I work next door, so to speak, to the World Trade Center site, and I pass through the PATH station there twice each day. Fortunately, I was not working here on the day the WTC was destroyed – I saw it on TV along with most everyone else. I did pass by the smoking pile of ruins several times in the weeks and months after the disaster, however. This is the view from my window now. Ground Zero – isn’t that what they used to call the point of impact of nuclear missiles? To me, the culture that has grown up around the WTC site seems a bit ghoulish, and self-pitying.
I tend to think that Americans are rather childish when we contemplate national violence, by and against us. We are the most powerful nation in the world, but we are puzzled that we cannot get people to behave as we would like. We want to control the situation, but we haven’t the will to impose ourselves as an imperial power. We think we can do it cheaply, and nicely, because we are so good. We are courageous, evil people are cowards. The terrorists who destroyed the WTC must have been weak and cowardly, because we are the opposite. Instead, they did their dastardly deed, and gave us the Ground Zero of our bewildered pain. What happened? How could this happen to us?
The Brits lost 40,000 people in the London Blitz, when Hitler poured V-1’s and V-2 rockets onto the city. There were smoking piles of ruins everywhere. What happened at the WTC was a horrific atrocity, and I was stupefied by it for weeks (the images of people jumping stay with me even now) but in comparison, it was small. The emotion that it has generated here is a measure of the scale of achievement of the terrorists – they have scared us silly. We’re supposed to be safe from all that.
We have a prez who has dragged us into the fiasco of Iraq because we were too rattled to think cooly and clearly about how to respond to the attack. Okay, knocking off the Taliban made sense – they were in Afghanistan, they did it, they would do it again. But Iraq?!! Now we have an ‘expanded war on terror.’ We wish we were fighting a war, instead of a grinding, bloody ‘police action’. So do the Israelis, today, I guess.
Now people throng to the WTC site. (Does anyone ever comment on the black humour of 9/11 and call 911 for emergency? No, too tasteless.) They pose in front of the fence around the pit where construction work proceeds in a desultory manner. They read the timeline of 9/11 that has been posted. Why? “At 8:04 the pilots’ throats were cut…At 8:24 our valiant commander turned a page and continued to read to the 1st grade class…” This is common knowledge – we should have a proper memorial for people to visit, and where they can reflect, not a gimcrack Powerpoint presentation that is nothing so much as an invitation to wallow in gruesome reflections about “how awful it was.”
Oh yes, we are building a Freedom Tower. FREEDOM Tower?!! What is THAT? In Europe you can see columns erected to commemorate the end of the Plague – too bad they didn’t call them Plague Towers. Do we have to be so obvious, so crude? It sounds like something from 1984 – what does a towering skyscraper, which is totally unnecessary for the area, have to do with freedom? Empty symbolism to counter the devastatingly effective symbolism of the original murder and destruction.