What Made Them Do Their Duty?

Victor David Hanson in City Journal: (Autumn 2001)

From the very first moments of the World Trade Center horror, the valor and élan of New York’s firemen, together with that of the city’s police and emergency forces, have transfixed the whole nation—especially us in rural America who rarely see the real Gotham. Danger was nothing to them, courage and honor everything. They responded instantly to the explosion and fire, all drawn to, rather than repelled by, the inferno—and without regard to their own safety or the consequences of their possible incineration upon their loved ones at home. We now know their last radio cries: “Move away from the towers! Everyone move away from the towers!” Silence. . . .

As the ghastly rubble gets turned over, we find their remains in clusters—four incinerated here, ten buried there, 14 caught en masse in a stairwell, where they had guided the panicked down as they themselves ascended to their deaths: “All nonessential personnel move away from that building!” The antithesis, left unsaid, is obvious: “All necessary rescuers get into that building!”

So many of them disappeared—at least 388 firefighters—because in a heartbeat they chose to race into the flames and smoke rather than to hesitate and accept the obvious: that the towers were already death traps. In the tradition of all great American armies in battle, officers—47 lieutenants, 20 captains, and 21 chiefs—died alongside the rank and file, heroic death requiring no prerequisite of class or color. Indeed, the magnitude of the terrorist-inflicted disaster rivaled that of a fierce battle, where the enemy overruns and annihilates an entire military unit—paramedics, a fire marshal, even the fire department’s chaplain were engulfed. Remarkably, moments after the buildings collapsed, there were even more rescue workers on the scene than before. It is human to flee from a place of death; the firemen and the police were almost inhuman in mounting so quickly the rubble that buried their brethren.

More here.