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The Great Stone Walls
January 23, 2002
by Jacob Kaufman

I was born in Pittsburgh, PA, but raised in a smaller city 70 miles east of the Steel City - Johnstown. As a youth I remember my sainted grandmother telling and retelling the story of the Johnstown Flood of 1889.

As I recall, she said the South Fork Dam, located several miles above the ill-fated Johnstown, was an earthen coffer that could not hold the deluge of rains than poured from the skys of late May. The dam gave way and roared down the valley in a wall of water nearly 20 feet high, sweeping everything in its deadly path toward an unsuspecting community of Johnstown and many smaller towns between the Flood City and Pittsburgh.

Thousands of people perished; homes, factories and businsses washed to a watery and firey oblivion. Why? As my grandmother told the story no one was warned of the impending disaster because it was stone-walled. It seems a wealthy group of corporate business leaders had formed the "Pittsburgh Rod and Gun Club" that had stocked the dam with a variety of fish for the pleasure of catching by its members. The Club's interests were placed above the lives and property of those in Johnstown and beyond.

The carnage was beyond reckoning. Among the dead were around a thousand victims who were never identified. Their remains rest in the local cemetery where a plain marker was erected at the head of each victim's grave. An obelisk towers over the lonely resting places as a collective monument to the innocent dead.

Much was made of the loss of life, the loss of property and even the loss of fish that once promised sport to the wealthy members of the "Pittsburgh Rod and Gun Club." From what I have studied there was little effort spent by the governor and legislature to determine any degree of guilt. Inquiries determined the Flood of 1889 was attributed to an act of God or at least an act of His hand maiden, Mother Nature. The blame was thus stone-walled.

Today much ado is being made about the acts of terror comitted on September 11, 2001. Of course we know who is responsible for plotting the attacks and for piloting those planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and into the ground in western Pennsylvania in an aborted mission that designed for elsewhere.

What is being stone-walled is what is seeping through the cracks of that wall. Between May and September knowledge of the attacks were strongly suspected, according to Richard Butler, of Iraq arms inspection fame, the Administration put oil and gas pipeline negotiations with the Tailban ahead of preventing the 9/11 tragedies much like the preservation of the fish that swam in the South Fork dam water were put ahead of the vicitms of the Flood.

We now have a second stonewall event. The Administration has put the economic welfare of Enron fat cats above the well being of unspecting employees and ordinary stockholders.

Will our national legislators duck and cover to avoid political fallout from both stone-walled events? Will the Justice Department whitewash the events as an act of terror in the first instance and an act of capitalistic greed in the second. Will the result of inquiries so highy touted now be no more than obscure footnotes to our history - soon to be forgotten as we press on to other matters?

In my opinion, the answer to my questions is, "I strongly suspect so." But, then, we shall see.

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