Tags: Resurrection: | America | Rises

Resurrection: America Rises

Sunday, 10 September 2006 12:00 AM

For eight months and 19 days, beginning on the eve of Sept. 11, 2001, the sky over downtown New York was illuminated with a fluorescent glare that could be seen for miles — a moon-white light of determination shooting out from America's gaping wound.

Down in the vast crater where the World Trade Center towers once stood, hundreds of workers toiled around the clock to clear away what would amount to 1.8 million tons of imploded skyscraper debris, in a record-breaking cleanup project that communicated anything

"It's downright astounding what they did down there," former Mayor Ed Koch told NewsMax. "When have you ever heard of a government contract closing ahead of schedule? Never."

The fury and pride that fueled the cleanup effort at Ground Zero is a potent metaphor for a post-9/11 America — unified, defiant and focused.

From the first desperate hours, when workers and volunteers formed a chain and passed buckets —

"Here is the rebirth, the beginning," 91-year-old media, politics and PR legend Tex McCrary said just weeks after 9/11, explaining his reasons for trying to secure a new apartment that overlooks the site, as his old one did.

"I never want to forget," he said. "It's not a graveyard to me. Looking out this window is like Easter morning — a rebirth." On the morning of Sept. 11, McCrary, who led the first delegation of American journalists to New York's Hiroshima after the bomb, was evacuated from his apartment overlooking the World Trade Center, along with his son Kevin.

"I was packing up the apartment and he got impatient and wandered off by himself to go take pictures," recalls Kevin. "He was knocked over by the dust cloud and turned up at a New Jersey hospital later that day."

"It was like a pyroclastic volcanic cloud," McCrary recalls of the imploded first tower, "a fast-moving cloud, enveloping everyone and everything in its path. It turned totally black outside, like the darkest night. Afterward, the dust was like moon dust. It was so heavy that it pretty much stayed on the ground."

Both McCrarys' lives were turned upside down that day. The elder was literally sucked into the cloud, while his son was pulled into a whole new life that, from the very first, involved a commitment to service so powerful he virtually stopped sleeping — he just worked at Ground Zero around the clock for seven months.

In the first few desperate hours, he pulled supplies from an abandoned supermarket and set up an emergency food and water stand. Soon he was an invaluable member of the Ground Zero team — doing everything he could to help, from transporting food to hauling buckets of water for makeshift toilets.

But his most important mandate was getting the story out. Kevin led tours of Ground Zero for scores of journalists from around the world, celebrities, and also civilians. "I wanted to bring the world to Ground Zero and Ground Zero to the world," he says.

Meanwhile, he has assembled one of the most extensive photo and video archives of Sept. 11 and its aftermath, which media, ranging from The New York Times to CBS, have used. One day Kevin hopes to help build a memorial museum complete with footage, pictures, artifacts, and testimonies.

The elder McCrary, who saw firsthand the devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, among other atrocities of the last century, can find no words to describe what he saw that day. When I ask the question, he looks down and just shakes his head.

"It was just something that was beyond any dream, any nightmare I'd ever had about possible attacks," says New York's Gov. George Pataki, in an interview with NewsMax. "Nothing could prepare you for the magnitude of this attack."

When Pataki first got the call — from his daughter, who works at Bloomberg News — that a plane had hit the first tower, he called then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani right away.

"I was able to get hold of him," he says. "His command center hadn't collapsed yet." A few minutes later, Gov. Pataki called President Bush. "I got him in Florida at his education conference. I asked him to close down the airspace over New York. And he, of course, closed down the airspace over America."

After the call, Pataki rushed to the World Trade Center, ignoring the pleas of his state troopers, who urged him to evacuate the city for Albany and the state's emergency operations center.

It took three months for the fires at Ground Zero, which workers referred to as "Zero," to finally stop burning. In addition to the backbreaking toil of removing the steel, concrete, and debris that initially stood 10 stories high, workers — many of them, of course, firemen — had to endure the agony of sifting through the dust with small rakes in a ghastly search for human remains, including those of former colleagues.

