Kristen Breitweiser,
Wake-Up Call: The Political Education of a 9/11 Widow
(Hatchette, 2006)

If anyone ever says "9/11," you know exactly to what they are referring. They are not looking at their watch to give the time. They aren't throwing out sequential odd numbers. This phrase will be forever linked to the date of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. It was on this date that author Kristen Breitweiser lost her husband when a commercial jetliner was used as a missile against Tower 2 of the World Trade Center in New York City. She has written a book, Wake-Up Call: The Political Education of a 9/11 Widow, describing how the attacks tore up the lives of her family, followed by five years during which she became an outspoken critic of the U.S. government and agencies that she says failed the United States that day.

I listened to the six-hour audiobook version read by Kristen and containing a short interview with her at the end of the last CD. The book starts out sounding like a romance novel. Kristen describes how she rebuffed her husband Ron's advances for years before finally seeing him in a different light. They got married, had a child, a dog and the perfect suburban lifestyle in New Jersey while her husband worked for a financial institution at the WTC. Sept. 11, 2001 started out as any other typical work day. Her husband had left her his typical sticky notes as he left for work and she stayed in bed. At some point, he called her frantically telling her he was OK, but that he was watching people jump from the building next door after the first plane slammed in to it. That was the last time she ever spoke to him.

Following this despicable episode in history, Kristen left her life as a young lawyer to focus on finding out what happened prior to the attacks that led to the failure of the government to protect the U.S. from this terrorist threat. She describes in detail how she and several other 9/11 widows -- known as "The Jersey Girls" -- pushed relentlessly for the 9/11 Commission, for equitable financial settlements for the families of the tower victims as compared to the uniformed personnel who perished or those victims who were on the planes. Kristen brings up many valid points of deceit, deception and wrongdoing on the part of numerous individuals in various organizations.

However, Kristen seems to only rail against U.S. citizens. She does mention several Islamic terrorists by name, but she treats their actions as inevitable. Much like "boys will be boys," you get the sense she believes "terrorists will be terrorists." Therefore, it is not so much their fault the 9/11 attacks happened. It is the fault of the U.S. government (both Bush and Clinton's administrations), the New York City government, the CIA, NSA, FBI, commercial airlines, customs agents and many more agencies that the attack was allowed to happen. About the only groups not blamed are her husband's employer or herself for knowingly allowing her husband to work in a building that had been previously attacked by terrorists and was therefore a known target for possible future attacks.

In many respects, Kristen's book runs parallel to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. They both make countless accusations on where various people (most specifically the Bush administration) failed to do their jobs, dropped the ball or flat-out lied. Unlike Moore, Kristen's arguments are a lot more solid. She backs up the majority of her statements with good facts and believable arguments. But like Moore (and Bill O'Reilly on the opposite side of the political spectrum), Kristen does not have any room for dissenting opinion. Either you agree with her or you are mistaken, a liar or both.

I admire how Kristen ends the book stating she has a busy future fighting for clean energy (yet she still drives an SUV), protection for ports, nuclear power plants, airlines, etc. She wants change and is willing to work toward that end. She has no desire to go in to politics, but perhaps she should as maybe she could make more of a mark working to enact her belief structures from the inside instead of limiting herself to the role of "activist" on the outside.

I think that most listeners will note that Kristen has (not surprisingly) developed some irrational fears due to this ordeal. She is now terrified of flying, for example. Planes can be easily shot out of the air with shoulder-launched missiles, she mentions. (She fails to mention she has a better chance of dying in that big SUV of hers.) Her constant disparaging remarks against the airline industry are biased and should not be spouted out to discourage people from taking commercial flights. Kristen also sounds scared enough of future terrorist attacks that I am surprised she moved to New York City. Wouldn't she think that city is still a prime target? She mentions phobias like opening her mail with gloves (thanks to the anthrax scare). These little glimpses of how the attacks and loss of her husband impacted her are saddening. Yet she says she has looked into psychological help for her daughter, but not herself. I wonder why? Any of the thousands of people who survived the loss of loved ones on 9/11 surely needs some professional emotional support.

So, is this audiobook worth a listen? Kristen is a good narrator. She writes well. It is a very emotional book. You smile as she talks about the lives of her family. You will feel shock and horror as you see the events of 9/11 through her eyes. You will feel anger when she explains how this attack could have been prevented. You will be a little confused when the rare argument goes astray and doesn't have the solid punch compared to the majority of her words. If you are anti-Bush administration, she will inflame your anger towards Washington. If you are pro-Bush, she will incite your ire towards the Jersey girls. In fact you might not make it through the book. If you are sitting on the fence, I cannot predict on which side you will fall, but I doubt you will still be stuck in middle.

review by
Wil Owen

9 February 2008

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