By Patricia Lee Sharpe
Iran’s President Ahmedinejad is busy trying to make the world believe that an American government cabal brought about the destruction of New York’s World Trade towers. This vicious charge wasn’t his idea. It’s a home grown conspiracy theory, and those who believe it continue to propagate it among their fellow Americans. Sadly, this is not the only bit of superfluous nastiness that clings to the tragic events of 9/11.
Meanwhile, like millions around the world, I found tears welling in my eyes more than a few times as the saga of the trapped miners in Chile played out. Some residual superstition held me back from jubilation until the last man was back on the surface. Throughout, however, I felt awe and admiration for everyone involved.
First, the miners themselves. They had maintained a functional society in the dark. Day after day they had shared their food supplies fairly and sparingly. When contact was established, they were ready to respond constructively. And when they emerged from the rescue capsule, they were—well!—themselves: decent guys glad to be on the surface of the earth again. Maybe they had some rocky times. Maybe they had some arguments. There must have been some moments of unsaintliness. And maybe a few of the miners will go for the gold in tasteless, self-aggrandizing ways, trashing the band of brothers. No matter. These men were a credit to the human race when it counted.
Next, the technical people. They were called in from around the world. Chileans, of course. Plus mining experts from South Africa and, from the U.S., NASA space flight specialists as well as drillers. And so on. Arriving with their own ways of doing things, these strangers had to coalesce into an egoless cooperative concentrated on getting the job done as soon and as safely as possible. Seven weeks from start to picture perfect finish is pretty impressive. Another kudo for the human race.
Chilean officialdom. They didn’t squabble (in public anyway), though governor, ministers and president certainly weren’t hurting from the pix and publicity. Still, they didn’t vie for attantion in an obviously unsavory way. Maybe they were self-abnegating. Maybe they were savvy. Grandstanding at Camp Hope wouldn't have been a future vote-getter. Whatever their motives, then, they did the right thing. That was good to see.
Generosity and good management. No one asked how much the rescue was going to cost. Putting solid, rapid results before penny-pinching, the government drafted assistance globally and funded three drilling teams simultaneously. Businesses donated food and clothing. Miners, families and even newsmen were fed, gratis. This well-managed outpouring of governmental and private support was key to the rapid success of the operation and to the maintenance of high morale above and below ground.
Now the whole world basks in the knowledge of a remarkable rescue operation. This remote Chilean desert site will never be a place of sorrow, a mass grave site, a necropolis watered forever with tears, which reminds me of a place in New York that is dishonored by a neurotic fixation on the term "ground zero."
Consider this. The Chilean miners emerged from the rescue capsule into an unstinting, well-thought out medical reception, from initial examination to extended post-traumatic shock therapy, as needed. 9/11 gave rise to an ugly battle over who had been injured, how badly a claimant had been stricken and how much would be paid to those deemed worthy of any compensation at all for injuries. Millions were forced to breath air that was full of poisonous chemicals and particulates. But the name of the game, as usual with health care in America, was exclusion.
Chile, thanks to a 100% rescue score, has also been spared from a more insidious liability symbolized by the persistence of a victimhood syndrome. This unhealthy clinging to horror has made the trade center site into something of a necropolis, and the main memorial to those who were killed is going to be a hole in the ground! No doubt the pools and walkways and trees will have a certain beauty—and the area will be shielded from the traffic and the roar of everyday life. But such a pit-iful design sets in concrete the hole in our hearts that needs to heal.
Meanwhile, there was a great debate over the business of building a Freedom Tower. Some argued that rebuilding high and flamboyantly would be arrogant and provocative, as if pride is ever and always a bad thing. The site’s lease-holders expressed only one interest: a floor plan promising maximal rentals. As for government entities, they'd be happy with anything, so long as it was cheap. Thus, the plans for the Freedom Tower were pared and pared and pared. And finally, the voices of fear chimed in. The lower stories wouldn’t be open to the world. They’d be protected like a bunker shouting, “We’re scared!”
And so the area that was once a towering symbol of global interaction, is destined to become a doubly dead zone where nothing courageous, inspiring or visionary is allowed to grow. There will be no daring architecture to make it clear to the haters that building up follows blowing up. Then came the final irony. When Muslims moved to build a center of the sort that should already be open and signaling no surrender to those forces of hate, they got nothing but opposition from the endlessly dissatisfied, emotionally extortionate 9/11 "survivors." If an Islamic center with an ecumenical spirit cannot be established several blocks from the trade center site, we will know that “ground zero” has turned into a cancer that will, block by block, eat away the life of the city.
Chile, for its part, will have a pleasant honeymoon now that the miners have all been rescued. Then some serious issues will have to be confronted. Will the new president sully his contribution to this magnificent collaborative effort by using it to consolidate his hold on power? Will the miners themselves set to quarreling over goodies, like TV appearances or book offers or other lucrative propositions? Will mining interests prevent the government from prosecuting the negligent mine owners or passing needed legislation? And so on. For a while after 9/11 there were only heros in New York. Not so today. What path will Chile follow?