The tattered posters, flags, faded roses, hand-lettered messages and signs are gone now. A sign warns that anything left behind will be removed. The fence is empty and clean, but for a handful of photos hung high--well above even my eye level-- so no one can possibly jot down a personal message on them. The photos are appropriately newsworthy. I see no shots of rubble or the towers. They are composed of human reactions. Saluting police officers, a volunteer with a sign offering shelter to any displaced person and with proper political correctness, Buddhist monks praying at a ceremony. All the "diverse communities" are represented. But the burning towers, the rubble and all the terrible reality of the day is kept at bay. Their memory is not welcome here.
Above these pictures hangs a large photo of a sad Muslim woman garbed in white. Unlike all the other photos, there is no context to connect it to September 11th. There is nothing visible around her that gives us any connection to the day or any sign that it was even taken then. This triumph of political correctness hangs over the abyss below. The abyss which has swallowed thousands of lives, hundreds of stories, the memorials and flags and banners of everyone who had come here and finally the memory of the attacks themselves.
A giant banner above the 21st Century store across the street proclaims, "REMEMBER MOTHER'S DAY." Tourists pose for each other, smiling gaily against the background of the fence. A camera phone is raised, a digital camera flashes, a smile is captured against unyielding steel. Chinese vendors peddle T-Shirts and trinkets from boxes set on shopping carts which they can quickly fold up and wheel away at the approach of the police. Plastic towers artificially manufactured to appear crystalline and book titled '9/11 Tragedy' sit limply on the boxes. No one buys.
Behind the tourists two 9/11 deniers brandish a yellow and red banner and shriek at the tourists. "False flag! False Flag! 9/11 is a lie!" The makeshift memorials are gone, but contrary to Port Authority regulations, the deniers have hung up posters all across the blue painted wooden barricade defending Osama Bin Laden. Words interlaced with photos proclaim, "Bin Laden Didn't Do It." Tourists stop to carefully read the posters. No one tears them down.
A vendor hawks bottles of tap water in used Perrier bottles. "Two dollars," he shouts, "two dollars for a bottle of cold water. Cold water on a hot day." Seeing that there are no takers, he lowers his asking price. "One dollar. Cold water, one dollar!"
I think of Gettysburg. I think of the American Cemetery at the Somme. I think of the places that are sacred to us where such things are not allowed. And then I think of the disco and the convent Auschwitz. Once upon a time we built our memorials in the aftermaths of great conflicts. Once upon a time we allowed the dead to rest in peace. The dead of 9/11 rest in the Fresh Kills landfill. We rush to build memorials and in doing so we forget to give meaning to the things we mean to memorialize.
For all our efforts commemorating the Holocaust, the world has remained silent each time the Muslim world endeavored to bring another one upon Israel and the Jewish people. For all our efforts building 9/11 memorials, we have yet to even acknowledge that it is the West's own tolerance of the enemies on its soil that gave rise to 9/11. The same enemies who plotted again recently to stage another attack at Fort Dix. The same enemies who shout hysterically while waving their banners at Ground Zero itself. Some are terrorists themselves. Some merely aid and abet them in protests and magazine articles. The rhetoric of Michael Moore finds its way into the broadcasts of Al Queda and Reuters photographers accompany the terrorists murdering American soldiers in Iraq. The more we tolerate, the more we are hated. The more we refrain from striking back, the more we are defeated.
At Ground Zero, the tourists pass back and forth reading the banners proclaiming Osama Bin Laden's innocence and go on their way. Not one curses. Not one shouts. Though they are illegal, not one tears them down. The eyes of the nation turn to Iraq but at Ground Zero, the battle has not yet ended. Instead it is being lost. A nation that cannot or will not protect its sacred places, will not in the end be able to protect anything else. A War on Terror fought while the enemies of America chant hatred at Ground Zero itself and politicians scrub clean the memory of the attacks themselves and replace it with the sanitized processed experience of sorrow itself, divorced from context and meaning-- is but a shadow war. A nation defending itself fights rooted in the cause of that war. At Ground Zero, the cause of war has been erased. What has replaced it is the visible presence of the political correctness and the enemy sympathizers hastening to cause the nation's defeat.
- Lest we forget—lest we forget!