Eight Years Later: Why Is There Still A Hole at Ground Zero?

Do you remember where you were during our generation’s defining hour? When the towers fell and the Pentagon was ablaze, our nation took pause. Now eight years later, it seems that we are still standing still, frozen in time, and as a country, still waiting for the healing to begin.

On September 11, 2001, I stood on the pile of burning rubble at the south end of Manhattan with thousands of other Americans who did what we could to make a difference. Firefighters, doctors, soldiers, cops, steelworkers, and nurses--we all came together to serve our country in a time of exceptional need. I will never forget the demonstrations of courage and the expressions of sorrow, the sight of the bodies and the smell of the smoke. And I will never forget the bold promises of our leaders, uttered loudly before the smoke cleared.

They stood on the pile with bullhorns, they issued press releases, and spoke at benefit concerts. We heard politicians from every corner of America swear: "Never Again! We'll make them pay! The terrorists won't win! We will rebuild!"

Eight years later, that hasn't happened. And we should all be embarrassed as a nation for one simple reason more than all the others--there is still a mammoth, gaping hole at Ground Zero.

Bureaucratic gridlock, partisan bickering, old-fashioned greed and failed leadership have all been blended together perfectly in one big pot to create a colossal, historic stew of inaction. And that stew has given the terrorists a score that not only have we failed to avenge, but we have failed to fully recover from. The wounds of 9/11 are not healed, the statement has not been made, and the country seems to have forgotten about the recovery of Ground Zero altogether.

This year, we'll get the standard, annual photo ops, bold promises and tough talk. Rudy Giuliani will be celebrated, and plastered on every TV network in America. Emotional remembrance videos will run on a loop all weekend long. But then what?  We’ll be left with no monument, no building, and no attention. No one in Washington seems to give a second thought to the south end of Manhattan anymore. Unless of course, it will help them bolster their position on the health care debate.

New York is the city I love most in the world. As I detailed in Chasing Ghosts, I lost friends on 9/11. I recovered remains from the rubble at Ground Zero. I, along with almost two million other troops, were sent to war because of what happened there. And I am sick and tired of walking and driving by it and seeing a stalled construction site. Too many lives were lost that day, and too little attention has been given to memorializing them.

So today, I call on President Obama to pledge to all those that died, all those that served, and all those that remember, that Ground Zero will be re-built by the end of your first term. Blow through the logjam, bring the divided interests together, craft a plan, flex some muscle, and start moving forward briskly. If you want to unite the country as President, this is a perfect place to start. If we can put a man on the moon, create the Internet, and fight two wars simultaneously, I am sure that America can mobilize all its political will, ingenuity and resources to rebuild one of the most important pieces of real estate in the world. And it can start with new leadership under your watch. You can't shake up Washington, if you can't even rebuild Ground Zero.

On September 11, 2001, millions of young Americans like me promised to take a bullet for this country. Eight years later, the least our country can do is make a promise to rebuild a few sacred acres of it.

Crossposted at www.IAVA.org

Note: Tonight, I will join former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke and The Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher to discuss the eighth anniversary of the attacks and the current U.S. mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tune in to HBO at 10 p.m. EST to watch.