For Victim Equality
David Nicholson, who has kidney cancer and some big medical bills to pay, decided that he would reluctantly put his flag up for auction on e-Bay, a flag that he believed flew at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Many families of the 9-11 victims are "outraged" at this, according to news reports, accusing Nicholson of "trafficking in misery" and "exploiting a national tragedy."
"After Sept. 11, most Americans stood up and said, ‘What can I do to help or give?’ " said one family member. "Here is a man who said the same thing when he (framed) the flag and made it available for schoolchildren. Now he’s saying, ‘What can I get?"
Now wait a minute.
The perception that they are victims of tragedy and injustice can turn once rational people into exemplars of self-righteousness, ingratitude and arrogance, and this, friends, is a prime example.
According to a study by the Rand Foundation, the average family of a 9-11 victim has received $3.1 million in government and charitable awards. Never have the families of the victims of any national misfortune been able to turn the death of a love one into such huge amounts of cash. Riding a wave of sympathy, horror, patriotism, and not a small amount of government fear of endless lawsuits that would cripple the economy, the 9-11 families received what can only be called a bonanza. They deserve it, you say? Explain how they "deserve it" more than the families of the Oklahoma City bombing, or the civilians killed at Pearl Harbor. Or, for that matter, the husband of a young woman killed by a drunk driver, or the parents of a little girl kidnapped and killed by a registered sex offender, or Lacy Peterson’s parents. Or inner city families whose children are victims of gang violence. Why are their losses any less tragic than the losses of the 9-11 families?
Answer: They aren’t. If one was going to lose a family member in an act of senseless, random violence because he or she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Twin Towers were clearly the place to do it. These families hit the jackpot, and don’t tell me that they would trade all the millions to have their loved ones back. Of course they would (or most of them, at least), but most families who are raked with tragedy don’t have anything to trade. The 9-11 families aren’t going to have problems paying their medical bills, that’s for sure…that is, unless they blow their windfall on a trip to Vegas or something equally irresponsible. But are they grateful? Has the tragedy that befell them made them more sensitive and empathetic with the misfortunes of others who don’t get millions given to them to help them survive? Apparently not.
The fact that a loved one dies in a terrorist attack does not give a family the power to re-write the principles of ethics, law and common sense. The world does not owe them some kind of special status, because tragedies happen to all families, and their pain is just as real. David Nicholson is selling his personal property, and that is his right. He needs the money to deal with his own tragedy, and nobody has any business telling him that it is unseemly for him to do so…especially those who became instant millionaires because their own tragedies happened to have a higher news profile. His conduct is not an "insult" or "an exploitation" or "trafficking." Mr. Nicholson does not intend his transaction to cause anyone pain or discomfort, nor would it have such effects, if the complaining families shared the ethical instincts of charity and empathy that prompted others to make them rich.
They should be gratified that the memory of their family’s (and the nation’s) tragedy is helping another suffering American deal with his own. Instead, they undermined his efforts with their well publicized (as always) complaining and breast-beating, and he as a result received far less for the flag than he expected, and nowhere near enough to address his financial emergency.
Dave Nicholson owes nobody an apology. The 9-11 families owe him many, however. And it is high time that the media and the nation stop playing favorites when it comes to victims of tragedy in this country. As for the 9-11 families, the David Nicholson episode should mark the end of our constant solicitude toward them.
They have abused the privilege.