Fall 2005

Taking Back the Memorial – Two Sides of the Same Coin

When the American people rejected the blame-America-first International Freedom Center at Ground Zero we saw how responsive politicians can become. This leads us to ask: "What took so long?" The drawn-out struggle against those who endorsed the IFC and its objectionable catechism, gave all of us insight into the bizarre disconnect at work in the redevelopment of the World Trade Center and should result in an honest inquiry into the dynamics at work in the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The time is ripe for this matter to receive the sustained national attention it deserves.

The natural desire of the American people to memorialize the enormous loss, as well as the enormous valor, of 9/11 was almost defeated by the IFC's misguided attempts to dilute and twist the lessons of that day. While the public is left to wonder how the agenda of the IFC ever came to be so embedded in the plans for Ground Zero, it was no surprise to those of us who have been monitoring events all along.

An unmistakable disdain for public opinion has characterized the official position from the beginning. The wishes of the average citizen have been stonewalled at every turn. Now that public opinion has been given its due, the self-righteous indignation within the LMDC is sadly revealing and deeply troubles those of us who believe that the will of the American people should be the only star to guide us in rebuilding the World Trade Center.

Take-Back-the-Memorial leader Debra Burlingame has said that Ground Zero belongs to the American people, with New Yorkers as its custodians. It is safe to say that most of us agree. So the question presents itself: If the force behind the argument that defeated the International Freedom Center's illegitimate claim was that the American people did not want it there, then why wouldn't the voice of the people be just as decisive and binding on our elected representatives when it comes to rebuilding the Twin Towers? If we are to be ignored, who can tell us why?

A significant majority of the American people has shown steady support for putting the Towers back where they belong. That includes many of New York's first responders (particularly firefighters), as well as a number of family members, and survivors who came close to being victims.

The following opinion was submitted to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in late 2002 on a public comment card: "Just as I want my wife back, people want their towers back. The main difference is the latter is possible, the former, not. Walk around Times Square or the Village and look at how many photos and postcards of the Twin Towers are there for sale. I've even seen an NYC 2003 calendar with the WTC pictured. That's what they want . . . don't let today's fears control tomorrow's dreams."

And that's what people still want. Three years after that appeal was written, the photos and the postcards of the Towers are still for sale in the Village and Times Square and Columbus Circle and on Fifth Avenue. And when the people have finally made their will clear and their public servants have done their job, rebuilding can get underway and pictures of the Twin Towers will be back on the calendars as well.

In response to the murderous attacks of September 11th, the restoration of the skyline of New York is a national imperative. It is the most dramatic and eloquent way we have to show the world that we are resilient and unbeatable. Replacing the Twin Towers with a mediocre building, better-suited to Midtown or Jersey City, is not a legacy worthy of who we are as a people.

Recently, Governor Pataki launched a TV ad campaign inviting companies to do business in Lower Manhattan. It closes with an animated shot of the "Freedom Tower". No doubt he is hoping we will become accustomed to looking at his version of our skyline. That betrays a real lack of understanding of who we are. New Yorkers are not a scaled-down people and we do not get fired up by scaled-down dreams. If he wants to generate excitement and create a magnet Downtown there is only one way to do that.

Raising the Twin Towers is a matter of much greater strategic significance than the memorial. In contrast to the tremendous but localized importance of a truly fitting memorial, the restoration of the legendary skyline of New York would reverberate around the world - as will the permanent scarring of that skyline, if it comes to that.

Future generations will see the Twin Towers as mythic: either because they once stood tall, were destroyed by blind hatred, and were then forsaken by a timid people; or because they will be standing tall, having been destroyed by blind hatred and then restored by a heroic nation.

If we fail to rebuild the Towers it will be looked back upon as a sad turning point for America. The politics of this issue will fade, but the failure will be decisive. And in ten or twenty years people will wonder how we could have been so blind. By not daring enough, or caring enough, we will have belittled ourselves and our best days will be in the past.

But it doesn't have to come to that. For a little while longer, the choice is still in our hands.

Back To Top