But even this otherworldly task was organized into a functioning system. All told, 20,000 body parts were salvaged and submitted for DNA analysis. The total number of hours logged was over 3 million.

The last survivor removed from the site was a squirrel — badly singed and nicknamed "Singun" by workers so overcome to find anything alive in the devastation that they devoted themselves to saving the creature over a period of weeks. They left bags of nuts and set traps to capture and free the creature because, as one of them explained to NewsMax: "We couldn't bear the thought of that squirrel being discarded like trash. A life is a life, you know?"

Sept. 11, 2001, is not so much a historical date; it's a new way to measure time — a black swath that cut through America's calendar, rendering everything before it a lost idyllic world and everything after it terra incognita.

An instinctive reaction was to reach for familiarity — life as it was before. But America before Sept. 11 was a nation defined by its lack of calamity, by its economic prosperity, giddy consumerism, and — it seems now — trivial national concerns. It wasn't that long ago that a double homicide in Brentwood was our biggest concern.

At 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, as the nose of American Airlines Flight 11 pierced the side of the north tower, the era of nothingness ended instantly. As shock gave way to terror, nausea and fury, the American soul was awakened. Wal-Mart alone sold 116,000 American flags that day. Charities overflowed with donations. But more than anything, people wanted to do something.

In New York, people lined up for blocks to give blood — to survivors who never materialized.

"I'll never forget walking up and down a block not far from Ground Zero, and people were lined up, standing in the street the entire block," recalls Gov. Pataki as he toured the area in the hours after the attack.

"And this was a time of great uncertainty. The towers had come down, the Pentagon had been attacked, the plane had gone down in Pennsylvania. We had no idea what might come next. And people were lined up — not to get the bus uptown and not to get the subway out of town, but to give blood."

Overnight, the exhausted, soot-faced fireman became our national hero. The word "sacrifice" suddenly had a beautiful ring to it again. Although it would seem that God had deserted us, places of worship were packed.

At Ground Zero, two cast-iron beams cut into a perfect cross were lifted from the rubble and erected — no PC questions asked — atop a 40-foot foundation. The worker who found the crosses and insisted they be put up arranged for prayer services to be held beneath them every day. Buildings, store windows, lapels were festooned with American flags. In New York, you couldn't find a single storefront or a building without one, and they're still there a year later.

For a while, America ground to a near halt: All airspace was closed, the New York Stock Exchange was shut down for days, Major League Baseball was suspended, the NFL postponed all games, Broadway theaters closed down, all three networks suspended all commercials for days. Even David Letterman's sarcasm deserted him, and Dan Rather broke down on national television.

In the days and weeks that followed, as the first cases of anthrax spurred a second wave of terror, America seemed like a truly doomed land. The only hot products selling now were gas masks, Cipro, and anti-radiation pills.

But as time rolled on, President Bush and his top advisers, notably Donald Rumsfeld, offered reassurance we had not seen since the days of Ronald Reagan. And time healed: We passed each consecutive landmark holiday and event without incident — Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and finally the Fourth of July. The phrase "back to normal" started echoing.

But "normal" is a misleading word in the context. At virtually every level, our world is radically changed.

A new era is upon us, an era unlike any in our past, because our enemy is at once diabolical, murderous and fragmented. The Cold War by comparison seems like a time of stability — at least the enemy was coherent and the rules were codified.

"During the Cold War we were, paradoxically, safer," says former Soviet intelligence officer and NewsMax columnist Col. Stanlislav Lunev. "Each side knew that if one side takes a step, the other side takes a step. Now there is no balance. Instead of the former Soviet Union we now have many states, which have weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems, unpredictable governments. America is facing multiple threats now, instead of one."

"I hope that the American administration keeps all nations informed that America will not limit its retaliation against countries that support terrorists," Lunev continues. "Then I think they will think a little bit before they use weapons of mass destruction."

