9/11 Widow Fatigue

Dorothy Rabinowitz profiles “The Jersey Girls,” a particularly shrill and vocal subset of the families who lost loved ones during the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and notes that a growing number of people are getting tired of their antics:

A fair number of the Americans not working in the media may, on the other hand, by now be experiencing Jersey Girls Fatigue–or taking a hard look at the pronouncements of the widows. Statements like that of Monica Gabrielle, for example (not one of the Jersey Girls, though an activist of similar persuasion), who declared that she could discern no attempt to lessen the casualties on Sept. 11. What can one make of such a description of the day that saw firefighters by the hundreds lose their lives in valiant attempts to bring people to safety from the burning floors of the World Trade Center–that saw deeds like that of Morgan Stanley’s security chief, Rick Rescorla, who escorted 2,700 employees safely out of the South Tower, before he finally lost his own life?
But the best known and most quoted pronouncement of all had come in the form of a question put by the leader of the Jersey Girls. “We simply wanted to know,” Ms. Breitweiser said, by way of explaining the group’s position, “why our husbands were killed. Why they went to work one day and didn’t come back.”

The answer, seared into the nation’s heart, is that, like some 3,000 others who perished that day, those husbands didn’t come home because a cadre of Islamist fanatics wanted to kill as many of the hated American infidels in their tall towers and places of government as they could, and they did so. Clearly, this must be a truth also known to those widows who asked the question–though in no way one would notice.

Who, listening to them, would not be struck by the fact that all their fury and accusation is aimed not at the killers who snuffed out their husbands’ and so many other lives, but at the American president, his administration, and an ever wider assortment of targets including the Air Force, the Port Authority, the City of New York? In the public pronouncements of the Jersey Girls we find, indeed, hardly a jot of accusatory rage at the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. We have, on the other hand, more than a few declarations like that of Ms. Breitweiser, announcing that “President Bush and his workers . . . were the individuals that failed my husband and the 3,000 people that day.”

The venerable status accorded this group of widows comes as no surprise given our times, an age quick to confer both celebrity and authority on those who have suffered. As the experience of the Jersey Girls shows, that authority isn’t necessarily limited to matters moral or spiritual. All that the widows have had to say–including wisdom mind-numbingly obvious, or obviously false and irrelevant–on the failures of this or that government agency, on derelictions of duty they charged to the president, the vice president, the national security adviser, Norad and the rest, has been received by most of the media and members of Congress with utmost wonder and admiration. They had become prosecutors and investigators, unearthing clues and connections related to 9/11, with, we’re regularly informed, unrivalled dedication and skill.

They’ve been given large amounts of money out of the public trough and been paid an inordinate amount of deference in dealing with what was, after all, a national tragedy. While, of course, the families suffered a more personal loss and, one would hope, all would trade their status for the return of their loved ones, the fetishization of these families is bizarre. Certainly, the policemen and firefighters who rushed into the flaming towers to save innocents were heroes; but no more so than their compatriots who lose their lives in the line of duty any other day. And a financial analyst murdered by al Qaeda while working at the World Trade Center is no more tragic a victim than one killed by a mugger. We should stop with the nonsense that we owe these particular people answers, apologies, or anything else that isn’t owed every other American.

Hat tip: Steve Bainbridge

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steven says:

    Indeed. One is catious about criticizing one who is a victim, as these women are. Still, they are no more expert on international security that any other randomly picked person related to people who work in other office towers in NYC. Indeed, I have listened to some of what they have to say, and they clearly do not understand how government even works–hence, their criticisms tend to be rather shallow and simplistic.

  2. But Steven, the mere fact that they are Victims(tm) means they are morally superior and knowledgeable. Grrr.

    I feel sorry for all the people whose lives were torn apart (or ended) by the attacks, but the moment someone uses his Victim Powers, the sympathy meter drops.

    This is like those people that say “I know it was the cell phone that gave me brain cancer.” No, you don’t. The mere fact that you suffered does not make you an expert on the cause of your suffering.

    We can remember how the relatives of the people killed on the USS Arizona offered their suggestions on strategy and their attacks on FDR, right?

  3. Leathan Lund says:

    We should stop with the nonsense that we owe these particular people answers, apologies, or anything else that isn’t owed every other American.

    Well said, and I can’t help wondering if Ms. Breitweiser was one of the 9/11 victims we heard clapping on cue in the background as Bob Kerrey hounded Condi Rice at the 9/11 hearings the other day.

  4. Paul says:

    Their 15 minutes is coming to an end… Yesterday, early in his show, a local radio guy called them whiners. Some woman called up and fussed at the host and assigned false virtue to these women. THAT did it.

    The phone lines lit up for 3 hours mostly with people backing the host and calling them whiners.

    People get it.

  5. Yama says:

    I recall having some respect for Rabinowitz. No more. Applying her formidable skills to trashing these widows is disgusting.

    Recall that, regardless of the merits of their argument, these women gain attention now because Mr. Bush and the GOP have been foolish in their hostility to the 911 commision.

    We should not need to rely on the false moral authority given to these widows. Mr. Bush should have cooperated from the start. It is his intransigence that has given these women their power.

    To strike at them now is weak and revealing.