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Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2001 / 2 Teves, 5762

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow
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Dealing with terrorism's aftermath -- NEW YORK -- West Street off of FDR Drive on Manhattan's East Side has long been my usual route into the southern tip of the financial district. Up ahead I could see the pedestrian overpass where my cab would normally turn left onto Liberty Street.

But the once heavily traveled bridge now connects the World Financial Center with offices for Merrill Lynch, Dow Jones, and American Express to open air -- where the World Trade Center once stood.

Even today, three months later, the aftermath of Sept. 11 is ghastly. Roughly half of rubble, and much of the above- ground mountain of ruin, has been removed.

Some of the area surrounding the Twin Towers has been cleared. Workers have erected a flag and Christmas tree on the wreckage. Flags adorn neighboring buildings.

But a jumbled tangle of steel, concrete, and detritus from the lives of the tens of thousands of people who worked at the WTC remains, much of it compacted in the buildings' lower levels. Hanging over the site is a faint, acrid odor from fires that still burn deep.

Surviving structures nearby are damaged. A World Financial Center building across the street lost a corner to falling debris. Atriums in it and its neighbor were shattered.

One building next to the WTC is almost entirely shrouded in mesh as repairs proceed on the huge gash to its center. Broken windows covered with wood abound making a bizarre patchwork of the metal and glass that dominates the skyline.

The skyline. What is missing is both obvious and painful. No 110-story towers looming upward, ever upward.

The loss can be seen from afar as you approach Manhattan from air or ground. It can be seen up close as you walk along West Street. It can be seen even while driving away from Manhattan, since the city maps in cabs are dotted with notable landmarks, including the WTC.

Construction sounds have replaced the noise of traffic. Cranes help lift debris. Workers cut down large pieces. A perpetual convoy of dump trucks carry off the remains.

Although the streets are alive to the north and east, the riverfront misses the bustle of people. The WTC is gone. The World Financial Center functions only minimally. The tens of thousands of people who daily scurried on sidewalks and along overhead walkways among the two complexes have vanished.

Many local businesses remain closed. A few have only just reopened with welcome signs in their windows. This section of the vaunted financial district seems close to a ghost town. But economic activity will return. More painful and permanent are the lives lost.

Two makeshift memorials have sprung up along the Hudson River promenade. The smaller site backs against the World Financial Center and is dominated by a flag. A larger shrine sits perhaps 25 feet away, closer to the river and with more room for memories.

There are flowers and stuffed animals. Many teddy bears, some dolls, and even a large M&M figure.

There are photos of loved ones, affectionate notes from spouses, and letters from children to and about moms and uncles. Helmets from rescue workers sit alongside framed tributes to the many police officers and firemen killed in the disaster. There are also posters from schoolchildren thanking rescuers for their labors.

Visiting emergency personnel have adorned concrete pedestals with stickers from their units. One person added a POW-MIA sticker as I walked up.

It was drizzling when I stopped. The drops seemed like tears from heaven as I read notes from people longing for their family and friends. And looking forward to an ultimate reunion.

The greatest loss was not in celebrities or corporate titans, but in everyday people. For three months the New York Times has been running pages full of brief bios of those killed by the destruction of the WTC.

It is hard to sum up a life in four or so paragraphs, but both utter ordinariness and unique value routinely come through. Those who died loved their families, spent time with friends, pursued hobbies, and enjoyed careers. Just like the rest of us. New York City will recover. Today, midtown Manhattan is its usual cacophony, as cabbies roll along crowded streets, horns blaring. Pedestrians stream past, equally oblivious to aggressive cabs and traffic laws.

The people and noise will eventually return to the WTC's deserted environs as well. Surrounding buildings will be repaired. The WTC will be rebuilt in some form.

But even if the skyline is made whole, the families of victims will not. Their loss will serve as a permanent reminder of the existence of evil.

JWR contributor Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2000, Copley News Service