9/11, Ground Zero, and The Freedom Tower
Once completed, the WTC towers, while mesmerizing to some in terms of unimaginable scale, served as a disappointment and eyesore to others. Even though there was discord over the tower’s presence and appeal, no one on either side could have imagined they would eventually arouse such anger that would eventually incite plans for their absolute destruction… Even after it was determined that 9/11 was a terrorist attack, developed and undertaken by terrorist cells allegiant to Al Qaeda, questions continued to remain as to why the WTC towers, and the Pentagon, were targeted.
National Geographic author, Bijal Trivedi, in the days immediately following the attacks, offered explanations that have been consistently reechoed since. Trivdei argued that the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked for their symbolic significance, explaining, “The World Trade Center represented the elite and the powerful. It was a financial hub of the country, and even, some world argue, the world” and she continues, arguing that the WTC, “can be seen to represent America’s pervasive cultural and economic imperialism” (“Why Symbols Become Targets”). The global influence of the WTC, although seen by many as shining towers of prosperity and opportunity, were also the divisive symbols of globalism and capitalism in their most exploitative and harmful forms.
While Al Qaeda’s exact rationale may never be completely understood, the effect of their attack and successful destruction of the WTC created an even larger debate of political, aesthetic, and again, economic interests, expanding beyond the inhabitants of Lower Manhattan and the borders of America. And while these debates have spread to an international stage, the epicenter of the controversy began and still exists in the ashes of the WTC themselves.
The WTC’s symbolic transformation was almost instantaneous. As soon as the two towers collapsed, the site of the destruction and human casualty took on a whole new meaning. According to Maria Sturken’s article, “The Aesthetics of Absence”, Ground Zero was immediately assigned to the location of the buildings’ collapse by the media. Usually reserved for nuclear obliteration, Ground Zero “began as a term used by scientists to designate power of nuclear bombs…its site of ultimate destruction” (Struken 311). This site of “destruction” created a new narrative framework, one of “reconstruction” or starting over. From these conflicting ideas of destruction and reconstruction developed the ultimate debates that resonated locally, nationally, and even internationally... This conflict, of memorializing Ground Zero and reconstructing it so that business and new life could continue again, affected numerous people on many levels.
…Locally, the conflict existed primarily for the residents of Lower Manhattan. They found themselves embroiled in a negotiation, “of space dedicated to memory and that dedicated to business and retail” and unfortunately, “their needs have been largely ignored…” (Sturken 315). It is a sad irony that just as the residents who originally opposed the construction of the World Trade Centers in the 1970s were completely ignored, the residents of the area again had their concerns dismissed… Even after the site was cleared and the demolition was completed, the contentious nature of the site, and its sacredness, did not disappear…
In an effort to get around the disagreements at the time, then New York Governor, George Pataki, promised that the “footprints” of the WTC North and South towers would never be built upon. Instead, they would become a location for a 9/11 memorial, called Reflecting Absence, and the reconstruction of either tower would be built around the memorial. The originally selected architect, Daniel Libeskind, who was chosen after a contest that received hundreds of submissions from the world’s most respected architects, developed the design for the original Freedom Tower. The Freedom Tower, now the One World Trade Center, which upon completion will be the world’s tallest building standing at 1,776 feet, was not named by Libeskind himself, but rather by Pataki. After Libeskind won the year and half contest, Gov. Pataki, who “over-ruled the agency overseeing the competition”, eventually choosing architect David M. Childs, referred to the tower as, “an inspiring spire that will stretch 1776 feet as a symbol of our love for this great city and our confidence in its future” (Schrader and Thornton). As the design of the tower became its own debate between Libeskind and Childs, Governor Pataki began using the tower and its impending construction for his own political gains, which created further controversy.
