Category Archives: World Trade Center

Tenth Anniversary

The news media are bursting with reports reminding us that this coming Sunday is the tenth anniversary of 11 September 2001, a date which will live in infamy.

But for what?

Of course, I know damn right well what.  I was working in Manhattan that day, and had to walk home, across the Manhattan Bridge, seeing the column of smoke in the sky.  I still react to the video of the airplane slamming into the South Tower as a punch in the gut.  I remember the smell, the dust, the eerie quiet in the weeks that followed.

But there is one small question.  At times, I thought I knew the answer, but now, I’m not so sure:

How is it that three modern steel buildings all collapsed into neat little piles, dropping at near free-fall speed, covering little more than their own footprints?

I’ve always believed that it was within the power of our leadership to forestall the events of 11 September, but that they allowed it to happen in order to advance their own political agenda.  But if, for a moment, we ponder that small question, and set aside the official answer of jet-fuel fires, what comes out is horrifying.

If the Twin Towers and 7 WTC did not simply collapse, then our government took an event that might have killed hundreds and amplified it so as to kill thousands.  And if our leadership could kill thousands of Americans to score political points, what else are they capable of?

OK: that’s one alternative.  But if we step back from that, and return to the official version of what happened, then we have a government that in spite of clear warnings was simply asleep at the switch.

In other words, our leadership is either evil or stupid.

And that’s the tenth anniversary that we’re really observing.

Cordoba House

It’s been a while since I wrote.  I’ve been occupied with other things.  I’ve been able to kick the blogging software in the pants so that others can register and post comments.  If you register and don’t post a comment within three days, your registration will be deleted.

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The big  issue this summer has been the proposed mosque and community center about two blocks north of the World Trade Center site.  An Islamic group bought a distressed building, damaged when the landing gear of one of the planes hijacked on 11 September hit it, and is currently using it for prayer services.  There is now a plan to build a shiny new mosque and community center on the site.  It used to be called ‘Cordoba House,’ but the developers of the plan are now calling it ‘Park51.’  No matter: I’ll stick with the former name, as I believe it’s more honest.

My first thought is if the local Islamic community is pooling their dollars to build this facility, we in the larger community have no rational basis to oppose it.  It’s their building and their land.

And the  First Amendment to the Constitution begins ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;’ which seems fairly straightforward.  We don’t have to like Cordoba House; we don’t have to support it; but we must grant its right to be there.

Opponents of Cordoba House make three points:

  • Funding for the mosque is currently unclear: it may be coming from Saudi Arabia, and not the local community.
  • Islam, in addition to providing moral and spiritual guidance, posits a political and legal system.  Cordoba House, consistent with history, represents the political aspect of Islam ‘planting the flag’ in New York City.
  • Since the 11 September terrorists were followers of Islam, it’s disrespectful to have an Islamic center so close to the death and destruction of the World Trade Center site.

While all these points may be true, none of them represent a valid exception to a basic First Amendment right.  The First Amendment says nothing about what a religion is, or how it may be funded, a requirement to be ‘respectful.’  Islam may have its political aspects, but it would be a major effort (and probably not realistic) to establish that it is not actually a religion.

Still, people seize on the last argument to suggest, ‘perhaps it could be built somewhere else.’  If Islam is really the dark, powerful force that some imagine it to be, such moaning would only make us look weak and stupid.

What really bothers me about Cordoba House, more than its funding or its imagined political intent, is that when it is finished, the World Trade Center site will still be a hole in the ground.

We’ve Lost Something

Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center.  The site is still basically a hole in the ground, with construction proceeding at a glacial pace.

So how do we commemorate a day in which we got our ass whipped because we were unprepared?

It would seem appropriate to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation about the events of that day, those who died, the nature of our enemy, and the challenge that they represent.  But that’s not what what’s happening.

For two hours yesterday morning, they recited the names of those who died in the collapse of the Twin Towers, as they have done every 11 September since 2001.  That’s entirely appropriate.

But what is getting lost is how they died, and what we should do besides stopping the city for two hours to remember them.  The danger is still out there, biding its time, contemplating the next opportunity to strike.

It’s been contemplated to include an exhibit on the terrorist hijackers at the World Trade Center memorial.  Of course, we should: not to honor them, but to remind ourselves of the nature of our enemy, and to rededicate ourselves to the battles we face.  When we ultimately win the war against the terrorists, the exhibit can reasonably be turned into something else, as it will have served its purpose.

But I’m in the minority here: most have reacted with horror to the thought of memorializing the hijackers alongside their victims.   So how did the victims die?  Lightning strikes?  An earthquake?  Catastrophic elevator implosions?  Do we want to forget the people who brought about the destruction of 11 September–and are gathering their forces to do it again–even as we spend billions sending our young people off to war?

