First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Why We Should Not Rebuild on the Site of the World Trade Center
There are a lot of people saying we ought to rebuild the World Trade Center as quickly as possible in order to show our enemies that they can't stop us.
I was in a group in Florida a couple of days ago when someone made that point. A young anthropologist and mother answered,"Rebuilding the World Trade Center would be a grand gesture of defiance. But gestures of defiance aren't an appropriate memorial for the dead."
I've heard other arguments in favor of rebuilding the towers:
1. "New York just lost a lot of office space. Those people have to work somewhere."
2. "To leave that ground bare would give a victory to the terrorists."
3. "It's not fair to the owners of the land to deprive them of the use of it. The land is just too valuable."
To which I answer:
1. There are a lot of places on Manhattan where existing smaller buildings already cry out to be replaced. If more office space is needed, there are dozens of other sites that could be used. The twin towers, as they were, could never be rebuilt anyway -- it was a thirty-year-old structure and it obviously was not as sturdy as it needed to be.
2. The terrorists already had their victory. The people died. The building fell. Nothing you put on that site will change what happened. Our victory over the terrorists will happen on the soil of the nations that have sponsored them.
3. The land belongs to the New York Port Authority. The building's owners only leased the land. So the land already belongs to a government body.
The place where six thousand people were slaughtered all at once for no other crime than being at work in an American skyscraper is no longer just real estate.
It is holy ground.
As each tower fell, the wrenching and tearing of the intricate pile of steel and glass and concrete generated incredible amounts of energy. Combined with the heat already present from the burning jet fuel, the collapse of the towers flash-incinerated the bodies of almost every person who was inside the building.
That's why the workers on the site are not finding many bodies, or i.d., or even office furniture.
The dust and smoke that still rise from the smoldering ruins contain the ashes of the dead.
Most of the bodies cannot be taken away to be buried. Their ashes are mingled with the debris inside that stories-high mound.
Whether we like it or not, that pile of debris is their grave. And I, for one, believe it would be wrong to haul the entire thing away and dispose of it as landfill.
I believe the mound should be left, covered deeply in soil, as the graves of the dead.
I believe the site of the actual towers should become a memorial park, where respectful visitors can climb to the top of the grassy hill, where trees sink their roots down into the bones of the building and the ashes of the dead to bind all together.
There the visitors will find a wall listing the names of those who died there, and a bronze replica of the buildings in which they died.
They will also find statues of a firefighter and a policeman guiding people down a flight of emergency stairs. Some of the people will be helping others who are injured. There will be men and women of different races represented in that sculpture depicting what the victims were doing in their last moments. There will be flags of all the nations that lost citizens there.
There will be a list of the names of the passengers and crew of the airplanes.
Whether to list the names of the hijackers, too, is a sensitive issue. As the cause of all the other deaths, there is much to be said for leaving their names off the site entirely.
Then again, their ashes are inextricably mingled with the ashes of their victims. Who are we to try to separate them now? Let people see their names as well, and think of them what they will. Perhaps, as years go by, we will find it in our hearts to forgive them, for we do not know what combination of madness, grief, rage, and the lies of others led them to do the thing they did. God knows their hearts. We do not. To leave their names off the memorial would be a judgment we are not capable of making, I believe.
Whatever form the actual memorial takes, however, one thing is certain: I can't imagine what kind of person would want to go to work and make money in a building erected on top of the graves of more than six thousand dead.
I can't imagine what kind of person would want to collect rent money from the tenants of such a building.
I can't imagine what retailer would want to set up window displays and set to selling, or what restaurateur would want to serve lunch or supper, or what manager would want to have office parties in a place where so many widows and widowers, orphaned children and grieving parents will come to shed tears for the loved ones who were torn from them on 11 September.
One of the reasons our enemies who did this thing despise us is because they believe we value making money more than we care about anything else. More than we care about each other. More than we care about God.
To erect a commercial building on the site of the two towers, to continue to make money there, would, I believe, prove that our enemies were right about us.
There are places in the world where entire cities were destroyed and tens of thousands died -- Stalingrad, Hiroshima, Nagazaki, Dresden. Those cities were rebuilt, and only smaller memorials mark the spot. The areas were too large to leave the entire sites as memorials.
But the World Trade Center is not the same as cities that were torn apart in the midst of a struggle between two forces.
The World Trade Center is a place where innocent victims were systematically killed, not because they were combatants, and not because their deaths served a legitimate military objective, but rather because they had been condemned merely for being part of a hated group -- people who help sustain the greatest nation that ever stood atop the pyramid of nations.
On sites where such things were done, we do not go about business as usual.
The people who died there did not die in order to make money.
Some died on airplanes as they prayed, as they held each other's hands to give courage to the faint-hearted.
Some died in utter surprise as they were about the business of supporting their families and fulfilling their responsibilities to their employers.
Some died in pain and terror as they had to choose between fire and falling, or as their injuries prevented them from escaping the flames.
Some died as they tried to pull others from the wreckage.
Most died in stairwells and corridors and lobbies and on the open ground in the shadow of the buildings when they fell. Most died trying to get home to their families, or trying to help others to maintain good order as they did.
Many of them were the last out of the building because they were the ones who stayed behind to help others. Many of them were brave souls who entered the building because it was their sworn duty to risk their lives to help save others in danger of losing theirs.
Many of those who died were among those responsible for saving the lives of the tens of thousands who got away from the towers in time.
We have seen the smoke of their ashes rising from the ruins, carried away by the wind to be spread over the soil of America, or into the sea.
Those who struggled to dig into the wreckage in hopes of finding survivors breathed the ashes of the dead into their lungs as they labored. Their ashes, mingled with the dust of concrete, covered the streets and buildings and citizens of the great American city.
They are part of us. Our hearts were torn by their deaths, our character was changed, the best inside us was rekindled as we imagined those final moments, as we reached out to help their families and others left behind.
The American soul was tested there that day, and in the days that follow, as we wage a war to try to prevent such a monstrous thing from being done again to the innocents of any nation, we will think back again and again to the things we learned on 11 September 2001 about courage and sacrifice, about innocence and loss, about faith, about who and what our nation is.
It is holy ground, and we must keep it holy, for the sake of those who died, and for the sake of those who live.
Copyright © 2001 by Orson Scott Card.
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