Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Long, Lingering Day That Changed America (First published 09/05/2002)

A year later, the events of September 11, 2001, continue to inexorably touche our daily lives. There’s no escaping it — unless you’re a cringing coward in a cave half a world away. More than 150 books have or will be published. Dozens of magazines are issuing commemorative issues. A score or more of DVDs and videotapes are being released.
Because of constant media coverage, especially in New York, The Day That Changed America — as it is now often referred — lingers in the spotlight. Even more so lately as the first anniversary approaches and unprecedented, wall-to-wall coverage (at least 90 commercial-free hours, by some estimates) is scheduled.
There will, of course, be scores of public commemorations and tributes, locally and nationally. None will have more meaning than those in New York City, Washington, DC, and a rural Pennsylvania pasture. These events will certainly be much more painful and overwhelming for some than others.
Some may find looking back at what may be the nation’s worst civilian tragedy as numbing and excessive. Others may find the remembrances rekindle faith and hope.
The families and friends of those who died that day will be most affected. Many, I suspect, will prefer to mark the unimaginable tragedy in private as the rest of the nation participates, personally or via television, in a variety of public ceremonies.
For New Yorkers living within a short distance of Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, where thousands died and hundreds of rescuers instantly became reluctant heroes, due to the lives they saved. the bodies they recovered and the effort they endured, challenges any effort to avoid 9/11-related stories.
In addition to infinite news reports, there are more than a few controversies surrounding 9/11. What should be done with the prime acreage where the Twin Towers dominated the New York skyline for nearly three decades? Are all donations being equitably distributed?
There’s also debate about whether or not to make September 11 a national holiday. Americans are divided. A recent poll said that 44 percent support the proposal, while a slim majority (51 percent) opposes the idea.
There are also lingering questions about our national intelligence-gathering agencies who obviously failed to obtain adequate information about the attacks.
There’ve been dozens of design concepts submitted, none of which seem to be acceptable and appropriate. A few, like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have foolishly suggested most of the land become a "cemetery." (Nothing remains at Ground Zero from the tragedy, making that idea grotesque. To date 78 bodies have not been recovered.)
Victims’ families have weighed in with proposals, as have professional and amateur architects and others from across the nation and around the world. In the end it will no doubt be a memorial with the consensus of hundreds.
It should be an outstanding memorial amidst new office towers that don’t dominate the skyline. The last thing needed is a reminder of the targets that were the Twin Towers. But most of all, whatever is built on the site MUST have meaning and dignity.
The day that changed America established instigated a distinct routine. It was also a serious wake up call to a sleeping giant that had gotten complacent—or ignorant—about heretofore unimaginable terrorism occurring within our borders.
For a period it united and rallied us like no other event in recent history. Before the initial shock subsided and emotions stabilized, patriotism was reborn as red, white and blue blossomed from coast to coast. Altruism soon emerged as billions of dollars were donated to dozens of September 11-related charities.
But, it forced us to surrender a few civil liberties in order to maintain our innate freedom.
Nevertheless, our stalwart national spirit rose from the ashes of the collapsed World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania. Each month after the tragedy, the 11th day of the month was symbolized, as if we really needed to be reminded.
The day that irrevocably changed America altered our freedom, our national security and countless lives. The first anniversary will decidedly arouse mixed emotions, contradictory ideas and patriotic fervor.
September 11th will ultimately be left to the historians, as the rest of us get on with our lives and savor the only encouraging outcome from that terrible day — a renewed devotion to family and friends with whom we shared shock, grief and support. That is what’s most valuable and should linger long after the passing of the day that changed America.