A friend of mine sent his reaction to a story that appeared over the weekend in the New York Times about the airport chief at Boston Logan Airport who literally scapegoated for the 9/11 attacks, a story I was not previously aware of. His thoughts are well-expressed and I share them below.
The Airport Chief Scapegoated For 9/11 Attacks Still Has Not Recovered
Meet Virginia Buckingham. As we all reflect on 9/11, I found an intriguing article today in the New York Times about the life of one woman since that day. It was not only a story about what we all experienced back then, but an insight for us to understand a bit of our own selves when confronted with the need for blame. In this case how one person was, so it seems so clear now in retrospect, falsely accused as a negligent “accomplice.”
A number of the terrorists that day originated in Boston for reasons we will never know. Ms. Buckingham at the time was a 37-year old appointee of MassPort. She was the manager of Boston’s Logan airport.
When facts arose that a group of the terrorists boarded in Boston a frenzy arose in laying blame. How could this happen? Why Logan Airport? It must have been incompetence! Within days all eyes turned to Ms. Buckingham as the culprit. Accusations on talk shows, in newspapers, and on the street were calling for nothing less than her head.
To the public, it was her. She had to be the reason that evil people got on those planes.
In fact, and with clear heads now twenty years later, the reality is that the box cutters they boarded with were legal at the time. Nothing was found from a local airport security standpoint that was negligent. These were just different times, and all of us got caught with our proverbial pants down.
Yet the public demanded blame. Ms. Buckingham was verbally assaulted in supermarkets. Was called out in the press. And was driven to fear for her life. The verdict was swift by the mobs that ensued in the belief that it was her poor oversight that caused those men to board the planes.
She ended up resigning to protect herself and her family. She was forced to move in with her in-laws for months to escape the press outside her door. For years after she was in therapy for PTSD and could never escape the stigma of her name and person in Boston. Her rising career at the time was ruined. Her life would never truly recover.
To this day she lives with the pain. Not because she was a culprit. But because of circumstance.
Recently, many of the journalists that had attacked her have since apologized, knowing now how they ultimately altered a life. And while I find this to be a wonderful sentiment, it’s perhaps too little and too late for Ms. Buckingham. For us though it can serve as a lesson in carefully assessing our judgements and accusations. Especially in light of the ease given to us with social media.
Our voices are powerful now. Equally. All of us. As such we must be careful with our words, now more than ever. There is justification for calling out those who bring harm. But we must tread carefully in attempting to lay blame to others without thinking through the moment and truly reflecting as to the facts. Virginia Buckingham is exactly the reason why.