Freedom Rising

Posted by Barry Strauss under on July 31, 2011

In 480 B.C., an invading army captured Athens and destroyed the temples on the Acropolis of Athens — the “High City,” a natural, rock fortress in the heart of town. It took more than 40 years before the Athenians rebuilt and rededicated those temples. But it was worth the wait because the new Acropolis was crowned with a landmark in the history of architecture — the Parthenon.

It’s been only ten years since foreign terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers in New York, but the Freedom Tower that will replace them is progressing nicely.

A recent summer morning found me on Governor’s Island in New York Bay. A walk around the island reveals a patriotic panorama of American monuments. Here is the Statue of Liberty, there is Ellis Island, and there is the Brooklyn Bridge. And now, rising above the towers of Lower Manhattan, there is the nearly finished skyscraper. A building going up, a promise kept to a generation that saw everything go down. The new tower is glassy, a mirror, maybe a beacon of hope. Shining above the sea, it seems as much Lighthouse of Alexandria — another ancient monument — as Parthenon. It’s not a temple but a guide.

Freedom Tower is expected to be open in less than a year.

Or is it? When a master plan to rebuild the WTC site after 9-11 was unveiled, the building to replace the Twin Towers was dubbed Freedom Tower, as a response to the ideology of the terrorists who destroyed it. The terrorists wanted to terrify us into submission. Our response was defiance.

But the agency that owns the site, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, insists that the building is no longer named Freedom Tower. Instead, it is now called One World Trade Center.

Isn’t that what we would expect from bureaucrats? Take a lively name that means something to everyone and replace it with a dead piece of verbiage. As a name, “Freedom Tower” might be a little maudlin but it hits you in the kishkes. (If you need to ask what kishkes means then you’re not from New York.) “Tower” recalls the Twin Towers. “Freedom” is a fighting word. Nobody ever willingly died in order to defend world trade but when it comes to freedom, millions lay their lives on the line.

Freedom is a gut-check word. Not that it’s a simple concept, but freedom stirs the soul in many ways. Freedom means autonomy from foreign rule. That’s why the building and its spire will rise 1,776 feet from the ground, to recall the year in which the Thirteen Colonies declared independence. Freedom also means not being a slave or suffering from those who insist on treating you like a slave. In the American context, freedom evokes the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement; freedom recalls Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.

Freedom also means economic freedom, that is, capitalism, and the right to organize against abuses, and so, the labor movement. And freedom means both conservatism, as a movement against big government, and liberalism, a word that comes from “liber,” the Latin for free person (as in the word liberty). Freedom means Milton Friedman and Rush Limbaugh and also Lyndon Johnson and Nancy Pelosi.

Freedom Tower has all those rich associations, so why did the PA change the name of the building? The decision came in 2009, not long after the Port Authority signed a lease with Vantone, a Chinese real estate firm closely associated with the Communist Party of China. The Chinese Communists made clear what they think of freedom at the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989. The PA denies that the name change has anything to do with their tenant’s sensitivities. They say the decision was simple marketing — people like One World Trade Center better.

Oh, please! Only the post office could like 1WTC better than Freedom Tower. But I believe the PA when they say they were moved by marketing and not international relations. “Freedom Tower” evokes war; One World Trade Center evokes business. Freedom Tower recalls 9-11; One World Trade Center never heard of history. Freedom Tower evokes sacrifice; One World Trade Center evokes profit.

Their motive might be innocent greed but outcome of the PA’s effort is Orwellian. Down with citizenship, up with obedience. They may think that they are just trying to make a buck but they are really participants in the struggle for memory — and for history.

A country bares its soul by what it names its monuments. Freedom Tower is a battle flag. One World Trade Center is a Postal Code. Freedom Tower strikes the mystic chords of memory. One World Trade Center is a corporate logo.

I don’t blame the PA for opting to rebrand their building but I’m not ready to rebrand 9-11, any more than I’m ready to rebrand the Battle of Gettysburg. I’m not even ready to rebrand the Battle of Salamis. Or should we now call the Parthenon One Ancient World Trade Center?

They can call the building One World Trade Center. They can rebrand its height from a 1776 feet to 541.3 meters. They can try to delete the images of office workers holding hands and jumping to their deaths. They can rebrand Ground Zero —

It will always be Freedom Tower to me.

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