The Nation's Pulse

Dollar Signs at Ground Zero

The rich live richer -- while in Iraq other Americans die to protect them.

By 11.15.06

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Here's a little story about modern life. I wish I were Bob Dylan so I could make it into a song.

A few days ago, I was in New York doing some TV shows, web interviews, and print for National Retirement Preparedness Week. I was telling people in the boomer generation they absolutely had to save more for their retirement in stocks, mutual funds, index funds, variable annuities. After the sixth interview, I was down near the Museum of Jewish Heritage near Ground Zero. I went in there and saw a powerful exhibit about Jews who fought in the U.S. armed forces in World War II. More than half a million of them, of whom 12,000 died and 50,000 were wounded. It ended with film footage of liberated concentration camps and death camps and a rabbi saying prayers for the few pitiful survivors.

Then the tour ended at a room where the visitor has a sweeping view out over New York harbor and the Statue of Liberty. I was so moved I could hardly stay on my feet. I went over to Ground Zero. Absolute vertigo, it was so powerful.

That night, I took an old pal from high school in Maryland to dinner at a Greek seafood place in Manhattan. He sells watches to billionaires -- watches that cost $300,000 that these guys pay for with Titanium American Express Cards.

All around me, diners were drinking red wine at $25 a glass for the most ordinary brand and martinis at $22 a pop. The rib-eye steak went for $42. The place was mobbed and everyone was laughing and joking. Behind me, two men I did not know said they were in the process of raising $400 million for Hillary's campaign.

My friend told me about how his uncle, a Jew fighting in the army in World War II, was killed by German mortar fire. Another uncle had three Purple Hearts. We talked about Iraq and the hell it's become for the U.S. armed forces. What would those guys living in fear every minute think about the life of $300,000 watches and $22 martinis and $42 steaks and everyone laughing their heads off? What do we think about them in their body armor and their Bradleys dying for us whom they don't even know?

As dessert came, a fire alarm went off in the restaurant. My friend and I were the only ones who left -- that good Montgomery County, Maryland fire training. Everyone else just sat there laughing and drinking their martinis.

When the heck are we ever going to wake up to the fire that's raging just outside the city walls and to what we owe the men and women who are fighting it with their lives?

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.