrorism of the dead. Terrorism, in
any form, believes it can kill Vigilance. Terrorism believes it
can drive the Spirit of Vigilance away by setting the hounds of
discontent upon one another. The "grave robbing" sets relative
against relative, brother against sister, mother against daughter,
friend against friend.
Terrorism cannot defeat Vigilance unless we allow it to
To battle the Terrorism of
the "grave robbers" requires we, who look at the vultures picking at
the bones, realize that human sacrifice far exceeds the value of
$1.5 million per person, or the collective $4 billion that
represents the "survivor's compensation pool."
The compensation of the dead depreciates their real value as
"heroes," and as "legacies" that cannot be bought off for a few
pieces of gold as Judas tried to sell the soul of The Carpenter
1,969 years ago.
Human sacrifice for values far beyond our imagination will
last through centuries. The money will come and go as the wind
does, but the value of what the Sentinels of Vigilance did for all
of us will not perish.
We will be reminded always they died so we might replace our
Fear with Courage, our Intimidation with Conviction, and our
Complacency with Right Action.
These are qualities which cannot be picked from their bones
by any vulture.