To be honest, I never liked the World Trade Center. I always thought it knocked the New York City skyline out of whack. The city looked more elegant when the Empire State Building was New York’s (and the world’s) tallest structure. Before the towers, the Big Apple looked like it fit perfectly in one of those shake-’em-up souvenir snowballs. The World Trade Center destroyed that bell-curve symmetry.
But, now that the barbarians have stolen the World Trade Center — and the lives of thousands of people in the process — one thing is certain to me: I want it back. More important, we need it back.
We can’t bring back the dead, but we can rebuild the broken. In fact — to borrow a phrase from the Six Million Dollar Man — we can rebuild it better, faster, and stronger.
That would be infinitely preferable to another monument.
For more than a decade, America has been increasingly obsessed with wallowing in remorse. After various school shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, Princess Di’s untimely death, and a dozen other tragedies large and small, America — or more specifically American media and politicians — have fetishized grief. The television networks have devoted hundreds if not thousands of hours to asking victims or their families, “How do you feel?” Sometimes, you could almost hear the news producers high-five each other when interviewees wept openly. Sometimes I think the “B” in MSNBC stands for “Bathos.”
President Clinton wasn’t responsible for this trend but he did exploit it, as did many politicians. Alas, his “I feel your pain” lip biting was apparently what a lot of Americans wanted. Indeed, at times, it seemed that all political debates were lost or won based upon who was labeled “mean-spirited” or who could best claim the mantle of victimhood.
It looked to me that W. H. Auden’s “For the Time Being,” a prophetic poem from a half century-ago, had come true. Auden predicted that in the “New Age”:
Knowledge will degenerate into a riot of subjective visions & Justice will be replaced by Pity as the cardinal human virtue, and all fear of retribution will vanish & The New Aristocracy will consist exclusively of hermits, bums and permanent invalids. The Rough Diamond, the Consumptive Whore, the bandit who is good to his mother, the epileptic girl who has a way with animals will be the heroes and heroines of the New Age, when the general, the statesman, and the philosopher have become the butt of every farce and satire.
Well, I for one want to go back to the Old Age, where Justice prevails over pity. President Bush had it right when he declared that this is a battle between Good and Evil. This isn’t a conflict between those with low self-esteem and the victims of poor childhoods. Indeed, I think America’s maudlin preoccupation was probably taken as a sign of weakness by those who attacked us.
But, other than delivering righteous retribution, the best way America can show that it’s wiped away its tears and put steel in its spine is to rebuild the World Trade Center. A serious, dare I say manly, nation doesn’t wallow. It dusts itself off, and gets up off the mat.
When the World Trade Center was first constructed it was the tallest building in the world. When it was destroyed, it was the fifth. America isn’t fifth at anything worth being first at. It’s time we had the tallest building in the world again.
This isn’t a trivial pursuit. The quest to build the tallest structures goes back to the cathedrals of Europe, when the aim was to get as close to God as possible (which is why cathedrals are usually built on the highest ground). European capitals competed constantly to boast the tallest church spires. In fact, it’s no coincidence that the word “spire” is the root word for inspire and aspire, because to look heavenward lifted not just your eyes, but your heart and soul, to marvel at what was possible.
Well, we need a lot of inspiration and aspiration. I don’t think the government should necessarily rebuild the towers. America’s greatness comes from the initiative of its people (the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world — until the first trade center tower was completed in 1972 — because the founder of General Motors wanted to beat Walter Chrysler (creator of the Chrysler building) in a race to the sky. But surely the government can help by repealing the relevant taxes, cutting red tape, and lending any other help possible.
Regardless, America’s enemies believe that we are a weak and soft nation, lacking the mettle to rise to this occasion. On the battlefront it looks like they were wrong. (John McCain: “I say to our enemies: We are coming. God may have mercy on you, but we won’t.”) And while the bravery of the rescue teams is indisputable, we need to do more on the home front to show our enemies were wrong in every regard.
America will find an appropriate way to mourn. But if we must have a shrine or monument for our remorse, let’s put it on the 200th floor, right next to the antiaircraft guns.