NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 11, 2002. It’s been a year since the destruction of the World Trade Center, and New York and America settle in for our continuing days of remembrance. In the meantime, there are disturbing signs that the fallout from the terrorist attacks by ultra-right-wing Muslim extremists could be the undoing of the American dream—and our long-standing if elusive vision of a land of freedom, opportunity, and justice. This has been the Year of the 9/11 Victims and Their Families, and in some ways, that is as it should have been, because their losses were more immediately and perhaps more intensely felt, although they were just the most vocal and noticeable subset of the many who were victims. But now it’s time to move on and take into account the needs of the living—and the future of the City of New York and the rest of the country.
The debate that’s surfaced on and off since the September 11 attacks is centered on whether or not to rebuild the WTC, or more specifically, the Twin Towers. It has included the questions of whether the area should be devoted only to a memorial to those who perished in the attacks, whether to replace the towers with a scaled-down set of office towers, and so on. Also, much has been written and said of the very real threat to American freedoms in the often-justified efforts to prevent new terrorist attacks in the future—all of which continue amidst the talk of whether or when to extend the war on terror to Iraq. It is that debate that appears not to have been allowed to flourish that can provide a powerful key to our collective and individual recoveries.
In some ways, we’re being programmed to forget the Twin Towers. They’ve even been deleted from this past summer’s blockbuster films, including Men in Black II and Spider-man. In the real world of Bin Laden’s New York, not one prominent local or national leader has taken the initiative to even debate—let alone support—restoring them despite multiple polls showing the majority of Americans and an even greater majority of New Yorkers favor rebuilding them. Although commemorative posters and statues seem to be popular with both residents and tourists, it’s as if they’ve been relegated to history. We may soon have to distinguish between the Old Old New York and the New Old New York, with the past thirty years of our cultural history being made a source of painful memories of a once-great American past.
What was clear to the terrorists—but what seems only partially so to our leaders—is that the Twin Towers were a symbol of the leadership of both New York City and the United States. In the past, when America was a world beacon of hope, it was inconceivable that the City would not be rebuilt, particularly its landmark buildings, if significant sections were destroyed by a natural or man-made disaster. Already, the Pentagon has been practically restored, yet New York City languishes in petty power plays by special self-interest groups and exercises in managed democracy, such as the “Listening to the City” event at the Jacob Javits Center in July of this year, with virtually the same impact as managed healthcare. Can one imagine whether a similar scenario would have been played out had the Nation’s Capitol Building been destroyed, as had apparently been planned?
NYC has been a political target for many decades; it was a target before and will continue to be so. Yet, never before has that paralyzed us. We’ve lost our courage and vision, at least as far as our leaders’ failures to lead betray. Although the Twin Towers were surpassed in height and style by several other buildings around the world within years of their completion, they remained the most recognizable symbol of their city worldwide in a city of magnificent architecture, unlike most of the other great buildings. Now, it appears, the visionaries creating engineering marvels grander in scale than the WTC are in the Far East, as Eric Baard showed in his February 26, 2002, cover story, “Sky City Fantasies,” in The Village Voice. New York seems poised to settle for less than first-rate status, if the lack of leadership in our city supporting rebuilding the Twin Towers is any indication. What the City and nation needs is a true patriotic spirit that gets us back on track toward doing what ought to be done for the common good.
The downtown Manhattan skyline has become ordinary, almost interchangeable with that of any other large city. The Twin Towers were elegantly simple in their style, and maybe it was because of this that they were uniquely recognizable as New York City like almost no other landmark. The people and the City cannot begin to heal until the World Trade Center complex with the Twin Towers fundamentally unchanged are restored. There cannot be any greater memorial to those who died than the Twin Towers as the centerpiece. Anything less, like all of the architectural plans put forward so far, will have to be regarded as a tribute to the terrorists and their vision for America and the world. It’s time to reject these and all future plans for any “Bin Laden Tribute Towers” and get on with the task of rebuilding the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers. This is the patriotic action for New York to take—and the Federal government needs to encourage and financially support it. Lower Manhattan became what it was prior to the attacks because of the World Trade Center, and most particularly, because of the Twin Towers. And America rose to its lofty heights with them.
