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The Pit


“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
– Milan Kundera

Today is the first day I have seen Ground Zero since fall 2001, when I stood behind a police line several blocks away from the tremendous pile of smoking ruin and corpses, smelled the burnt rubber and ash, and left overwhelmed after a mere minute with the gawking crowds.
What a difference four years makes. One now emerges from a shiny PATH station into the first of several viewing sites, each cordoned with high fences, each curious monuments to the power of euphemism and denial in the face of evil. There is no meaningful marker on the first and lowest viewing level. Rather, as I emerged from the long tunnel leading out from the A/C train stop, I came onto the platform uniting the metro with the PATH, and saw at the far end a missing wall supplanted with a metal grate and a view of the yawning pit of erstwhile destruction. The site is unmarked and clean: there is little hint of devastation, and less of terror.
The first sight to greet me at street level was that of a small band of shrieking protestors. They held aloft a large black banner reading 9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB. New Yorkers strode past; tourists listened in stupefaction. I turned toward the absent towers in disgust.
The metal grating keeping viewers away from the massive pit on street level is festooned with a series of placards explaining the events of 11 September 2001. One of the half-dozen or so placards makes a tepid reference to “the terrorists,” in the context of explaining just whom the Flight 93 passengers were fighting.
Other than this, there is no mention of the enemy. Other than this, there is no mention of the perpetrators. Other than this, there is no mention of the causes. Other than this, there is no mention of Islamism. Other than this, there is no mention of why. At the very epicenter of its greatest horrors, 9/11 is presented as an acausal event devoid of context, moral content, and historical meaning. The City of New York has seen fit to provide visitors to Ground Zero with a great many facts, and precious little truth.
Moving away from the PATH station, the explanatory placards give way to a series of black placards bearing the names of the dead. They are each emblazoned with the common title: THE HEROES OF SEPTEMBER 11. Of course, in a misfortune without evil and devoid of villains, heroism is a thing conferred by the accident of circumstance, the happenstance of suffering, without reference to word, thought or deed. The prolific award of putative honor and renown strips away both. It levels the final moments of the unknowing officeworker obliterated in a firey second, and the coach-class passenger grappling in mortal struggle with a jihadist. If the studious avoidance of cause or foe is a lie of omission, then this is a lie of comission.
If public monument, commemorative art, and civic spaces are the measure of a culture’s self-confidence and vitality, then the state of Ground Zero (independent of the wretched wrangling over its eventual disposition) ought to give us pause.
I went to see it because I remember the day itself; and I went to see it because it is the only American hallowed ground of my lifetime. I expected little: but I did not expect a lie.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 3:42 PM | Permalink

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