I first came to the United States on January 10th, 1990. At the time, I was an 18-year-old Private First Class in the German Army, and I had saved up my leave time for 1989 and combined it with my 1990 leave, six weeks in total. On January 8th, I went to the bank and withdrew almost three thousand dollars in American Express Travelers’ Cheques, and on the following day, I boarded a plane to New York City.
When I arrived in the Big Apple, it was evening. I checked into my hotel, laid out my stuff for the following day, and went to sleep. The next morning, I left the hotel, hailed a cab, and told the cab driver to take me to the place that was on the top of my “List of Things to See”: the World Trade Center.
The World Trade Center has always been a symbol of America to me: it’s the triumph of engineering, private enterprise, and financial acumen. Even the name of it was a symbol of the country’s best ideals, and its unashamed dedication to the creation of wealth. Regardless of the wisdom of new sensibilities, there is a difference in value between cultures that paint their faces in front of mud huts and then spend most of their time warring with other tribes for their mud huts, and a culture that creates 1,400-foot towers that touch the clouds on overcast days, towers that are dedicated to the peaceful exchange of goods between people. For all the vocal hatred of America all over the world, there is far more admiration and envy. Every day, people stand in line for a shot at being part of this culture; hardly anyone wants to emigrate to the places with the face paint and the mud huts.
When the Twin Towers fell, seven years ago today, the terrorists not only killed thousands of innocent people, they killed a part of my America. They tore a gaping wound into Lower Manhattan, and a similar wound into the fabric of this nation that has not healed to this day. Where we stood together once, the country has once again coalesced into tribal factions battling each other at every turn. Our Constitution, guarantor of the very freedoms that set this country apart from almost every other country in the world, has been under attack for the last seven years because some people think it amounts to a suicide pact to “allow” so much freedom to everyone in the face of the terrorist threat. The fear of terrorism has triggered overreactions that have done more harm to the country than any terrorist attack ever could.
Yet for all the bad things that happened on 9/11, and all the bad things that have happened since, I firmly believe that this country is resilient enough to patch the wound in our side, stop the pain from clouding our rational thinking, and regain our principles. We have buried our dead, and we will continue to do so, and we will remember who they were and why they died. There will be another building rising from the spot where the World Trade Center collapsed into a heap of rubble. It won’t be the same, but it will, in time, become special in its own right, above and beyond the fact that it came to be because of that day. We will move on, and we will not let that day and its aftermath define our identity, but we will never forgive, and we will always remember.
Let them shiver in their caves and spend their days thinking of knocking down that which they cannot even dream of building for themselves. We will brush off the dust, and go back to building towers that touch the clouds.