Sunday, September 11, 2005

September 11

Here are a few photos of Ground Zero from my last trip to New York City, roughly three months ago.

grndzeroplaque, originally uploaded by My Stupid Dog.

The former site of the World Trade Center has become the unlikeliest of tourist attractions. People come from all over the world to see it. Any visit to Ground Zero is an occasion for deep reflection and renewed grief. Mine was no exception.

grndzero, originally uploaded by My Stupid Dog.

You might think that a place this crowded would be noisy, but it isn't. The visitors here are quiet, respectful, perhaps stunned. Nothing we saw on our televisions prepared us for the size of Ground Zero; the crater is several stories deep and well over a hundred yards across. The absence of debris makes it difficult for us to believe that two of the tallest buildings in the world collapsed here, and brought a few of their smaller neighbors with them. It looks as if the old Trade Center had been plucked from the ground by an evil giant.

It takes a full half-hour to walk around Ground Zero -- past a makeshift memorial to dead policemen and firemen, along a metal catwalk, through the nearby World Financial Center (itself heavily damaged in the 9/11 attacks), across a street, and along another metal catwalk to where one began. All along the route, scattered pilgrims stare out of windows, or peek between metal grates, trying to comprehend the scale of the attack.

This vast expanse seems to swallow up sound: Human voices, which ordinarily reverberate off walls and ceilings, find no comforting echoes here.

grndzerostn, originally uploaded by My Stupid Dog.

Although the surrounding buildings have been rebuilt or restored, progress at Ground Zero has been slow. The subway station has been reopened since the 9/11 attacks; the rest of the site remains vacant. Construction of the Trade Center's replacement, the much-vaunted Freedom Tower, was placed on hold shortly before my visit. It may be years before the project is even begun.

I know how unrealistic it would be to suggest that several acres of prime Manhattan real estate might best be left alone -- not built over with a new skyscraper, not greened over with a new city park, but simply left as a festering wound at the city's heart. Something in human nature shrinks at the thought of leaving such horror and ugliness exposed to view indefinitely. If nothing else, simple pride would require us to put something here, anything at all, as a statement that we have "achieved closure" and "moved on."

But something is already here: a monument to the evils of terrorism created, ironically enough, by terrorists themselves. The terrorists of Ground Zero left nothing for their fellow human beings but smoldering holes and dead bodies. No Freedom Tower, city park, or rebuilt Trade Center could convey this truth so forcefully, or remind us why we must stamp out global terrorism wherever and whenever we find it.

Perhaps we need this place to remain as it is, for at least a little while.

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