"It turns out that this generation, like every generation in American history, is being enormously tested," says Edward McNally, senior associate counsel to the president and general counsel to the Office of Homeland Security. "The Cold War lasted 50 years. We won it. Now some are saying that the Cold War actually was World War III and the war against global terrorism is World War IV."

Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey said in a recent speech to Washington's Institute of World Politics, "We are in a world war, we are in World War IV" — a war he says began on Sept. 11, 2001.

Woolsey also warned that the current world war will be unlike any other in history, adding that he fully expects America to meet the challenge of defeating our enemies. He believes America's next act in the new war should be a military attack against Iraq, and dealing with al-Qaida will be a "long and bloody conflict" that could take years or even decades to conclude.

Woolsey invoked the proto-American mandate that has led us to defeat our various enemies since the nation was founded. "We won before because we were fighting for freedom," he said.

"The president has made clear that he expects we are going to be facing this challenge for a very long time. The tests we're facing go to the very core of who and what we are as a people. The challenge is ensuring both freedom and security. But Americans don't mind tough odds. That's a challenge we've faced since this tiny country of 3 million colonists actually declared war against the largest, most powerful army and naval force then on Earth — the British Empire."

McNally voices what might be called the new American spirit when he takes stock of our nation almost one year after the attack. "Both the president and Gov. Tom Ridge have argued persuasively that our country is stronger and safer than it was on Sept. 11. There has been substantial core progress in key functions like intelligence sharing, transportation security and, yes, the president's creation of a new department which focuses on nothing but homeland security. America's never had that before."

As for whether America can be said to have "risen" from the rubble of the attacks, McNally is optimistic, even confident, but ultimately sober. "Bottom line — by virtually every measure, our economy is strong. They declared some months ago that the recession was over.

Inflation is low. Employment is high. Productivity is No. 1 in the world. Yes, the stock market is hiccupping large and small — no question. But that is not synonymous with the entire economy."

"But are we stronger and safer, has America risen? Yes, on many levels. I would say in terms of faith, love of country, confidence in the president, community resilience, economic strength and military triumphs, the answer is yes. But that said, there are people out there, in multiple places, [who] are trying today, while we have this conversation, and while your readers read your copy, to kill us."

Gov. Pataki echoes this worrisome sentiment. "We are at war," he says, "and we will be on a heightened state of alert for the foreseeable future."

When asked how he feels about President Bush's handling of the war, Pataki says: "I think his leadership and the way he immediately took action against al-Qaida, against the Taliban, and is continuing today to take action globally against those who threaten our freedom has been just tremendous. And it makes you wonder if in 1993, when the World Trade Center had been attacked, when the Cole had been blown up in the Middle East, if we had been more aggressive and more proactive, as President Bush has been today, if perhaps this might never have happened."

The city provides a good lens through which to view the ultimate healing of America.

"Out of this catastrophe, and out of the enormous human suffering, the positive benefit has been that as Americans, and certainly as New Yorkers, I can say I've never seen the sense of unity and the sense of common purpose that we saw literally from the first minutes of Sept. 11, and still see today," says Gov. Pataki.

At first it seemed that America's financial center might be reduced to a necropolis as businesses large and small initially began to leave the city. Stories appeared of real estate prices skyrocketing in the Adirondacks — an indication that New Yorkers were searching for a refuge. Reports surfaced of a mass exodus of businesses from the area. The Wall Street Journal, whose building is situated just across the street from where the twin towers stood, was said to be leaving.

But a hard-working ad-hoc team of governmental agencies led by the Empire State Development Corp., the $30 billion state agency charged with economic development, went to work. Headed by former Ambassador Charles Gargano, Gov. Pataki's point man for saving New York, the team laid out an ambitious plan soon after 9/11 to give businesses incentive to stay in lower Manhattan. The plan worked, the tide turned.

