Requiem for a Building

This is adapted (slightly) from something submitted for a local one-year anniversary observance on September 11, 2002.  It’s a small offering, but perhaps worth looking back for a moment or two?  It was also my first diary at Daily Kos, two years back, garnering a grand total of 2 recs & 3 comments.

I had a student job from 1983-5, on the 96th floor of the World Trade Center, Tower Two.  The outfit moved long ago, so no one I’d worked with was still there.  This is the view from the office  —  you can see the Brooklyn Bridge in front.  You could sit back and watch the air traffic at JFK airport.  The world was a carpet at your feet.

When winds were strong, an unearthly wail could be heard as the building swayed, and doors would swing back and forth on their hinges as if moved by a ghostly hand.  To get to the office, you took an express elevator to the 77th floor, then a local.  That express went so fast!  I got in the habit of chewing gum to prevent popping ears. 

To get to those elevators, I had to cross a stream of New Jersey commuters emerging from the bank of escalators from the PATH station every morning.  It’s amazing how thousands of people can navigate their way across large plazas and lobbies, in every direction, without ever running into anyone.  (Only the pickpockets!)

At work, I was responsible for a mailing list and distribution of publications (to 88 countries!), which included taking dollies and handcarts on freight elevators to the post office in the deep bowels of the building.  The two towers had unique zip codes – two of them that applied to the World Trade Center and nowhere else (10047 & 10048).

I’ve walked down those steps from the 96th floor myself.  More than once.  (Horrible as the death toll was, it is also fortunate that it was not ten or twenty times worse, had the hits occurred a little later in those 9-to-5 buildings.)

I have a degree from CCNY, affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History – the one that includes the Hayden Planetarium on Central Park West, and has all the dinosaur fossil skeletons.  One of my favorite things, ever, was having keys to get behind the display cases to the secret staircases and labyrinthine hallways.  That and heading from the office to the subway late, after the museum was closed to the public and the deserted exhibit halls were semi-dark.

One year, I met a Chinese scientist at a summer course who later came to visit the Big Apple.  We went downtown to watch the sunset from the WTC observation deck.  By coincidence, we encountered someone else from the museum escorting a visiting scientist from Cuba.  As the towers crumbled, the woman in Shanghai and the man in Havana must have been remembering that evening.

A friend was an architect, a junior member of the team that designed the Twin Towers.  He was assigned the heating ducts or some similarly unglamorous chore.  He was fourth generation Japanese-American, born in an internment camp in Wyoming during World War II.  He lived a healthy lifestyle: had a fifth-degree black belt in aikido, didn’t smoke and rarely drank, but died several years back.  He had a heart attack waiting in an ATM line on his lunch break.  I’ve always wondered if prenatal conditions at the camp contributed to his early demise.

A professional acquaintance from Washington state is an immigrant from India, a Sikh.  Keeping with his tradition, he wears a turban and a beard.  He is an expert in water quality, works for one of the Washington tribes, and is lead instructor for the BIA water technician course for tribal youth.  His family owns a restaurant.   He is neither Islamic nor Arab.  Fortunately, he was not hit when he was shot at in fall 2001, but the bullet hole in his car remains.

My uncle, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, diagnosed July 2001, was unable to remember any of what happened.  It never has registered with him to this very day.

I encountered a quote recently, though I’ve forgotten the source.  We can probably chalk it up to conventional wisdom by now:
“You can win battles with bombs and artillery.  You can’t win hearts and minds that way.”

(Added today in 2007:  Looking back from the additional years of hindsight, this last bit seems truer than ever.  A huge understatement, in fact.)


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    • melvin on September 11, 2007 at 05:34

  1. I encountered a quote recently, though I’ve forgotten the source:
    “You can win battles with bombs and artillery.  You can’t win hearts and minds that way.”

    (Added today in 2007:  Looking back from the additional years of hindsight, this last bit seems truer than ever.  A huge understatement, in fact.)

    Two days after the towers fell, ran an essay called How to defeat bin Laden by Michael T. Klare, a professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College. In his essay, Klare argued that in order to capture bin Laden and defeat Islamic terrorism, the United States should abandon the war rhetoric (and by extension warfare) and treat bin Laden as a fugitive from the law.

    It’s an excellent essay and I’ll try to do it justice, but if you have the time, just read the essay.

    There are many in Washington and around the country who believe that the United States should declare war on bin Laden… But we must also ask: Will it achieve the goal of eradicating bin Laden’s networks and eliminating the terrorist threat to the United States? There are good reasons to suspect that it will not.

    Klare goes on to predict that if the U.S. starts bombing and invading Muslim nations, it will only make the problem of Islamic terrorism worse and convince “many ordinary Muslims that bin Laden is right: that the United States is intent on tormenting and subduing the Islamic world.” He then argues that not only will such a military response increase terrorism, but even worse it will fail to stop bin Laden.

    As an alternative to military action of this sort, I propose a strategy that combines global law enforcement collaboration plus moral and religious combat. It would compel the Bush administration to drop its war rhetoric and instead treat its hunt for bin Laden as a criminal investigation.

    It will not be possible to put bin Laden’s networks out of operation without the cooperation of police and intelligence personnel all over the globe — including the Islamic world. The best way to do this is to brand bin Laden and his associates as mass murderers who are sought for trial and punishment under U.S. law — as has been done with other suspected terrorists…

    Furthermore, to prevent the recruitment of additional volunteers into bin Laden’s networks (or others of their type), we have to successfully portray him as an enemy of authentic Islam… We must encourage influential Muslim clerics to condemn bin Laden as an enemy of true Islamic belief. Only in this way can we silence him (and his kind) forever.

    Klare recognized that the cries of war would increase as the horror of September 11th sunk in, but he pleaded for restraint. If only the men and women in Washington listened to his and others more intelligent ways of countering the very real threat bin Laden and his ideas and actions present instead of just reacting militarily.

    On September 11, 2001, even though the World Trade Center towers had crumbled into a smoldering ruin, the United States had the moral high ground and nearly world-wide support.

    George W. Bush loves to talk about using his political capital. Well he had the most political capital of any president since FDR and look what he decided to spend it on – ways to make his country’s foe even stronger.

    I believe America had the moral high ground and Klare’s strategy against terrorism would have worked. Too bad, we let Bush squander away our country’s pain.

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