Thursday, January 14, 2010

Duty Calls…

By guest columnists Margaret Donovan and Richard Hughes of The Twin Towers Alliance.

We were very saddened, but not surprised, by the news in late December that the US Second Circuit ruled against the ongoing efforts of "WTC Families for a Proper Burial" to force the city to move more than a million tons of WTC debris out of a city dump to an alternate site. While this is apparently not something that can be won in the courts, it can be won in the media.

Thousands of our fellow citizens vanished without a trace and to allow a garbage dump to be the final resting place for their precious remains, no matter how infinitesimal, degrades us, not them. There is no reason why this fight should be left to those who are already bearing the harshest burden of the attacks. We are ONE 9/11 Family and how we handle this will show what kind of country we are and how much power citizens have to get anything that matters done. As the saying goes, when politicians feel the heat, they see the light.

New York officials made an error in judgment in the chaos after 9/11 by not choosing a more respectful location for what was removed from the World Trade Center. So what we can do about it now? WE CAN FIX IT — as those brave workers did when they faced the unimaginable destruction of the attacks and cleared it away in record time, paying for it with their health and lives in ways that are still being revealed.

The City's position is that "digging up the landfill simply because somebody's loved ones might be there" is not a "sufficient reason," that "the city made a Herculean effort to clean the debris before it was sent to the landfill," and that "the undifferentiated dirt left does not need special handling." YES IT DOES, because thousands of innocent Americans disappeared into that "undifferentiated dirt."

The "debris," as it is called, was sifted conscientiously — and still, bones and personal effects like wallets and credit cards somehow got through the filter. But that misses the point. The significance of the particles is not related to their size or visibility. Remains are remains and the respect we accord them is a measure of our humanity.

When our officials act, it is always in our name — and this is one decision that none of us would be proud to sign our names to. If we can fix it, then we must fix it, or, by default, admit to being coarse and shallow people, hiding behind coarse and shallow officials. The truth is we are a generous and idealistic society, whatever our shortcomings. If the media will simply give this matter the attention it deserves, we will find a suitable way to work it out.

We may be kidding ourselves that we are advancing as a culture, when all the latest technology seems to distract us from setting priorities. Can we imagine Native Americans behaving with such depraved indifference? In ancient Rome, withholding burial was the supreme punishment, because it extended the misery of their victims to the agony of their families. The despicable Khalid Sheik Mohammed claims we are a debauched society. The word comes from the Old French, desbauchier, for to scatter, disperse. What good is our information age if it dilutes our focus and disables our sense of control over our own government?

Whatever the actual cost of correcting this obscenity, it couldn't come close to the savings that resulted from the astonishing around-the-clock bravery of those who cleared the catastrophic site months ahead of schedule. Just as we all share a long overdue moral obligation to care for those who were injured through their 9/11-related service, there is no getting around this obligation and we wouldn't want to. This is one expense Americans will gladly accept.

We can all be part of the remedy. It is completely reparable if we come together and insist on the transfer before 9/11/2010. At the Twin Towers Alliance we will do our part by asking publications to reprint this piece and by always using the name Ground Hero instead of Ground Zero going forward, as was recently suggested by a 9/11 family member in an online forum. If more of us make a conscious effort to use "hero" instead of "zero," perhaps there will be a noticeable shift in attitude and we will be reminded that there is an ongoing debt to be paid.

No one would say that moving those mortal remains out of a dump is too much trouble, but saying it costs too much money amounts to the same thing. Everything does not have a dollar sign attached and failure to act would be shameful — particularly when hundreds of those who perished died saving others. They did their duty and now we must do ours. In the aftermath of 9/11, the moral is clear: There is no right way to do the wrong thing.

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