Sept. 11 two years later

News Analysis

The second anniversary of Sept. 11 was marked in New York City with painful and conflicting images and messages. The common thread was a sense of uncertainty about the future both in human terms and political direction of the U.S. and the world.

Children, sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews of the over 3,000 people who died read the names of the victims at the official observance at Ground Zero. Moments of silence with a single bell chime marked the times the World Trade Center towers were struck and collapsed.

As families with pictures of their loved ones pinned to their jackets walked in the streets towards Ground Zero, the assembled crowd of several thousand made room for them to pass. They entered the fenced-off 18 acres of Ground Zero and were led to the “footprints,” the bedrock that marks the spot where the second tower was driven seven stories into the ground at the time of its collapse.

Flowers, pictures and handwritten notes were hung on the chain link fence surrounding Ground Zero, which has become a construction site. Grieving families protested a few days before against the plans to build over the towers’ “footprints.”

One protester, Dennis Dunne, a New Rochelle firefighter who worked at Ground Zero, held a sign during the ceremony. He told the World, “Larry Silverstein [the developer] wants to rebuild office space on top of where 2,792 people died. Money outweighs human life.”

Mourners attended in far fewer numbers than last year, although people of all nationalities and from many cities and countries gathered at Ground Zero.

A young woman from Philadelphia, Nina, told the World that she came to New York City on Sept. 11 to show support for the families who lost loved ones. Nina said, “By being here, I’m reaching out to those who suffered.” She believes the country has changed in the last two years, and not for the better. “People look at other people and the world in a different way. People are more judgmental, more racist than before.”

Many mourners, especially those who had rushed to the scene to rescue survivors, came to the official commemoration to honor the social action and spirit shown during a horrendous tragedy. Brian Waterson, a volunteer fireman from Port Washington, N.Y., who had been a part of rescue efforts here, told the World, “Sept. 11 brought a lot of people closer together. I came here [Ground Zero] to remember and honor that. And I would do it again.”

Ironically, most experts say it will be decades before rescue workers and others will know the extent of their health damage from the months of smoldering rubble “on the pile.” Just days before the anniversary, new criticism was made by the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency for the EPA’s rush to certify the air safety before sufficient testing was done. The Bush administration’s close ties to corporate America have spurred on speculation that the business community pressed to reopen work sites prematurely, endangering the health of many who live and work in the financial district.

The Bush administration has not answered many other 9/11 questions. The 9/11 Citizens Watch group has been pressing for independent investigation due to the censored joint congressional committee report released in July. John Judge, one of the founders of the 9/11 Citizens Watch, told the World that members of Congress said the administration blocked the release of the report because no links between Iraq and 9/11 could be made and therefore would undermine their case for the “war against terrorism” and their war on Iraq.

The final report is set to be released in May 2004 in the heat of the presidential race.

President Bush’s speech on Sept. 7, just before the 9/11 anniversary, was an attempt to stem the rising tide of questions and anger about the war in Iraq. Many also believe that Bush’s re-election strategy is to play up the national security issue and his vaunted “war on terrorism,” using fear to garner additional votes. The Republican National Convention will be held near the site of the 9/11 catastrophe. Without evidence linking 9/11 to Iraq, Bush continues the campaign to rationalize an unpopular war and occupation. Sen. Robert Byrd said on the floor of the Senate, “The President waves the bloody shirt of 9/11 and then subtly shifts the conversation to Iraq.” He went on to say that Bush’s manipulations of people’s fears were working, unfortunately. A recent Washington Post poll showed that seven in 10 believe there are ties between Al Qaeda and Hussein. Judge told the World, “9/11 is the club by which all of the foreign and domestic policy changes have been implemented.”

Despite the Bush administration’s public relations campaign to sell the war as the antidote to terrorism, 76 percent of Americans say that they do not feel safer today from the threat of terrorism than they did two years ago. They were polled by PIPA/Knowledge Networks out of the School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland.

In the last two weeks Bush’s approval ratings have dropped seven points, returning for the first time to pre-Sept. 11 levels. Dunne, the New Rochelle firefighter, told the World, “Iraq is a political fiasco … the UN should be in Iraq with a multinational force, but Bush won’t be happy till he gets Saddam.”

A majority in the U.S. believe the Bush administration is overemphasizing assertive and military approaches. Fifty-eight percent said that in the effort to fight terrorism, the Bush administration should put more emphasis on diplomatic and economic means, according to PIPA/Knowledge Networks.

Around the world, including in countries that have been strong U.S. allies, the sympathy in response to the 9/11 terrorist attack has slowly shifted into a strong fear about Bush’s pre-emptive war, first strike foreign policies and the war in Iraq.

Yav Shern, a young man from Malaysia, told the World, “We are all more aware of what is going on around us as a whole.” He continued, “But it was unnecessary to have war. The U.S. has not been able to prove any connection [of Iraq] to 9/11. Outside of the U.S. people don’t agree with the war.”

Reflecting the impact of the Bush war against terrorism rhetoric, Nina told the World, “It seems like people around the world hate us more now. To be honest I don’t know what we could do to make them stop hating us.”

The peace and justice movements are beginning to help make the connection between the threat of terrorism and the Bush administration’s policies. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said on the second anniversary, “We must press tirelessly for justice, freedom, and peace in every troubled corner of our world, knowing that injustice, bondage and war breed the kind of hatred that begets terrorists in every culture.”

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org. Dan Margolis contributed to this story.

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Thousands gather at silent Sept. 11 vigil

NEW YORK—Thousands of family members of 9/11 victims and others gathered to form a “Circle of Hope” around the footprints of the World Trade Center on the eve of the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks in solidarity with those who had been affected.

“The thing that started me healing after Sept. 11 was coming down to Union Square Park ten days after the tragedy of 9/11,” said Gretchen Altabef, a 22-year resident of New York who now lives in Pennsylvania. “So I come here every year, because of that – to make that connection. There were all those people who were healing here together.”

The silent vigil – organized by Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization formed by family members of WTC victims to promote the cause of peace – was entirely non-political. The organizers determined that a time of silent reflection and mourning was necessary.

“There’s a particular group called MoveOn, and they posted a very beautiful and strong statement on their site which is about, among other things, seeing to it that this occasion not be co-opted by the White House and so on for purposes that they don’t believe in, and I agree with that,” said Prudence, an attendee who lives in Manhattan. “That’s the most important reason I came, and the other one was that I wanted to participate in something that would be silent, non-political and commemorative. Gathering here is by itself powerful and it’s powerful to be with other people.”

Those in attendance of the vigil included family members, soldiers, veterans, and others.

Joe Attamante, a member of Veterans for Peace said, “We are here in solidarity with the families who – although they had every reason for vengeance – decided not to seek it and chose reconciliation and peace rather than just blind vengeance and striking out.”

The author can be reached at dmargolis@pww.org