"We had hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses, that were dislocated or suffering, come and get assistance," says Pataki, "and we were able to help them. And it's not just the global giants like American Express or the New York Stock Exchange. It's the small restaurants, the local entrepreneur, the delicatessen or the dry cleaner in lower Manhattan." Ultimately, thanks to the efforts of Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and its parent company stayed — as did hundreds of other core businesses that anchor downtown.

New York was in a near-manic economic boom prior to 9/11 that far exceeded the rest of the country, so the city had more room to fall when disaster struck.

Immediately after Sept. 11, for about two months, the city hemorrhaged roughly 80,000 jobs — but New York had gained up to 430,000 jobs during the expansion years, so the city remains in stable condition. The last two employment reports show that the city has stopped losing jobs — the loss rate is now at the zero point.

"The news is pretty good at this point," says City Journal writer and analyst Steven Malanga, author of a seminal post–Sept. 11 article titled "How to Rebuild New York."

"If you consider what we faced, let's say, on Sept 15, what the world looked like, I think the city has made a quite remarkable comeback, even economically," says Malanga. "Now, having said that, in the ensuing eight or nine months, other things have occurred which were completely unanticipated, including the corporate scandals and their effect on Wall Street."

"9/11 brought out an immediate recession that it looked like we weren't going to have, and it made it much steeper. What that did was it took any company that was in a weak position and was trying to hide it, and made their weaknesses much more apparent."

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani had radically transformed New York City from one bogged down in bureaucracy, corruption, crime, and decay to one of the safest, cleanest cities in the country. In so doing, he stirred up both adulation and fierce resentment; his tactics were often brutal and he made many enemies. Just as he was spiraling into a Shakespearean downfall with a very messy, public divorce, revelations that he had cancer, and ambivalence about his political future, his leadership on and after Sept. 11 carried him, deus ex machina-style, into the sunset — creating a very tough act for the next mayor to follow.

"People were very worried about changing mayors in the middle of all this," says Malanga, who gives the new mayor a lot of credit for his handling of the role so far and says he's brought renewed stability to the blighted city. "He projects a no-nonsense, business-oriented approach. The city is back to business, there's no doubt about that. And the country has gotten back to business, too."

"I've never been sure what words like ‘closure' and ‘healing' mean, as used in the mass culture," says William Stern of the Manhattan Institute, formerly chairman of the New York State Urban Development Corporation and author of several books about New York City. "I think New Yorkers are walking and chewing gum, so to speak. They're remembering. They know what happened. But they also have real obligations and responsibilities, ambitions, desires. So they're moving on, yet retaining what happened. I think that's as it should be."

Stern, who is Roman Catholic, feels that the surge of spiritual awareness that overtook New Yorkers after the disaster has lasted. "Church is totally packed these days," he says. "And it's growing. You go to confession and you have to wait in long lines. That hasn't happened since I was a boy."

"If you look at the history of the city, there was always a coexistence between economic sharks and the deeply religious. We had the brothels of Five Points that Dickens wrote about at the same time as people were busy building St. Patrick's."

"I do think there is a deep and lasting sense of reflection over . . . seeing so much sudden death. I certainly am hearing a lot less talk about . . . the apartment I bought, where I live, my career."

The catastrophe ushered in many paradigmatic shifts in the city's culture.

"You have to remember, prior to 9/11," says Stern," the liberal establishment had characterized firemen and police as racist, lazy brutes who didn't do a lot of work. They were very unpopular. Now they are the focus of all this new reflection on heroism, this new spirituality. And I think that's been very good for the soul of the city."

"I believe most people are carrying on their lives as they did before, except those who live south of Canal Street," says former Mayor Ed Koch. "The lasting impact is that all of us, including all of America, are conscious of the fact that there are people out there engaged in international terrorism who want to kill us. And it's reasonable to expect that there will be another terrorist attack somewhere in the country, maybe even in New York. But New Yorkers are very proud of the fact that New York stood up to the first act of international terror in the United States very courageously, and that people around the country admire New York and we're grateful that they're helping us in so many ways, including the president."

