Nineteen Years & the Bending of Time



I attended an Eagle Scout Court of Honor on Saturday. It was outside, masked, socially distant. I’ve been to a number of them over the years, though none in COVID time. One thing the Scouting organization does: It builds leaders. There are reasons why only 6 percent of Scouts earn their Eagle award (historically, if you average the entire past century of Scouting, the figure is 2 percent). It’s hard, and it’s designed to be hard. It’s a lengthy process. And accomplishing it requires multiple demonstrations of leadership.

Never has our nation needed leaders more than right now, in my judgment. Never.

Why has the percentage gone up? Boys — and now girls — who join today tend to stay in the program longer. They are focused, goaloriented. Every single one of them, even those who don’t achieve the award, is learning things about leadership.

Do you suppose we could develop a program like this for our political class? Just a thought. As grim as things are, it surely couldn’t hurt. Friday was Sept. 11. Nineteen years on, I’m still affected, often to the point of tears. Putnam County, fortunately, to my mind, is one of those that remembers this day, Patriot Day, solemnly. Normally, hundreds would gather at Cornerstone Park, smack in downtown Carmel, for the county commemoration. On Fair Street beside the park would be the Carmel tower ladder truck, ladder extended and an American flag flying from it in the breeze, and so it was again this year. I’m tearing up as I write this, thinking about the loss, the dedication, the selflessness. The posters that parents and friends put up for the missing after the Twin Towers fell. But of course, there were no missing; they were in the ash and debris of the Towers.

Another pandemic adaptation: Only two dozen participants were allowed inside the park’s fence in Carmel this year; the ceremony was livestreamed so others, including family of the eight dead in the attacks who hailed from Putnam, could see it. But perhaps 200 people did show up, on Fair Street, to watch the solemn tribute anyway. Firefighters and EMTs and police, paying respects to friends, and to memories.

I was at the World Trade Center a couple of weeks before the attack. A conference of business editors and writers; at the time, I was a front-line editor with the Times Herald-Record, in Middletown. On 9/11, as I drove in to work under unending blue skies, I heard the WCBS traffic guy recount the early reports of a plane hitting a tower. Avoid lower Manhattan, he said, traffic would be tied up. Then, a pilot called in to say the ‘small plane’ was at least a DC-9. And then, over a very few minutes, the entire horror unfolded. We put out an EXTRA, a special edition, a rarity, by 12:30 or 1 pm. Remember, it was before smartphones, before Facebook, before Twitter.

So we now know, thanks to author Bob Woodward, that our President knew the coronavirus was serious, knew it was deadly — five times as deadly as the flu — and knew it was airborne. And he knew this early in the pandemic, in February and March. My goodness, there’s a lot to unpack there.

I think we also know, now, from the President’s own mouth, that reports about how deadly and serious this disease could be were not “fake news.” Not a “hoax.” In fact, we could say that not only were they true, they were “dead certain.” I hope that now, at least as far as the pandemic is concerned, we can dispense with the “fake news” blathering.

What I’m reading: On Friday (Sept. 11), the New York Times published an exceptional story, ‘Covid Will Not Win’: Meet the Force Powering Brooklyn Hospital Center. I commend it to your attention. The humanity and emotion, as well as the photo support, will bring tears.

Sometimes, the coincidence of events across the years can be spooky. One of the things that has upset me for some years is the “9/11 truthers”, those who think the 9/11 attacks were actually arranged and instigated by the government, that two jetliners packed with jet fuel couldn’t have brought down the Towers. That people in our government arranged the attacks on the Trade Center and the Pentagon, or were at least complicit. Agents placed extra explosives, supposedly. Things like that. And now, 19 years later, some of the 9/11 truthers are today QAnon adherents who believe — I’m serious here — that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring. And the cabal is plotting against President Trump, who is fighting them, pretty much single-handedly. And the cabal includes a number of top Democrats, as well as others in entertainment (Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey) and even Pope Francis. But President Trump will break up this sordid coven.

It’s not clear to me, if child sex-trafficking is going on right now, why the president hasn’t already dispatched agents to rescue the children and smash up the Satan-worshipping cabal of pedophiles. But, a detail.

Nineteen years. Two conspiracies. Neither one with a shred of foundation or evidence.

Friends, 9/11 was bad enough. The pandemic is bad enough. I don’t think we needed a Satan-worshipping cabal of pedophiles to make it even worse, or somehow “explain” it.

And this: I’m not drawing a straight-line comparison here, but it’s worth reflection: We lost 2,977 souls on 9/11. As I write this on Sunday, some 193,705 have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, including 63 from Putnam County. That COVID-19 death toll? That’s 65 of the 9/11 attacks. Roughly, one 9/11 every two and a half or 3 days. I don’t think that’s fake news. It’s not made up. No conspiracy will provide comfort to our grieving families. Surely we can do better.

Until next week.

Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Courier and the Putnam County News and Recorder, in Cold Spring. Reach him at, or 845-265-2468. Letters may be sent to the same address; limit to 500 words and include a phone for verification.

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