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Rising From the Rubble

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
When the twin towers tumbled from the skyline of New York 10 years ago this month, the terrorists figured they had won a great battle. They were right. The two enormous buildings fell, burying almost 3,000 men, women and even children. We wept over personal tragedies and collectively vowed not to be bowed. We're winning the war.

Recovery did not run smoothly. There were arguments, conflicts and delays. There has not always been a unity of purpose among the architects, government agencies, insurers, developers, families of victims and survivors about how what happened should be remembered. Often it seems as if the twin towers were transformed into Towers of Babel, with a cacophony of voices demanding different memorials of remembrance and revival. Creative reconstruction was difficult.

But like the ancient Phoenix rising from the ashes of destruction to celebrate rebirth, 1 World Trade Center emerges triumphantly from the rubble at Ground Zero. After a decade of mourning, we come together at the end of this week to acknowledge beauty, commerce and an assertive spirit, testimony to healing, survival and renewal on the rubble.

The 10th anniversary celebrates a new skyscraper that that will offer panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, reminders of the first stop in the new land for many immigrants fleeing tyranny in search of freedom and opportunity. Two pools of water set in the footprints of the fallen towers are called "Reflecting Absence," in haunting evocation of the memory of those who died there. Their names will be inscribed in bronze. A pear tree recovered from the debris was replanted and grows in fresh, fertile soil.

None who watched the horror unfolding on television can forget the fear and loathing we felt at that moment, and it's impossible not to marvel today at the recovery. For all of the griping and grumbling at the long security lines at airports, it's not unusual for a gentle internal voice to remind an angry traveler that any one of those who died on 9/11 would be happy to take off his shoes and jacket for examination in return for a life.

At first, it seemed callous for anyone to suggest that shopping or dining nearby ground zero could celebrate the memory of those who had worked there, but the commercial renaissance on the streets nearby is amazing. (The terrorists should gag on their bile.) Some shops, stores and offices closed and their owners fled to places where they felt safer, but the vacancy rate in the neighborhood today is among the lowest anywhere. Sales of apartments have increased over 150 percent, Economist magazine reports, and six new schools testify to the wave of young families moving in, many with children too young to remember what happened there 10 years ago.

Sept. 11, 2001, is a date like Dec. 7, 1941, to "live in infamy," in FDR's famous formulation; the date supplies a "teaching moment" for this generation's Pearl Harbor. Millions are angry over the government's overreaching, its overspending and over-stimulating, but the government has done some things right since 9/11.

It has kept us safe for 10 years from an enemy that is still out there waiting to strike again. Terrorists have been foiled and intelligence links have been forged with foreign governments dealing, sometimes reluctantly, with threats against their own people. Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes, and many who conspired with him are dead and gone. Only the other day, the Pakistani military, working on a tip from the CIA, arrested a terrorist leader believed to have been plotting against new targets in the West.

Good sense, some of it reluctantly employed, has prevailed against the naive notions of the weak and unwary. President Obama, despite a foolish campaign promise, did not close Guantanamo Bay after all. Under the pressure of reality, he finally decided against a civilian trial in Manhattan for captured al-Qaida terrorists. We should give thanks for education better late than never.

The social networks supply a wealth of up-to-date details of what's going on around us -- the war behind the scenes goes mostly unreported. The absence, so far, of new dates to live in infamy suggest the war is being waged effectively, even if we're no longer supposed to call it a war.

Those who died on 9/11 did not die in vain. The replanted pear tree was only 8 feet tall when it was found in the rubble of ground zero. Now it towers more than 35 feet above the site of tragedy, reaching with leafy arms for the sun.

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