Sunday, 4 September 2011

The fallen

Falling Man by Richard Drew
As we approach a decade since the 9/11 attacks, there are the expected news stories, TV documentaries, magazine articles, etc. recalling the horrific events of that day and paying tribute to those who died. In the Sunday Times today was a very interesting feature questioning 'Why America won't talk about the scores who jumped from the Twin Towers'.
In the article, David James Smith investigates the response of, among others,  the media, officials, emergency services and, of course, the families of those who leapt to their deaths. Smith encounters resistance – some feel the term 'jump' or 'jumper' is inappropriate as they were 'forced or pushed out by the heat of the flames'. Smith writes, "To be a jumper, many people feel, implies the act of suicide, an act that some perceive as shameful".  Officially, all the deaths as a result of 9/11, with the exception of the hijackers were ruled to be homicides, not sucides.
Others, including firefighters, are so traumatised by witnessing the sight and sound of the falling bodies they can barely speak about it. The first firefighter to be killed on 9/11 – Danny Suhr – was, in fact, hit by a falling woman. Some families have taken comfort from the fact that their loved-ones decided to jump, as it meant they had taken some control in an out-of-control situation. One mother saying "They were falling into the arms of God".
Of all the photographs taken of those who fell to their deaths, is one known as 'The Falling Man' taken by photographer Richard Drew (see pic above). It is an incredible photograph, and one which has caused great debate over the identity of the individual and whether it was morally right to publish such a picture. Drew has said he "liked to think of the Falling Man as the photographic equivalent of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, representing all those who had died by jumping or falling".
This was a really interesting feature, on a subject which will always remain complex and highly-emotive. And among the thoughts and feelings provoked as I read about these men and women who fell to their deaths, is how must it feel to have to choose your death? Would I have stayed put to be consumed by fire, or let the building collapse on me? Or would I jump out of the window? Suicide is choosing to turn away from life. These people chose one form of death to escape from another. There is no word for that.


  1. That's a profound, moving and though-provoking post, thank you CB.
    Maybe we need a different word for this kind of self-destruction; cf the WW2 resistance fighters who knew they would be executed, probably after revealing the names of others, and managed to leap out of a window or otherwise made their own choice.

  2. Hi GM! Thanks for reading...
    I think throughout history there have been men and women who have made the bravest and most courageous of choices. For example, as you say, the resistance fighters who found a way to take their own life before someone took it for them. The most final of defiant acts.
    And again, you wonder what you would do in such a situation? Or whether you would even be brave enough to give your life for a cause in the first place?
    Interesting quote from Che Guevara: "We cannot be sure of having something to live for, unless we are prepared to die for it".

  3. It's interesting that society is willing to regard those poor souls who jumped or the Resistance fighters who chose death over torture and the risk of compromising their movements as acting with the highest integrity and courage. Yet if you are old, in pain or dependent suicide is thought inappropriate. Is it just the fear of undue external pressure that makes it so unallowable?

    I have been held spellbound by the photograph CB. Beauty and terror together.

  4. Hi Vale. Great to hear from you...
    Yes, I would say fear, as well as a failure to acknowledge that it's a very real issue for a great many people.
    As for the photograph it is exactly as you describe. A thing of wonder and horror. Incredible.

  5. It's appalling to me that anyone would presume to judge the "choice," such as it was, these people made, if we can even speak of this most horrific option as being a choice in any way that we understand the word. To look at that photograph is to feel yourself in that person's skin as he rushes toward what he knows will be his death, just seconds away. Why the terrible, terrible compulsion on anyone's part to pass judgement? How I wish this urge were something human beings could divest themselves of.

  6. Hello there... And thanks very much for your comment.
    It is, I agree, a terrible compulsion to pass judgement and it's something, as a society, we do increasingly often. Judgements on how we look, what we drive, what we own... All the things that don't actually matter. Where's the tolerance and compassion?