Our compass has been reoriented. For residents of Brooklyn through North Jersey, the Twin Towers no longer define Lower Manhattan; and as a nation, we are being told to prepare for a prolonged conflict in Central Asia. No longer invincible, New Yorkers have earned sympathy from even those in the heartland. America, meanwhile, is rallying international support for a strike against “global terror.” Like the horrific destruction, the responses of both the city and nation are taking place at lightning speed. Yet just as in the days leading up to September 11th, we need to be careful not to let too much pass beneath out radar screens.
Already there is support for rebuilding the Twin Towers, the symbol of the city’s place in the global order and a longstanding target of terrorist threats. The “Towers must be rebuilt,” one daily paper editorialized the other day, “because New York has to remain that financial capital of the world,” as well as to show that the city’s “confidence and spirit have not been broken.” The heroic relief efforts of all the rescue workers, the indomitable will of the grieving families –these are more than proof enough that the city’s spirit has not been broken. In some sectors, there is talk of “a new Marshall Plan” for Lower Manhattan. Such talk should set off alarm bells about the incentives, tax breaks, and other perks potentially given to developers and to some of the world’s richest companies in order to lure them back to downtown. Now is the time for relief only for those in need, and for genuine debate concerning the city’s future economic direction.
The national and international response initiated by the United States obviously must be closely scrutinized as well, for the ramifications are potentially even more perilous. Within minutes, the saber-rattling had already reached a fever pitch: open-ended declarations of war, talk of “ending states,” vows to root out terrorism wherever it exists, all of which has now been subsumed into “Operation Infinite Justice.” The idea of building a credible, convincing plan of military action indeed seems foreign to the boy-king now in office. Instead, he is eager to play Cowboys and Indians, and to do his best impersonation of Ronald Reagan, the movie actor. Are we supposed to take comfort that Cheney, Powell, and Rumsfeld are running the show? If they put forth a compelling, internationally supported plan that will help bring long-term political and economic stability to the region, then yes. But the stakes are too high –especially with the proven international capabilities of terror networks, the presence of nuclear weaponry in the region, the possibility of involvement from Russia and China—to give any one nation carte blanche in this conflict.
In Brooklyn and across the city, everyone we know who survived Sept. 11th is dazed, fearful, and exhausted. There will be no return to “normalcy” for most of us. If that condition meant obliviousness to the place of New York City and America in the world, then perhaps we should not even try to return to it. The 21st century has only just begun, but we must do all that we can to prevent it from being the world’s last.