A visit to Ground Zero
In New York to attend the wedding of the daughter of some dear friends, this observer took advantage of an opportunity to witness Ground Zero and to pay homage to those who died there.
The cab driver who took me from Penn Station to Ground Zero claimed he was only two blocks from delivering his passenger to the World Trade Center when the first aircraft hit. His passenger was a regular customer who normally was on time. But on this fateful day, the customer was five minutes late. Had he been on time, driver, passenger and cab might have been destroyed by falling debris. Or, the passenger might have been inside one of the towers and been killed or injured that way. Virtually every New Yorker I talked to had some kind of story related to where they were and what they were doing at the time of the attacks.
Alighting from the cab, I asked a police officer how best to view the activities. He directed me to walk into One World Trade, go up the escalator and go across an interior sky bridge to the other corner. That I did.
But even before getting close enough to see down into Ground Zero, you get a catch in your throat from the dusty particulate that continues to hang in the air. And then, there is that peculiar odor which is reminiscent of the crematorium at Dachau and the smell of burning flesh from Vietnam.
Even on a Saturday afternoon, hundreds of visitors were making their camera-laden ways around the perimeter of the excavation site. Entire families from old to young, from barely walking to babes-in-arms were there. Without exception, everyone was somber and reverent. Some groups formed small hand-holding circles, bowed their heads and said their prayers.
Based on the numbers of cameras I saw, Ground Zero is probably the most photographed site in the world. But most of the photographers I saw simply took a few shots of the activity down inside. Not once did I see the kind of let’s-all-pose-in-the-front-of-the-Grand-Canyon shot that tourists usually take to put in a vacation memory book or to show Aunt Maude back home. The photos seemed to be taken out of a sense of duty and not because of a family outing to visit a fun place.
Ground Zero is clearly not a fun place. Many of the surrounding buildings are pockmarked from flying or descending debris, reminding this observer of the facades of the few buildings in Berlin that were left standing at the end of World War II. Some of the buildings on the perimeter of the destruction are shrouded with a steel mesh to protect them from the on-going excavation process. Undoubtedly, the owners of those buildings and their tenants continue to suffer heavy economic losses.
But aside from the collateral damage to the buildings that withstood the devastation, another impression is the relative smallness of the horizontal area being worked by the excavation crews and those on standby to collect human remains. What is missing is, after all, one city block. No more, no less. It appears much, much larger on television than it actually is.
But that does not mean that what happened there on September 11, 2001, was small. It was huge. Indeed, it is, thus far, the seminal event of the 21st Century. It was an event of monstrous proportions which will shape our future for decades to come.
September 11th was the first day of World War III. It is a war largely without geographic boundaries because the unreasoning hate that caused it and continues it knows no bounds. It is a war between Christian-Judeo “haves” and a minority of Islamic “have nots” who have been taught that we are the authors of their misery. Until the “have nots” realize how they have been duped by their leaders, this is a war without end.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn – a novel about a terrorist attack on Colorado’s high country.
©2002. William Hamilton