Or is it that in our politically correct culture, we can’t bring ourselves to identify a group of people as ‘the enemy’?

This brings us to the alternate, post-Bush, commemoration of 11 September: the ‘national day of service’ proposed by President Obama.  It’s a charming thought, and good things can get done, but it doesn’t address what happened that day and the danger that it still represents.

We don’t remember 7 December, ‘a date that will live in infamy,’ very much anymore.  But its time had passed: we fought the Japanese, we won, and now, two generations or so later, they are important allies.  Hopefully, the same will one day happen to 11 September.

But not yet.

Finally, Some Sense

Today’s morning newspapers were full of righteous indignation that the Port Authority would henceforth call the tallest building on the former World Trade Center site ‘One World Trade Center,’ instead of ‘Freedom Tower.’  The editorial writers were in high dudgeon: how dare they strip the building of its proper patriotic name in the interest of… marketing?

For my part, it seems the most sensible decision the Port Authority has made about the site in years.  The name ‘Freedom Tower’ reeks of Orwellian doublespeak and pointless politically correct posturing.

Now, if they can just get the damned thing built….

Remembering 11 September

Seven years ago last Thursday, Islamic terrorists in hijacked jetliners destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and brought the War on Terror upon us.  And so we remember the dead, pray for the living, and moan about the crappy replacements the politicians are serving up to replace the majestic Twin Towers and the glacial pace of their progress.

And then what?

We’re supposed to be intelligent: when some problem befalls us, we’re supposed to study it, learn from it, and do better in the future.

An article of faith among conservatives seems to be that we were the innocent victims of the 11 September attacks.  Obama, and the Democrats in general, are full of self-hatred when they declare that we brought it on ourselves.

As a gross approximation, it’s probably accurate to say that we were innocent victims that fateful day.  But the fact is that we, the United States, built Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, and we built Saddam Hussein to fight the Iranians.   While we were indeed victims, we were not quite as innocent as we’d like to imagine.

And since we’re not that innocent, we should have been more careful.  The signs were there that something was afoot: the President was briefed a month earlier that bin Laden was potentially preparing to attack us.  Now the report didn’t say that he would have his henchmen hijack airplanes on 11 September and fly them into things, but a word to the wise is sufficient.

But then again, one could plausibly believe that our leadership wanted the attacks of 11 September to take place, for their own political ends.  But in that case, in the long run, the responsibility for addressing this abuse of power lies not with our leadership, but with ourselves: we still have a representative government, and we still have the right to vote.

And it certainly seems possible that our leadership wanted the terrorist attacks to happen as a pretext not only for war, but also for curtailing our civil rights and for torture.  Yes, it’s a new kind of war and a new kind of enemy.  But I’d like to believe that we’re better than such things.

But maybe we’re not.

And maybe that’s what I have to learn.

The Winners Build the Monuments

An editorial piece in today’s Daily News, decrying the slow progress on the World Trade Center memorial, cited the remarks of former New York City Mayor Giuliani on leaving office in 2001, shortly after the events of 11 September:

You know, long after we’re all gone, it’s the sacrifice of our patriots and their heroism that is going to be what this place is remembered for. It could be a place that is remembered 100 and 1,000 years from now, like the great battlefields of Europe and of the United States. And we really have to be able to do with it what they did with Normandy or Valley Forge or Bunker Hill or Gettysburg. We have to be able to create something here that enshrines this forever and that allows people to build on it and grow from it.

At the time, nobody called him on it: we were still overwrought with what had happened, and Mayor Giuliani had done a wonderful job in keeping the city together after 11 September.  But now that we have some distance from the event, we might consider:

  • Normandy:  The Allies landed in Normandy as a first step to retaking France and western Europe from the Nazis.  They secured a beachhead and advanced from there to end the war in Europe in less than a year.
  • Valley Forge:  It wasn’t really a ‘battlefield;’ it was where the Continental Army encamped for the winter of 1777-1778, during which they became stronger and ultimately succeeded in driving the British out of what is now the United States.
  • Bunker Hill:  The Continental Army actually lost the battle of Bunker Hill, an effort to secure the Hill as an artillery site.  But the British took heavy losses, and ultimately lost the war.
  • Gettysburg: We remember Gettysburg for President Lincoln’s famous speech (‘Four score and seven years ago…’).  But Lincoln would not have given the speech there if the Union forces had lost the battle of Gettysburg, and we would not remember it if the Union had lost the Civil War.

The winners write the history books, and the winners build the monuments.  When there is a monument to defeat, even when built by the winners afterward, it tends to be small, understated, conciliatory.  (There is, for example, a monument at Dunkirk, not far from Normandy, where the British and French were driven out by the Nazis some years before.)

