Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Operation Neptune Spear — the late night slaying of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden by SEAL Team Six. Millions of Americans felt a huge weight leap off their shoulders after receiving the earthshaking news that the brains behind the massacre had been blown to smithereens.
It is completely understandable for the friends and families of victims, armed forces, and any average American to solemnly meditate and exhale. But yesterday’s anniversary should be more than a moment to rest; it should also be a time to act upon one of the longest awaited tomorrows. The apex of America’s response to 9/11 should not be solely measured by what happens in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Iran, but by what happens on the very grounds that the attacks took place. Hence, the healing process is tremendously contingent upon the climate and culture that is being reshaped in Lower Manhattan.
One of the greatest responses since the attacks is the recent milestone reached by the 100-story One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower. After 11 years of back-and-forth negotiations and a seemingly impossible agreement on its name, owner, design, size and location, it has surpassed the Empire State Building as the tallest building in New York. The opening of One World Trade Center in 2013 and the eventual completion of five other sky scrapers and a transportation hub by 2020 are by far greater feats that ought to be lauded by the public.
Perhaps just as breathtaking as the Towers themselves is the flawless economic recovery in Lower Manhattan (disregarding job losses that are exclusively attributed to 2008’s recession). With 130 additional companies, a 78% increase in the number of hotel rooms and a residential population that has more than doubled to nearly 60,000 since the attacks, Lower Manhattan’s economic resilience is more than breath taking. Surely, its rebound deserves far more accolade than it has received in the media.
But the response must not stop there; a new and improved makeup of Lower Manhattan must include several bold, yet fundamentally American, steps. One of those steps includes the success of Park51 — an Islamic multi-cultural center filled with interfaith-based programs and activities for all Americans. Though the project has encountered hoards of inexplicable and simply befuddling scrutiny, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg already gave it his all to make a push for the cultural center. Despite its ability to overcome so many man-made hurdles, the project hasn’t even commenced. Some may reasonably argue that Park51 was successful in promoting a long overdue confrontation between American inclusiveness and paranoia. However, it never truly had the funding or stable leadership to become much more than a dialogue and an art exhibit.
Another important post-9/11 milestone that must be met is the success of the Zadroga Act. The bill, which is named after the first 9/11 responder to die from toxins directly linked to Ground Zero, allocates $2.8 billion to the Victim Compensation Fund for sick responders. However, much of the controversy surrounding the bill is based on what, if any, cancers to include under its health coverage. As Congress’ 15-member appointed panel continues to debate over whether or not there is a direct correlation between certain cancerous conditions and Ground Zero toxins, or if it developed from elsewhere over the years, some of the bravest Americans are ailing and suffering the consequences. A swifter and thorough review and inclusion of cancerous conditions should be agreed upon to ensure that we medically and financially assist responders as they struggle to heal on their own.
Between One World Trade Center, the resilience of Lower Manhattan and the unfinished all American commitments in the Zadroga Act and Partk51, there are plenty of things for us to evaluate in our post-9/11 goals and achievements. Osama Bin Laden’s death provided closure for some, but illuminated the pathway to finish our domestic commitments for all of us. As President Barack Obama said in his speech in Afghanistan, it is most important that we form “a united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation.” The brightest and darkest days overseas are hardly as uplifting as the successes on our own front lawn.