View Full Version : Ground Zero to Baghdad

07-01-05, 05:13 AM
Ground Zero to Baghdad
September 11 and the collapse of national unity.
Friday, July 1, 2005 12:01 a.m.

Fourth of July weekend begins today, and among the verities certain to occur is that every waking hour in four days people will be standing at the high wire fence near Church Street in lower Manhattan, staring at Ground Zero, at what's left of what we now call "September 11."
We know these visitors to Ground Zero will be there looking into this austere pit, because those of us who work nearby and walk past it see them there, every day. They came the moment they were allowed to on Dec. 30, 2001, at the famous viewing platform, and have come each day since, amid the disgusting cold winds of February and impossible August heat. But if their presence is a certainty, its meaning, of course, has gone up for grabs.

Nearly four years after what happened on September 11, we must now debate whether a linkage exists between that day and the war in Iraq. After President Bush associated the two several times in his defense of Iraq this week at Fort Bragg, both the House and Senate Democratic leaders pounded the linkage.

House Leader Nancy Pelosi was explicit: "He is willing to exploit the sacred ground of 9/11, knowing that there is no connection between 9/11 and the war in Iraq." Senate Leader Harry Reid said the September 11 references don't offer "a way forward" in Iraq and only remind us that bin Laden "is still on the loose." To be able to separate September 11 and Iraq into wholly unrelated realms may be possible for very smart people--but not everyone.

On a very warm Wednesday this past May, during Fleet Week in New York City, a passerby at Ground Zero encountered some 150 astonishingly young Marines in fatigues, wet with sweat after a run, standing at attention on the site's edge, outside the fence. They were from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and they appeared to be in the middle of a formal ceremony. Yesterday the organizer of the May event, Maj. Dave Anderson, explained they were laying a wreath to honor the victims of September 11, and that the three Marines chosen to lay the wreath had earned Purple Hearts while serving in Iraq. When the ceremony ended, he said, a woman came out of the crowd, crying, and grabbed his wrist to say that her brother had died in there that day, and she said to him, "When people see you Marines doing this, they'll know that you will take the fight forward."
So it is that below the level of exquisite analysis now common in our politics, some Americans do exist who credit a connection between September 11 and events in Iraq. Perhaps there will be a poll out in a few weeks that will expose their sentiment to the greater weight and rigor of statistical science.

In time even Pearl Harbor became more a symbol than the bloody reality that ultimately hurled American forces against a Germany that didn't attack us at Pearl Harbor. But time seems to pass faster today. The first Fourth of July after September 11 was a day of national unity, in sorrow but also in belief that the U.S. had to go on offense, over there, against the force that had hit us. Now there is no unity; September 11, the war in Iraq, pretty much anything George Bush does and even Afghanistan is a fair target.

After Mr. Bush delivered the speech on Iraq that many said, rightly, was overdue, David Letterman made jokes about the war. DNC Chairman Howard Dean dismissed it as the "darkness of divisiveness" and "pandering to fear." John Murtha, the party's top spokesmen on military affairs, said, "I believe they are going to cut and run." A Times reporter announced as well that "for the first time," Afghans are "feeling uneasy about the future."

The day following the president's speech, architect David Childs unveiled the latest design of the long-overdue tower intended to replace the twin towers in downtown Manhattan. If we must have an office building in this space so the Port Authority can restart its tax flows, and if it must be a "designed" 1,776-foot-high skyscraper, Mr. Childs's building is perfectly acceptable. But no, Ground Zero is first of all about one's politics now, so for the New York Times architecture critic, Mr. Childs's tall building "is an ideal symbol for an empire enthralled with its own power."

We've watched September 11 drift from unity of purpose to unhinged vituperation. The partisanship is easy to dismiss, but I believe the Bush team's deep disdain of a hostile opposition media has caused it to miss--until now--the need to organize a home front to support the remarkable sacrifice in Iraq. This failure may prove to be the one unforgivable thing.

As to September 11's stern symbol--Ground Zero--its place is secure no matter what New York's politics dumps into the Port Authority's 16 acres. The only true memorial that will ever be--that huge hole in the ground, that zero, a filthy, ripped and awesome aftermath--has been there to see for more than 3 1/2 years.
This is what it means to visit the memorial there now. A steel fence is on all four sides. On two of them, the Port Authority has hung simple descriptions and pictures of what happened there, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. You can read a short history of the two towers. You can read the names of each person who died there that day. After people absorb these things, they get very close to the fence and stare into the open space. Then they take some pictures, and then they go somewhere else.

By now anyone with sufficient desire or need has come to Ground Zero. By now unfathomable numbers have seen that hole in its barest form. They have taken the experience home with them. I think September 11 is going to be properly remembered, no matter what happens in lower Manhattan now. It remains for this administration to do the same for the commitments already made to Iraq and in Iraq.
Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on OpinionJournal.com.