Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

9-11 in New York

Por: | 10 de septiembre de 2011

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For the past ten years, I've begun to dread my birthday. There’s little to look forward to when you live in New York and the date of your birth is September 11.

The days leading up to it are usually the worst. Toward the end of August, stories of tragedy and horror and heroes start filling up the pages of the local papers. Come September 1, around-the-clock coverage of the “anniversary” begins. By September 11, I just want the day to end so I don’t have to ever hear about September 11 again.

For me, September 11 is a reminder of the great paradox that is America. It has forced me to confront my mixed feelings about the country that I live in, to realize that the United States can at once be awesomely tolerant and unapologetically ignorant. It is a place where you can be overwhelmed by human generosity one minute, and appalled by brash arrogance the next.

September 11, 2001 was a terrifying and traumatizing day for tens of thousands of people, and, arguably, for an entire nation. It was eventually exploited by politicians, pundits, and profiteers. But in the first hours, days and weeks after the planes crashed in New York and Washington, September 11 provided evidence of the kindness and humanity of the people of the United States.

Most estimates put the total dead from the attacks (at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on the four planes) to be around 2,760. It's an approximation because many remains were pulverized beyond recognition. And the number changes because people continue to perish from injuries sustained at the site. Just this week, several New York lawmakers presented a bill that would include cancer on the list of conditions that people living or working near ground zero can apply for funding to help cover the cost of their medical bills.   

Some 50,000 people worked in the Twin Towers in 2001, and on any given day up to 200,000 people could cross the World Trade Center area. When you hear the stories of the sacrifices so many made that day to make sure complete strangers survived,  you begin to understand why the death toll was lower than it certainly could have been.

People like Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz, the Port Authority employees who worked on the 89th floor of the North tower, and went up and down 14 floors, prying open shut exits so that people could escape. They, themselves, didn’t make it out. 

Or Brooklyn firefighter Stephen Siller, who was on his way back home from Brooklyn when he heard about the explosion at the World Trade Center. Hearing the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was closed off to vehicular traffic he ran, with all of his equipment on, until a truck from another fire company spotted him toward the exit  and dropped him off near the World Trade Center. He was not seen again.

When President Bush announced soon after the attack that he was sending troops to Afghanistan to hunt down the perpetrators, there was little resistance, domestically or internationally. But as the months and years passed, opportunists seized control of a vulnerable population. Inflated with the confidence of waging a war that was deemed “just” in Afghanistan, the Bush administration conflated 9/11 with Iraq to drum up support for an unjust and unnecessary war in Iraq. Employing a harsh rhetoric that confused jingoism with patriotism, the U.S. government of the time  made it clear that you were either with them, or you were against them.

And the members of the American media, the watchdogs for the citizenry, collectively looked the other way. Some have apologized. Most have not.

The America of tolerance and generosity become the America of fearful obeisance and ignorant hostility, not to mention ridiculous inanity. Two years after Le Monde declared “We are All Americans”, U.S. Congressman Bob Ney, incensed by France’s opposition to an invasion of Iraq, ordered the cafeterias in the U.S. House of Representatives to rename "French fries" to "freedom fries". It was ridiculous. It was embarrassing. And it wasn’t changed back until 2006.

The dedication of journalists’ and politicians to their country was questioned when they opted not to wear an American flag lapel pin. And “national security” was used as an excuse to permit everything from domestic spying to warrantless raids of homes to torture.

When I moved to Spain in 2003, it was a much-needed respite from the lunacy that had taken hold of the United States. And then on March 11, 2004, the bombings at Atocha happened. I watched from Granada, where I was living, as 191 people died and more than 1,800 were wounded by the bombs planted on four commuter trains. What struck me most about the country’s reaction was that, unlike in the United States, people did not feel a blind obligation to rally behind Aznar or his party simply because he was president.

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For the past three years, I have worked three blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood. The neighborhood has been completely rebuilt. According to the Tribeca Tribune, nearly 100,000 people lost their jobs in lower Manhattan alone after September 11. Over 700 companies moved or shut down in the first two years after Sept. 11, and almost 25,000 residents were displaced from their homes. Ten years later, there are now more businesses than there ten years ago, and the population has doubled.

It’s a testament to American persistence. But it's also proof that America is a capitalist society before anything else. New York is a city driven by money, and all of that valuable real estate had to be developed.

The only glaring reminder now of the events of September 11, 2001 is the construction site at “ground zero.” It is still, 10 years later, a gaping wound that funding disputes have not allowed to fully mend. The PATH train station is finally starting to install the arches for the Santiago Calatrava-designed roof it was promised, but in a scaled-back version. The memorial’s fountains and gates will finally open this weekend. At the far corner of the site, 85 stories of the Freedom Tower already loom over Lower Manhattan. The site is only halfway repaired. Somehow that seems appropriate for a nation that, while showing signs of its fortitude, also is still trying to come to grips with its unjust and unnecessary reactions to tragedy.

Hay 3 Comentarios

Pues eso. So much for the stupid ethnical homogeneity they are seeking around Brussels...

And the reaction of the spanish population was shameful, even if we take into account the illegal and morally corrupt actions of the socialist party for the purpose of winning an election, only to do the same thing themselves a few years later in Libia.

Their reactions were totally just and absolutely necessary.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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