Letters to the Magazine

Our Aug. 7 cover package on the new film "World Trade Center" elicited heartfelt responses from readers. Some were grateful to director Oliver Stone for honoring those who risked and lost their lives on 9/11. "He highlighted the human instinct to survive, regardless of political ideology," one said. Others thought Stone missed the point by not emphasizing terrorism. "In choosing heroic sentimentality over complex, unpopular political issues, he shows what happened, but not why," another wrote. Many said it was insensitive to release the film so soon. "9/11 is still very raw for some, and now Hollywood is profiting from one of our most devastating events," said one. Several thought the real heroes, policemen John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, deserved to grace our cover. Their courage prompted one New Yorker to write, "They are the ones who suffered and still suffer the physical and mental pain of that fateful day. True heroes."

Never before in the history of moviemaking has a human tragedy of this scale been transformed into something so touching ("Natural Born Heroes," Aug. 7). So powerful is the interpretation of the 9/11 disaster that it speaks volumes about the cinematic skill of Oliver Stone as a director. I'd like to thank him for choosing courage over controversy in "World Trade Center."

Kris Sahay Manitoba, Canada

Why should Hollywood be any different from politicians, oil companies and arms contractors? 9/11 has been used to fuel political campaigns and to justify war, torture and domestic spying. So of course Hollywood sees no problem in making millions off it. Here's a thought: What if we refused to turn our national tragedy into a war cry or campaign slogan or record profits or cheap entertainment? What if we simply mourned our dead with dignity?

Paul Lemrise Jr.

Cary, Ill.

Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" trailer opens with the statement that it has been "approved for all audiences by the Motion Picture Association of America." I question the MPAA's authority in determining whether all of America is ready for exposure to this movie preview. As an occupational therapist, I counseled patients for whom life, as they knew it, ended on 9/11. Their stories gave the disaster a sickening reality. Many survivors still grieve deeply and suffer flashbacks of burning flesh, suffocating dust, falling bodies and dismembered limbs. Those who waited for loved ones are also survivors, and many still struggle with memories of worry, grieving or saying goodbye on cell phones. While the movie's positive story line and inspirational message will certainly bring closure and hope for many who choose to see it, for others, acceptance and healing can't be rushed.

Sandra I. Bostwick

Parsippany, N.J.

The opposite tone of two articles in your Aug. 7 issue shows how little America has learned from 9/11. In the report on Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" we get a deeply emotional story of individual suffering and heroism as buildings collapse. In the story on Lebanon ("The Wider War") we get a callous uninterest in individual suffering and accompanying heroism as buildings collapse on innocent civilians thanks to American bombs delivered by American airplanes, albeit piloted by Israelis. Why is the suffering that matters only our own?

David Allen

Romney, W.Va.

I am not a New York City firefighter or police officer. I didn't know a single person who was killed in the inferno of 9/11. I am, however, a New Yorker, and my city was attacked on that nightmarish day. When I saw the picture of Oliver Stone standing on the "set" of his latest film, my blood ran cold. I watched those buildings go down less than five years ago. For Stone to take this tragic event and turn it into what amounts to entertainment for profit--while there is still a scar in lower Manhattan--is unconscionable. I understand that the film is memorable and honors the heroes of that day as well as the victims. There will be a time when things settle down and such a film may be appropriate. But now is way too soon.

Jonathan Frisch

Brooklyn, N.Y.

In the graphic "Inspired by the Unthinkable" (Aug. 7), you identify Paul McCartney's "Freedom" as the first among artistic responses to the 9/11 attacks. But on Oct. 13 of that year, on the radio series "A Prairie Home Companion," Garrison Keillor sang "The Bravest," a salute to the New York firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center assaults. It's a simple and powerful song written by noted folk artist and songwriter Tom Paxton. I wish every firefighter could hear it.

Geoffrey W. Sjostrom

Chicago, Ill.