The Republican National Convention was held in Manhattan in the summer of 2004, only a few weeks before the third anniversary of 9/11. According to Stuart Schrader and Christy Thornton, Pataki wanted to connect the two. Schrader and Thornton write, “whether because of his own political acumen or at the White House’s behest, [Pataki] made certain the link between a new beginning at Ground Zero and President Bush was self-evident” (“From World Trade Center to Freedom Tower…”). However, the Republican National Committee was forced to tread carefully, for they did not want to be seen as exploitative in their use of 9/11 for political gains. Regardless of this sensitivity, the Bush campaign did use the memory of 9/11 to its gain, playing on both the country’s fears of another terrorist attack, as well as its desires for retribution through a continued attack against the terrorism of Al Qaeda. Both fears and desires connected perfectly with the site of Ground Zero and the aspirations of a rhetorical freedom.
After George Bush won the election and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued, the rhetoric of freedom was intensified drastically. However, the freedom being promoted by the Bush administration wasn’t simply one of humanitarian value, but was also a matter of economic liberation. The globalist agenda of the Bush administration accentuated the symbols of the WTC, Ground Zero, and the Freedom Tower, transcending the local and national debates of these sites and creating an intense international debate of such ambitious efforts. However, as the country moved forward, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were quickly being forgotten, the Freedom Tower encountered one more final change.
In 2009, with a new president in office, a call for the withdrawal of all troops out of Iraq by 2011 and Afghanistan by 2014, and the wounds of 9/11 slowly fading, the Port Authority, the official owners of the space of the WTC, decided to change the name of the Freedom Tower to One World Trade Center. The reason, according to a spokesman for the Port Authority, was the marketability of the name, saying, ‘“We believe there's been a good response in the marketplace toward it”’ (Lam). Port Authority Chairman, Anthony Coscia, believed the name change would allow people to identify with the area better by reconnecting to the original of the World Trade Centers.
As a result of the change in name, many people responded angrily, claiming the name change was “…unpatriotic shedding of symbolism by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey” (“Freedom Tower Name Change…”). Former Governor Pataki, who originally named the building, also took offense, stating, ‘“Where One and Two World Trade Center once stood, there will be a memorial with two voids to honor the heroes we lost. In my view, those addresses should never be used again”’ (“Freedom Tower Name Change…”). Pataki, and others, felt that the Freedom Tower name not only served an essential symbolic purpose, but also helped in the healing process by permitting people and the City of New York to create a new beginning with a new narrative. However, the Port Authority, as well as other politicians and officials, expressed concerns about the overly symbolic nature of the name Freedom Tower, claiming, ‘“that the 102-story Freedom Tower's name could make it more susceptible to future attacks than a symbol of defiance against it”’ (“Freedom Tower Name Change…”). Within this debate existed yet another reflection of the site’s litigious nature. The new buildings can not separate themselves from the controversial history of the original WTC, 9/11, and Ground Zero, and they will always function as a dichotomy of passionate feelings that will continue to arouse powerful rhetoric from many different perspectives…
The World Trade Centers, their original conception, destruction, and eventual reconstruction are perfect examples of objects transcending into symbols much larger than the buildings themselves. What’s unique about the WTC, Ground Zero, and the newly developed WTC buildings though is how their symbolism has changed so many times and affected people in such radically distinct ways. They have been symbols of hope, freedom, and rebirth. Simultaneously, they have also been symbols of greed, corruption, and pain. These ambivalent perceptions of the original and new buildings and their location are what have created the varying rhetorical arguments on a local, national, and international level, and they are what will continue to hold the world’s attention as the new buildings are completed and the anniversary of 9/11 is celebrated every year.
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Lam, Chau. "Freedom Tower name changed to One World Trade Center." Newsday. Newsday, 26 March 2009. Web. 10 Apr 2012. <http://www.newsday.com>.
Lanham, Richard. The Economics of Attention. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 2006. Print.
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Sturken, Marita. "The Aesthetics of Absence: Rebuilding Ground Zero." Ameircan Ethonologist. 31.3 (2004): 311-325. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <https://files.nyu.edu/>.
Trivedi, Bijal P.. "Why Symbols Become Targets." Nationl Geographic. National Geographic, 13 September 2001. Web. 10 March 2012. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com>.