America and NYC were both victims of the attack; yet, the common woman and man were often kept far from this historic site. Former NYC mayor Rudolph Guiliani, in his usual arrogance, prohibited photography of the area by ordinary people; only media professionals sanctioned by the authorities were even allowed to view it free of barricades. Yet, dignitaries and the rich and powerful were often given guided tours by the former mayor and other leaders. This failure to allow New Yorkers to mourn that of which they were an integral part has contributed greatly to the continued post-traumatic stress that exists in our collective psyche. One of my students, a woman from Scandinavia, told me how the generation of World War II who lived through the devastation of Europe and elsewhere never recovered from the traumatic experience of the bombing of their cities. They lived with it until their deaths, or continue to live with it today. The same is likely to hold true for many who lived through that day in September of 2001. Only by restoring the Twin Towers in essentially their original form will the City and its people be made whole in any sense again.
It is painful, also, that much of the steel from the Towers was to be sold to a scrap dealer in the Far East, as reported in a Learning Channel documentary, World Trade Center: Anatomy of the Collapse, on February 6, 2002. If the metal was not to be used to help restore the City, it should have been cut up into small commemorative pieces and given to every American as a piece of their history, not just a relatively select few who received ashes from the disaster. It’s deplorable that the pieces would be sold to the highest bidder, only to be very likely sold back to us or to anyone else willing to pay for it. As of yet, no follow-up information has been made public as to the final disposition of the bulk of it, other than a few identifiable pieces ending up in memorials scattered across the United States. This is the same type of failure by our political leaders to acknowledge the harm done to all New Yorkers and Americans that was apparent within weeks of the September 11 attacks when Mr. Guiliani banned all amateur photography and equipment was sometimes confiscated.
Yet, we have specious arguments promulgated for why the Towers should not be rebuilt, which no leader has yet to refute. The most prominent of these is the hollowed ground theory of the sixteen acres upon which the World Trade Center complex stood, especially the two footprints of the Towers. No one has yet dared to point out that absolutely no one is buried there. If anything is hollowed ground by virtue of having some of the remains of those who perished, it is the entire area of Lower Manhattan, in addition to adjacent areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, New Jersey, and the Atlantic Ocean—anywhere the wind blew in the weeks following the attacks. In addition, we would have to include any of the thousands of New Yorkers who breathed the air heavy with the dust containing some of these human remains. Similarly, the arguments for building something new that is more on a human scale is just as ludicrous. Manhattan and its downtown architecture, like Midtown Manhattan, both is and is not built on a human scale: We are certainly smaller than all of the massive buildings densely packed in small areas, yet these areas teem with an abundance of humanity made possible by these very buildings. The Twin Towers balanced the whole of the Manhattan skyline from afar, and struck awe and wonderment in most observers in their vicinity.
As a whole, we tended not to trust our leaders before, and many are showing that they can’t be trusted now. If our leaders were accustomed to subverting for their own private or political interests the natural tendency of the American people to support their country in times of crisis, they are certainly doing it in this time of war. Insider reports suggest that much of the opposition to rebuilding the Twin Towers comes from Midtown Manhattan real estate interests who want to benefit from the substantially reduced office space brought on by the World Trade Center’s destruction. Can we assume there might be complicity with some local leaders as well? Yet, what New York City needs more than anything else is more affordable housing. Action should be taken to ensure that the rebuilt WTC complex be used for mixed purposes, with commercial space as well as affordable apartments. The present limitations are not written in stone and need to be revised to meet the City’s many needs, with pressure put on our business leaders to put their patriotic platitudes into action.
Similarly, our national leadership has work to do along the same lines. Congress still has not taken any responsibility for its possible role in failing to deal with real national security issues in the past by distracting President Clinton with their attempted virtual assassination of the President through their impeachment proceedings over consensual sexual relations. More recently, how many gallons of oil did the Bush Administration stockpile in the weeks following 9/11, when prices were the lowest they’ve been in several years? That would have been one of the best ways to protect us from terrorists and the hostage state we have been in for decades with the petroleum industry and OPEC.