We were pleased to read "How American Myths Are Made" (Aug. 7), which touched on a matter receiving growing attention in psychological research. But stories about 9/11 aren't told just by filmmakers like Oliver Stone. Every American has a story about that day. As psychologists interested in ways people make meaning of their experiences, we have been studying stories people tell about 9/11. In our nationwide sampling of Americans, collected within two months of the terrorist attacks, we found that individuals who crafted stories of national redemption--a style of storytelling that recent research suggests is particularly American--were psychologically better off than those who storied the events differently. This work reminds us that we all shape national myths, and that the way in which we tell these myths matters for our psychological well-being.

Jonathan Adler

Northwestern University

Evanston, Ill.

Michael Poulin

University of California, Irvine

Irvine, Calif.

Although creating a story line may be comforting to the people of a nation coping with tragedy, mythologizing our history hinders our ability to analyze current events and respond to them in a wise manner. Mythology glosses over imperfections and leads to feelings of superiority. This perverted sense of our role in the world greatly weakens democracy because it allows our leaders to merely evoke myth rather than present hard facts. As painful as it is to take a good look in the mirror, it will make us more rational and therefore a stronger country.

Julian Kauffmann

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Jonathan Alter complains that Democrats are shooting themselves in the foot by targeting Joe Lieberman, who does, after all, vote with the Democrats 90 percent of the time ( " 'The Putting of First Things First'," Aug. 7). Alter argues that the "romance of the antiwar left" backfired in 1968 when Democrats voted for long-shot Eugene McCarthy, sending Richard Nixon to the White House. Alter counsels Democrats to save their ammunition for Republicans because "job one" is electing more Democrats. However, neither Democrats nor Republicans care as much about their party--both of which have betrayed them--as they do about putting America back on the right track. They want representatives who will work for the country for a change, not for their party's special interests. Recent polls show the public's approval rating of Congress at a dismal 36 percent. Only 29 percent of people questioned in states with the 50 most competitive seats indicated that they would vote for the incumbent. Americans are fed up with politics as usual.

Dan Brawner

Lisbon, iowa

Jonathan Alter is correct that Democrats need not repeat the error of 1968 and need not worry about ideological purity. These are sound negative guidelines. But the Democratic leadership also needs something positive that will provide it with a basis on which both to criticize Republican nonfeasance, misfeasance and malfeasance and to offer specific programs for which it stands. That could and should be the United States Constitution, which gives guidance for what the Democrats can promise to do and also provides an indisputable standard against which to measure specific programs, policies and behaviors of the present administration and of the Republican-dominated Congress.

Gerald A. Press

New York, N.Y.

Anna Quindlen's Aug. 7 column, "Live Alone and Like It," spoke to me. I am a single mother of an almost-adult child. I am also a teacher, which means that during the summer I find myself alone in my quiet house--a lot. I have cleaned and painted and organized everything that doesn't move and have puttered to my heart's content. My windows are open, the cicadas are buzzing and I am just so happy to be here listening to these sounds of summer. I, too, worried that perhaps I should schedule something, host a luncheon, meet colleagues from work. Instead, I will pour another glass of iced green tea and read Quindlen's editorial for a luxurious second time.

Anne Harris

Goldens Bridge, N.Y.

When my husband and I moved into our house in 1963, we had a busy, growing family. After our children left the nest we didn't experience the so-called empty-nest syndrome, and when my husband died, I dealt with the loss but remained in the home we built together. If people ask whether I'm lonely in that big house by myself, I tell them exactly what Anna Quindlen wisely states--that there's a "difference between [being] alone and lonely."

Ruth E. Lax

Dallas, Texas

To this man in his 60s who is a son, husband, father and grandfather, Anna Quindlen's embrace of solitude rings hollow. Solitude? My parents, in their mid-80s, just dropped by unexpectedly for dinner. The oldest of our four moved in last year with her two daughters. My wife and I just returned from two weeks at the lake house with the girls. Our eldest son married and bought a house less than a mile away. He and his wife are on their way to dinner. Our other two children live within an hour's drive and visit at least once a week. As the oldest of seven children, I am within an hour's drive of most of my siblings and see their children and grandchildren regularly. Can I hear myself thinking? Probably not. What I hear is the generation before me and two generations after me loving life and loving me. Life is good.