In other words, there seems something profoundly wrong with building a big elaborate monument to getting one’s own ass whupped.  On the other hand, this won’t be the first time: witness the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Have pain and suffering become the psychic coin of the realm, as triumph and exultation were in the not-so-distant past?

And what does that mean for the future?

Facing Reality II-WTC Memorial

And then, there’s the planned WTC Memorial.

When the Port Authority reported that the projects on the World Trade Center site were seriously delayed, the head of the foundation building the memorial insisted that it was ‘essential’ that the memorial be completed by 2011. Apparently wishful thinking will make it so. Or is it that he fears that the rest of us will have moved on with our lives?

Of course there should be a memorial to the original Twin Towers and the people who lost their lives on 11 September. But does that mean that a dozen acres of prime Manhattan real estate should be given over in perpetuity for moaning and wailing?

After the events of 11 September, we were all in a state of shock. Some people suggested that the site be left alone. There were letters to the newspaper editors, full of resentment that the subway and PATH people set to work in the depths of the Pit to restore their respective facilities: how dare they take my loved one’s resting place for a train station!

Eventually, in this overheated atmosphere, a plan emerged, with two reflecting pools covering the footprints of the original Towers. It effectively precludes the use of the site for other purposes. While there is green space and (I’d like to imagine) places to sit, I can imagine that there will be howls of protests about letting hod dog vendors into the area, lest it spoil the somber mood of the place.

The foundation responsible for the memorial (you can read more about it at http://www.national911memorial.org/) reported in March that they had met their $350 million fundraising goal for the project. That sounds like a lot of popular support until you read a little further: about 80% of the total comes from donations of $5 million or more, and over 95% comes from donations of $1 million or more. Only a relative handful came from ordinary people who sent in a few dollars for the cause.

So I guess it will get built, eventually. But I’d rather have a useful park, where one might go for a twilight concert or something, than a monument to our pain and suffering.

Facing Reality

Yesterday’s newspapers reported what we, as New Yorkers, had already understood for a long time: that the plans for the new structures that were supposed to replace the World Trade Center were irretrievably screwed up, and that, without several months of further analysis, it would not even be possible to make a reasonable projection about when they might be finished.

We used to be a city, and a nation, of big plans and big achievements: the first New York subway was designed and built from scratch in eight years; we won World War II; we went to the moon in a decade; the original World Trade Center towers were built in eight years.

After the attacks of 11 September, we rebuilt the necessary pieces of infrastructure pretty quickly: the power grid got fixed in a few months; the IRT subway that ran through the site was reopened in a year (it would have been sooner, but Governor Pataki wanted to preside at the reopening ceremony); the PATH terminal and the tunnels to New Jersey were back in a little over two years.

And then, when it came to properly rebuilding the site, the wheels fell off.

What happened?

There are lots of things that one could point to, but an obvious one is the difference between leadership and management. The Port Authority in the 1960s, had a vision of how they would improve the city by building two really tall buildings. They held on to their vision, despite some measure of public opposition, and the original Twin Towers were built.

Today, the management of the project is fractured. The Port Authority owns the site, but is subject to direction from the state, the city, Larry Silverstein (to whom the World Trade Center site was leased shortly before 11 September), and a cast of characters. Worse, nobody seems to see anything wrong with this.

A project like this, with many competing interests, needs leader whom everyone trusts, who has a reasonable understanding of the interests involved, who can fairly decide when someone won’t get exactly what they want, and who has the authority to make his decisions stick,

But that isn’t the modern management style. There are no heroes; there are no ‘lone wolves.’ Instead there is management by consensus, a thoughtful balancing of the interests of the ‘stakeholders.’

The problem is that leads to decisions that are ‘safe,’ but really crappy:

  • The proper way to show that we refuse to give in to the terrorists is to build something as awesome as the original Twin Towers. Replicating the Towers would be a good idea, but isn’t the only alternative. But as much as the site and the New York psyche cries for iconic skyscrapers, that would be too dangerous. So instead we have a parade of boxes.
  • The actual height of the Freedom Tower (minus the spire) is actually only slightly shorter than the original Twin Towers. So it really isn’t that much less dangerous, if we’re worried about an event similar to 11 September.
  • And who gave us the name ‘Freedom Tower’? The site is still called the World Trade Center, and the other buildings will carry World Trade Center addresses. Are we really celebrating freedom in a building that had to be redesigned so as to make it more resistant to truck bombs?
  • The Port Authority, afraid that commercial tenants might not want to occupy an iconic skyscraper, has leased about 30% of the space in the Freedom Tower to other government agencies. While this guarantees a revenue stream to the Port Authority, it’s also the kiss of death for A-list tenants who would pay top dollar to occupy a building where they wouldn’t have to rub elbows with civil servants.

More tomorrow, or whenever I have some time to write….