Yet, the West does seem to have a more serious dedication to the sanctity of human life. This has given us a sense of moral superiority, a somewhat tenuous and sanctimonious illusion. Still, the Muslim extremists appear to have little sense of the value of human life. We must remember that it was the Taliban who supported and sheltered the terrorists that destroyed thousand-year-old Buddhist statues, not because they represented the future that they despised, but because it represented a past civilization and its alternative philosophy that diverged from the theocracy they wanted to impose on everyone. Thus, the attack on the World Trade Center further symbolized their goal of destroying the histories and futures of all civilizations other than theirs. And it was about religion, Islamic fundamentalism, as Andrew Sullivan noted in his October 7, 2001, article, “This Is a Religious War,” in The New York Times. Still, there exist in America the same kinds of fanatics, such as the extremist Christian fundamentalists who commit terrorist acts against abortion clinics, as one notable example. Both share similar goals in that they do what they do for their religion, although on a different scale.
My fear is that the American century that dominated world culture for the past one hundred years (mostly for the good when the United States was considered the leader of the free world) appears to be coming to a close. We no longer have the generally positive influence to destroy tyrants and to effect world peace that we did following World War II. The world views us as ultimately self-serving with ineffective leadership at the world-class level. And we no longer have the sense of commitment to work for the common good. Let us forget, then, Bin Laden’s vision for New York and the future he and his followers see for civilization. As the Towers rise again or stay fallen, so will go the future of America.
Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D., Chair, Health and Physical Education Department, Fashion Institute of Technology of the State University of New York, 27th Street and 7th Avenue, AX-13, New York, NY 10001; email: rjnoonan@SexQuest.com.
Volume 4 of the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality (IES4), including 17 new countries and places, Robert T. Francoeur, Ph.D., Editor, and Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D., Associate Editor, published in May 2001 by Continuum International Publishing Group: Includes my chapter on “Outer Space,” which highlights cross-cultural sexuality issues that will have an impact on the human future in space, based partly on my dissertation. For the table of contents or more information, see the IES4 Web site: http://www.SexQuest.com/IES4/, including supplemental chapters available only on the Web. Order from amazon.com!
“The Impact of AIDS on Our Perception of Sexuality” and “Sex Surrogates: The Continuing Controversy,” in Robert T. Francoeur’s Sexuality in America: Understanding Our Sexual Values and Behavior, published in August 1998 by Continuum Publishing Co. This new book contains an updated version of the chapter on the United States contained in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, Vol. 3 (in the set below). Now available in paperback at amazon.com!
Two articles in Robert T. Francoeur’s International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, published in August 1997 by Continuum Publishing Co.: “The Impact of AIDS on Our Perception of Sexuality” and “Sex Surrogates: The Continuing Controversy” in the United States chapter in volume 3, and additional comments (with Sandra Almeida) in the chapter on Brazil in volume 1. Encourage your library to purchase this three-volume, 1737-page set—the most comprehensive cross-cultural survey of sexuality in 33 countries ever published. Order from amazon.com.
“The Psychology of Sex: A Mirror from the Internet,” in Jayne Gackenbach’s Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Implications, published by Academic Press in October 1998. Visit the publisher to see the table of contents and more information, then come back here and order it from amazon.com.
The third edition of the book, Does Anyone Still Remember When Sex Was Fun? Positive Sexuality in the Age of AIDS, 3rd edition, edited by Peter B. Anderson, Diane de Mauro, & Raymond J. Noonan, published by Kendall/Hunt in September 1996. Click here for more information about the book.
The latest on positive sexuality from the first book to address the issue: For anyone concerned about the increasingly negative ways in which sex is being portrayed in public life—and who wants to do something positive about it.
Now out of print, but available soon in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format! However, used copies might be available at amazon.com.
R. J. Noonan. (1998). A Philosophical Inquiry into the Role of Sexology in
Space Life Sciences Research and Human Factors
Considerations for Extended Spaceflight.
For information, see Dr. Ray Noonan’s Dissertation Information Pages:
[Abstract] [Table of Contents] [Preface] [AsMA 2000 Presentation Abstract]