Bob Kling

St. Charles, Ill.

I just finished reading Anna Quindlen's column in a home devoid of other sensory stimuli, except that provided by the bells tinkling on the collars of my two cats. I'm 46, I've never married and am childless. I adore living alone, and I've been doing it since 1992. Lest we think that this is, indeed, the slippery slope toward "that old woman down the street with the weedy yard and the decrepit house," I've always asserted that, being a true extrovert, I need to live alone in order to replenish that source of energy that makes me a champion social animal. As a regional health-care-services director, I make business presentations across the nation. I date, hike, have a yoga practice, belong to a reading group and take care of an ailing parent in the next state. I have a lot of love and friends and happiness in my life. I've chosen to live alone as a way of maintaining my spiritual connection in and to this huge life with which I've been blessed.

Traci Townsend

Carmel Valley, Calif.

I find it impossible to feel sorry for the poor brides suffering from "postwedding blues" ("A Veil of Sadness," Periscope, Aug. 7). We seem to have lost focus on what is important. Too many people use weddings as showcases for themselves instead of celebrations of their commitment to each other. I have been under the impression that the real "star" of the day should be the love of the bride and groom for each other. Unfortunately, this phenomenon looks like one more example of how overindulged children become young adults who expect to have everything that they think they want, only to find out that, because their desires are shallow, they are unsatisfied. Poor babies! My advice? Grow up. Think of what is really important. Get a grip on reality!

Sue Burkett

via internet

Some brides spend eight to 12 months and lots of money planning for one day, only to realize shortly thereafter that being married takes serious work. Unfortunately, too many immature--not necessarily young--Americans don't want to spend the work required to make a marriage last.

Susan Ciconte

Milwaukee, Wis.

Editor's Note : Due to a production error in our Aug. 14 issue, two letters were cut off and are reprinted here in their entirety:

That "piece of protoplasm" Jonathan Alter so callously diminishes is undeniably the very beginning of human life. Even science cannot deny that fact. If allowed to nurture in a woman's womb for nine months, this "piece" of humanity would, with luck, live until old age and die a natural death. Alter is not the only one with a life-threatening illness. I am dealing with two right now and have loved ones with serious diseases. But our lives are no more precious than those of the tiny beings whose advocates are their only voices. Adult stem cells and umbilical cords are definitely the way to go.

Anita Bonnanzio

Larchmont, N.Y.

I was intrigued by Jonathan Alter's concern that the veto "may well doom thousands to die prematurely." As a hospice nurse, I have learned that most of our choices regarding modern science and medicine are rooted in the notion that in the United States we simply must live longer. We expect science to cure every health problem. But demanding that everything be fixed allows us to wear blinders as we step on a rather dangerous path. I attended several sessions on stem-cell research conducted by a medical ethicist and asked what would be wrong with using existing fetal tissue that would be destroyed anyway. Her answer was to ask what researchers would do if that tissue showed promising results. The answer was simple: create more. Suddenly that slope looked very slippery.

Margaret Terranova

Florissant, Mo.

In "Progress in a Cauldron" (The Last Word, Aug. 14) Golda Meir is inaccurately identified as Israel's prime minister during the 1967 Six Day War. In fact, it was Levi Eshkol.

In "An Itchy Trigger Finger" (Aug. 7), we mistakenly identified the GED as General Equivalency Degree. It stands for General Educational Development test.

The scanning electron microscope photograph of a stem cell in Periscope's July 31 Conventional Wisdom Watch should have been credited to David Scharf/Science Faction--Getty Images. NEWSWEEK regrets the errors.

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