Our Glorious Leader

This is the full text of an open letter to Gov. George W. Bush from A.R. Torres. a 9/11 widow:

March 5, 2004

Dear President Bush:

My husband, Luis Eduardo Torres, was at his second day of work at Cantor Fitzgerald when he was killed on Sept. 11. He jumped from the 105th floor of the North Tower. Most of his upper body was recovered, identifiable only through dental records. I was seven months pregnant at the time.

It is with him in mind that I’m writing to you, to question your disturbing reelection ad campaign. Yesterday I saw the three ads you’re now running all over the country, specifically on cable stations in the “swing states,” where you feel you need to come out fighting strong. It was the “Safer, Stronger” ad that shocked me the most. At the commercial’s midpoint, the words, “Then … a day of tragedy” dramatically appear on the somber black screen. And the centerpiece: an image of ground zero, the hulking remains of a tower, alongside a human corpse, carried out by several firefighters. Both the tower and the human are draped in American flags.

The flags were intended to honor ground zero and the remains of the dead, but here they are merely props, used to add a powerful patriotic punch to your message. The tower and the corpse are two hideously broken and disfigured things behind and under the flag, and your image — with your red tie, white shirt, and blue suit, standing in front of thick strong white columns — serves as another, symbolic, flag.

That image of ground zero, and the body shrouded with the flag, reminded me of the sulfur from the few pathetic remnants of my husband’s last day: his Cantor ID, Debitchek Meal Card and subway Metrocard.

I thought I’d finished dealing with the gruesome aspects of his dead body, but it came back to me during your commercial. I had a thought I’d never had before: Was every corpse draped in an American flag as it emerged from ground zero, or was it just an honor bestowed upon the uniformed workers? What if that was my husband’s body, now serving as a “spokesman” for your campaign?

I canceled my toddler’s afternoon activities so I could do research. I could hear my voice quake as I called the medical examiner and the mayor’s office. Initially, uniformed personnel were the only ones wrapped in the flag, I learned — but it became standard practice to cover all the dead in that way.

In effect, then, Mr. Bush, you’ve paraded all our 9/11 dead out as the official mascots of your reelection campaign. You use them to show our nation that you can protect us against what we should all fear the most — being an anonymous corpse in another attack.

But these sleights of image and crafty juxtapositions are the only true demonstrations of your leadership abilities. I have no doubt that you need to use this because that’s all you really have to show. After all, on that tragic day you didn’t actually lead the nation: according to the work of the “Jersey girls” — the four 9/11 widows who fought to have an independent commission investigate the tragedy — your first reaction to the plane hitting the North Tower was to blame the pilot. And you continued your activities — reading stories to a group of young schoolchildren. And as you try to impress our nation with your role during and after 9/11 in these ads, you refuse to talk meaningfully to the independent commission about the specifics of your role prior to 9/11 and how much you knew about a potential large-scale al-Qaida plot.

I didn’t think that co-opting 9/11 with such disregard for those of us who have been affected by this tragedy would anger me so much. No doubt John Kerry will use 9/11 to help make strong his own candidacy — and that, too, is of concern. But so many 9/11 families are sick at your use of our sadness … I can’t imagine it being any worse than where you have already led us.

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