“You can’t handle the truth!” bellowed Jack Nicholson as Col Jessup, at the Marine Corps Courts Martial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was a scene in, “A Few Good Men.” It took me back to my time when I was a Marine at GITMO. When I was there the American naval blockade was offshore in the Caribbean, Russian ships were threatening to break through. Two Superpowers eyeball to eyeball. One bad move and nuclear annihilation of the world was at hand. Ah, humankind and its cavalcade of world-threatening follies. Will we ever see the light?
Can we handle the truth?
I went down to the big City by the Sea last week. I rode the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station, then the subway downtown. I went to take some photos of the southern end of Manhattan, specifically the area around South Ferry and One World Trade Center. The subway train was a ride on the steel veins that run through New York’s underbelly. The city is alive, it’s subway system, the nutrient flow that keeps all its organs and appendages above ground functioning.
Much has changed since I patrolled these nether regions of Gotham in uniform, or worked them in plain clothes. No more tokens of course, Metro cords have replaced them a decade ago, soon to be replaced themselves with even headier technology; debit cards or iPhone apps are being considered. The subway riders are a bit different now too. They used to read papers, books, do a crossword or just sit in thought, reflecting on an ad or two, or even trying to decipher a scribble of graffiti. In those days riders were just as absorbed as they are today…but they still had their ears open. Passengers today are more likely to be wearing ear buds, listening to their books, magazines, music or podcasts. They seem more isolated in their audio-circling-of-the-wagons.
South Ferry too has changed, the terminal to Staten Island itself and the surrounding piers and dockage as well. But the Statue of Liberty is still the reliable anchor of America moored in New York harbor. Her raised torch, not a timid half-raised offer but an outstretched welcoming beacon, an invitation to the huddled others of the world to come join our bounty, our freedom. Looking out at that gesturing arm I saw the rejection of safe isolation, and a declaration of openness. It speaks of our trust and willingness to accept the globe’s poor, tired, masses.
The World Trade Center, 104 stories of Freedom Tower is now the tallest building in America. And it was of course at One, World Trade where the most striking difference was…the missing twin towers. The amputation of New York’s limbs that reached skyward, like the parallel arms of Superman about to take off and leap even taller buildings. The rending of those towers was so many screams ago, so many tearful, sleepless nights for the survivors, so many memories of what was and what was never to be again.
I remember riding under those World Trade streets on the IRT number 1 line when the twin towers were being built; they would open in the spring of 1973. The towers would contain employees and visitors totaling 50,000 people. At the end of a work day it would be like Shea stadium letting out on a sold-out Sunday afternoon…every weekday.
Forty years later I watched this new tower being erected story by story from my view in Long Beach. It’s rooftop cranes, like an insects’ antennae poised and sensitive for approaching danger. But that day last week I stood close up in the street before it, One WT, towering into the blue sky, a raised symbol of resilient America, a beacon too, as majestic as the Lady of the harbor.
I stood with my tiny impotent Nikon unable to capture what I really felt was before me. It is too soon after the tragedy to fully appreciate this grand tower’s beauty. Too soon because of the memory it evokes. But I feel it will always be too soon.
It is too soon since the first responders desperately charged up those stairways while so many souls tried just as desperately to get down. Those heroes who courageously tried to save lives but lost their own in a heinous cascade of fire and stone. It’s too soon for the horror to ebb from the ether above those Manhattan streets. It seemed to me that the terror, the cell phone calls to loved ones, the inferno, the carnage, the thuds, were still present under the lofty blue sky reflected in the tower’s glass facades.
The Freedom Tower stands out in such poignant relief in our skyline. But as I stood there I couldn’t help but wonder if the plot to tear it asunder stood out equally as strong on the world’s skyline. Did the plot blend in, an almost gossamer image as this tower does by reflecting, and merging with, the sky behind it? Or was the threat bold, black in silhouette, it’s spire tipped with a fluttering banner, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack the U.S.”
One question: What was the festering hatred, missed or ignored, that might have been, should have been, neutralized.
Can’t we detect a miserable turret of enmity while it is still under construction and raze it to it’s foundation…before it blasts its hatred? A hate attack so blatant that it caused us to fly more American sons and daughters to death in the desert? Caused us to hurl drone rockets to create even more collateral hatred? Retaliation, to cause change? Isn’t it possible for us to cause change before a hateful act befalls us that demands retaliation?
We are the United States of America, the globe’s only Superpower now. Is our might only in our ability to fight?
We should be able to preempt such an evil project by dismantling the bed of it stone by stone. We should have the Intelligence to tease out of that base’s mortar the stuff that would make it support such a perverse structure. And if we did, would we only detect, “They hate us for our freedom,” in that sick cement?
Today we are caught up in the debate of whether it’s right, moral, or legal to track phone calls, emails or texts. Shouldn’t we be just as concerned about why those clandestine, hateful, communications are made as we are about who are sending them?
The lady in the harbor holds a torch, a light to show the way for souls seeking freedom. But is her torch also showing us a need to scrutinize the distant horizon, to hold a light up to the darkness, to be alert to what lurks on the world’s skyline? Or more importantly…below the world’s skyline.
Maybe we already know but won’t acknowledge it because…“You can’t handle the truth!”
See my video, Towers of Light:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhHpmmHl5mI&feature=c4-overview&list=UUkJkE4EtmutG_3-vP83mjkA
Categories: New York City