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Stranger in a Strange Land
This issue of Books & Culture was already at the proof stage on September 11. It was strange but also good to continue with the mundane work of getting the issue out while we began to absorb the news of that terrible day.
The terrorist attack brought out the best and the worst in Americans: heroism from New Yorkers and xenophobia from thugs in various cities; a widely renewed solidarity, but also a temptation to pursue vengeance rather than justice. One troubling development within two days of the attack was hasty talk of rebuilding the two World Trade Center towers. "[I]f we must have a shrine or monument for our remorse, let's put it on the 200th floor, right next to the antiaircraft guns," wrote Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review Online, who sometimes doesn't know to put his contrarianism on a leash. And while Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was an inspiring leader of his besieged city, he shifted into Churchillian overdrive in promising that "the city's skyline will be restored."
Never mind that the twin towers represented 1970s architecture at its worst, betraying an ugly obsession with sleekness and uniformity; never mind that the greatness of a people is not measured by the height of their office buildings; never mind about the people who fell or leapt to their deaths from the immolated upper floors: American pride is at stake!
Now that terrorists have shown such deadly contempt for the World Trade Center, perhaps we should consider what those towers represented to the wider world. (The words Mammon and power come to mind.) Americans should not leave this space abandoned and barren, but nor should we feel that any new building shorter than 100 stories is somehow a crushing blow to the American soul.
Perhaps Americans will think better of new skyscrapers after rescuers have completed the grim task of finding every mangled body beneath the rubble of the twin towers. Perhaps then someone will remember the work of a Chinese American born in Ohio who now lives in New York ...