Others are more cautious. "The city will rebound, I hope, barring any further incidents, but it's looking like a slow and painful crawl," says John Strausbaugh, editor of the alternative weekly New York Press. "New York City is still the greatest city in the world. I'd rather die here than in Podunk. But there's this sense of foreboding that, however much we refuse to acknowledge it in our day-to-day lives, resurfaces when those lives are disrupted, even in small ways we would have shrugged off or cursed off before 9/11."

"Do we want a memorial that recognizes their celebration of death?" asks Malanga, who has criticized the debate for being "Oprah-ized." "Or do we want a memorial that recognizes the affirmation of our ideals. Just think about the message we send. If, anytime terrorists blow up something here, we decide we're not going to build on that again, ever, then what's the next target? Times Square?"

"We have to find a way to appropriately memorialize and remember what happened there, and at the same time make sure that we reaffirm that this thing they attacked, which is New York as a center of American commerce, is not something that we abandon. Because then they've won a double victory."

"The family members are concerned about not building on the footprints, but from my perspective that's arbitrary because people died all over the place," says Kevin McCrary, who attended the conference addressing the rebuilding at New York's Javits Center. Frustrated with the dull, corporate plans that were on display, McCrary located pen and paper and started drawing his own vision, which excited some people at the conference so much they begged him to submit an official rendition of it. "It incorporates what the Mayan civilization called "sacred architecture," says McCrary. "The whole site is a unified monument/memorial, but also a unified, functional office space."

He shows me his hand-drawn concept: four triangular structures forming a square, in the center of which stands a round memorial engraved with the names of the victims. McCrary's obsessive thought is that we find a way to remember, even long after we're gone. "On Sept. 11 every year, the sun would be in the same place, and would illuminate the base of the memorial at ground level. A single sacred object would be illuminated only on that day, so that thousands of years from now, when future generations are looking at it, they will know what happened."

The changes in our culture will be both dramatic and incremental. The attack managed, in addition to the sheer devastation and loss of lives, to cause America itself to grind to a halt. No airplanes in the sky, no stock market, no football, no baseball, no Broadway shows, no late-night talk shows, no laughter, no TV commercials.

America stopped cold on Sept. 11 — the America, that is, that we thought we were.

But these things were not America itself, they were only the surface machinery, the carnival motion — the bells and whistles. America itself is a nation of people with an ever-evolving idea, a dream: a mad experiment hell-bent on freedom.

Not just freedom from outside forces of tyranny but also freedom from our own self-imposed oppression. The flotsam and jetsam of pop culture's endless stream of products was kept in orbit thanks to a center that lacked gravity. And that, you might say, was its own kind of hell. No decent people should ever be deprived of the deeper narrative and meaning of their land.

On the first anniversary of Sept. 11 the TV networks will feature wall-to-wall commemorative programming, as will other media. Perhaps the most interesting fact to emerge so far is that (speaking of freedom) there will be no TV commercials that day. This is a decision that came, stunningly, from the advertisers themselves. If you don't think America has changed, just sit and dwell on that one fact for a minute.

The jihad against not only America but indeed all of Western civilization is rooted in a hatred of what Islamic fundamentalist terrorists believe we stand for. It had been a long time since we had the chance to define for ourselves what we stand for. It's coming back to us now, glittering at the edges of our collective psyche.

We're not yet sure what to call it, or how exactly to describe it, but we knew it was expressed in a single symbol that we all reached for on Sept. 11 — the American flag.


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For eight months and 19 days, beginning on the eve of Sept. 11, 2001, the sky over downtown New York was illuminated with a fluorescent glare that could be seen for miles - a moon-white light of determination shooting out from America's gaping wound. Down in the vast...
Sunday, 10 September 2006 12:00 AM
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