Brad Smith (jesus_h_biscuit) wrote,
Brad Smith

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9/11 - In The Words Of A Great Man I Admire Deeply


{Posted Sunday, September 1, 2002; 3:38 p.m. EST}
Twelve months have passed. The debris is gone. The thousands who worked tirelessly to rescue and recover those who died no longer dig through the night. The twisted remains of New York's two biggest buildings no longer stand as reminders of the worst attack in American history.

But I haven't changed. When I go to ground zero now, I feel as shocked, angry and resolute as I did a year ago. On Sept. 14, 2001, I flew over the site in a helicopter with President George W. Bush and Governor George Pataki. I had been there many times during the three days after the attack, but that was the first time I had seen the smoking ruins from above. It was indescribably awful. A year has done nothing to erase these images from my mind.

What happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and outside Shanksville, Pa., was not a natural disaster or some colossal accident. This was mass murder perpetrated by madmen bent on destroying not only American lives but also American values. These attacks were not just on the people who were killed and injured but also on the very things that define us as a society: religious freedom, equality, economic opportunity and political choice. I learned as a prosecutor that intent matters. When a loved one dies in an accident, of course it's painful. But knowing that your husband or wife or mother or son is gone because of an intentional act cuts much more deeply.

One way of dealing with this lasting pain is to talk about it. I frequently discuss Sept. 11, often with those who have been most affected by the attacks. I try to confront what was done to us and the importance of being resolute. I've also attended many memorials and funerals, which reinforced a lesson my father taught me long ago about being there for people when they need you most. It's a two-way street. People absorb strength from you, and you get it back from them.

Back at ground zero—16 barren acres, including the footprints of the towers—the debate continues about how best to commemorate the loss. There are many competing pressures and different viewpoints. I am convinced that ground zero must first and foremost be a memorial. All other decisions should flow from that goal. If anything else is added to the site, it should complement and not overshadow the memorial. People a hundred years from now should be able to grasp the enormity of this attack by visiting this sacred ground. Ground zero is a cemetery. It is the last resting place for loved ones whose bodies were not recovered and whose remains are still within that hallowed ground. We must respect the role these events play in our history.

It is the place where the President came and told the exhausted rescue workers, "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." President Bush has been determined to keep his commitment to eliminate global terrorism. An appropriately large and enduring tribute at the site will remind future generations of that commitment. Recalling these attacks and their aftermath will remind people today that we need to be unyielding in completing the war on terror. And it will remind people tomorrow that we must never let something like this happen again.

If it were up to me, I'd devote the entire 16 acres to the memorial. A soaring structure should dominate the site, taking its place along New York City's wonderful skyline. It should be visible for miles to demonstrate the spirit of those who gave their lives to defend freedom. There should be a museum and a library. Those who visit should be able to relive the experience in a way that does justice to the enormity of the events. The memorial should echo the goals of the city's Museum of Jewish Heritage, which sits a stone's throw away. The purpose of that museum is to demonstrate the horror of the Holocaust as well as celebrate the survival and strength of the Jewish people. Done correctly, the memorial at ground zero will commemorate the horror and the heroism of Sept. 11.

If we don't do this correctly—if we let some minor memorial be dwarfed by office space—people a hundred years from now will say this generation did not understand the significance of that world-altering day. Sept. 11 must not lose its resonance as time dulls the sharp edges of our collective memory. Ground zero is the site of the worst attack in the history of this country. I pray it will be the worst attack in the history of this country a hundred years from now. Done correctly, a memorial will inspire people. It should not symbolize the loss of our world before Sept. 11 or of an America that no longer exists. It should symbolize our survival and our triumph.

I'm an optimist. Our way is the way of the future. Nation after nation sees that and embraces democracy. It is not a perfectly smooth road. But it's undeniably the way the world is headed. And that's a good thing.

Because—and I don't mean this belligerently—we're right and they're wrong. Those who attacked us had no idea how deep the American spirit runs. I think our grief, rage and resolve have surprised even us. One year later, that might be the most resonant lesson of all. America's resilience—the depth of this nation's character—should never be underestimated.
Tags: 9/11

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