Sept. 13, 2001
Once, on a visit to New York, I happened to stay at the Marriott Hotel located next to the World Trade Center. After an evening out, my friend and I thought it would be fun to go down to the Plaza at the foot of the WTC and walk around.
The New York skyline is strange. The distance you are from many of its most architecturally and physically imposing buildings does not necessarily have any relation to your sightline of the particular building. As you approach the city from northern New Jersey, the skyline begins to emerge from what is sometimes a beautiful blue sky. White clouds rest peacefully above 110 stories of soaring, almost mythical majesty. From certain vantage points much further uptown, you could peek through buildings and make out the WTC’s top-most points. In the other boroughs, a terrace on any of the taller apartment buildings would earn you a relatively unobstructed sightline. But when you’re Downtown or Midtown, there are too many other tall buildings, densely packed, and you would forget just how tall the WTC – just a few blocks away – really is.
But on this particular evening, my friend and I lay, with our backs against its concrete wall, below one of the Twin Towers and gazed up at this surreal road to the heavens that stood above us. On Tuesday night, when I stood at the vigil in the Diag and tried to conjure up how I could possibly approach this unfortunately unapproachable subject in today’s column, I again looked to the sky. And I remembered that night, and my proximity to the crown jewel in New York’s million-dollar skyline.
Anyway, that’s an introduction to a story I can’t really tell, a point I can’t really make. It is probably callous to discuss architectural loss in the midst of the worst terrorist attack ever, but the loss of the WTC – the building itself – from downtown Manhattan is more than an architectural loss. It is the loss of a crucial ingredient of our civilization’s stew of achievement. And callous as it may be, it is as far as my comprehension of what happened Tuesday morning has taken me. The numbers – of bodies, of dollars – will start to become known, and hopefully then I can begin to appreciate the scope of what happened, its sickening horror and the ensuing grief. But for now, all I can deal with is what I see on the television.
Even now I understand that the devastation of Tuesday marks the loss of a security and piece of mind that we – the United States, Americans – never deserved to have. Part of me is keeping myself from becoming too rattled – maybe too outraged – by acknowledging that the action taken by the terrorists on Tuesday was not completely unwarranted. We don’t deserve something as severe as what happened in New York and Washington. No nation, no people, do. But there was an important lesson that our nation’s leadership – and our nation’s general consciousness – needed to learn. It is that we are not immune from international scrutiny. I am not bothered by that statement’s obviousness. But it is one that everyone in this country – from President Bush to you and me – need to realize. We try to forget about the way this country behaves internationally – that we too often behave as terrorists. We are encouraged to ignore that behavior by the national media, by government propaganda, by schoolbooks and by each other. This world is not safe, and this country is certainly no exception. It wasn’t Tuesday, it isn’t today, and it won’t be in 50 years – unless things change. The laundry list of U.S. misdoings is for another time in another column – probably one that is not Hornography.
If the leadership of our country has its way, a dangerous cycle will be allowed to continue. It is one in which the United States makes enemies abroad, via broken treaties, unattended summits and tyrannical international policing. Terrorism follows, allowing leaders to call for appropriations to “fix” our national defense. The cycle needs to end, and it ends at the beginning. Funding the military at this point is a band-aid solution to a more complex problem. The problem can be traced back to our cockiness and arrogance in international matters, and it needs to end.
When we celebrated my mother’s birthday, we celebrated it in the city she had grown up in – a city thousands of miles and decades removed from Pearl Harbor. It was a city that was safe, but safe only in our minds. This wave of terrorism may not be over. Let’s learn from Tuesday and not fall back asleep, not convince ourselves that what happened two days ago can’t happen again today. We won’t panic, but we won’t become complacent either. This is a frighteningly imperfect world, which fosters an environment where something like what happened in Manhattan and Arlington can happen. But we as a nation play a major part in that world, and our actions can shape it.
My condolences are with the friends and families of the victims of the WTC and Pentagon attacks, and my faith is in a U.S. people and a U.S. government that can learn, change and improve.
Horn is an LSA senior and has been a Daily columnist since the winter of 2000.