The Decline and Fall of the American Empire
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1. Twin Towers
Two years from now the staffs of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker will move into the most haunted building in the world. There, the elite of American celebrity photographers, gossip columnists, and magazine journalists may meet some macabre new muses.
Aloft in the upper stories of 1 World Trade Center (where Condé Nast publishing has signed the biggest lease), they will gaze out their windows at that ghostly void, just a few yards away, where 658 doomed employees of Cantor Fitzgerald were sitting at their desks at 8:46 AM, September 11, 2001.
Not to worry: The “Freedom Tower” -- the boosters reassure us -- will be an enduring consolation to the families of 9/11’s martyrs as well as an icon of civic and national renaissance. Not to mention its dramatic resurrection of property values in the neighborhood. (I confess that I find this conflation of real-estate speculation with sublime memorial unnerving: like proposing to build a yacht marina over the sunken Arizona or a Katrina theme park in the Lower Ninth Ward.)
One World Trade Center, in the original design, was also meant to restore vertical architectural supremacy to Manhattan and to be the tallest building in the world. This global phallic rivalry was won instead by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa super-tower, completed last year and twice as high as the Empire State Building.
In a few years Dubai, however, will have to surrender the gold cup to Saudi Arabia and the bin Laden family
Financed by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who revels in being known as the “Arabian Warren Buffet,” the planned Kingdom Tower in Jeddah -- the ultimate hyperbole for Saudi despotism -- will pierce the clouds along the Red Sea coastline at an incredible altitude of one full kilometer (3,281 feet).
One World Trade Center, on the other hand, will max out at 1,776 feet above the Hudson. (Conspiracy theorists can obsess over this coincidence: the number of feet higher the Saudi Arabian tower will be than the American one almost exactly equals the number of people who died in the North Tower of the WTC in 2001.)
With little publicity, the initial billion-dollar contract for the Jeddah spire was awarded by Prince Al-Waleed to the Arab world’s mega-builders and skyscraper experts -- the Binladen Group. It may keep their family name alive for centuries to come.
Ten years ago, lower Manhattan became the Sarajevo of the War on Terrorism. Although conscience recoils against making any moral equation between the assassination of a single Archduke and his wife on June 28, 1914, and the slaughter of almost 3,000 New Yorkers, the analogy otherwise is eerily apt.
In both cases, a small network of peripheral but well-connected conspirators, ennobled in their own eyes by the bitter grievances of their region, attacked a major symbol of the responsible empire. The outrages were deliberately aimed to detonate larger, cataclysmic conflicts, and in this respect, were successful beyond the darkest imagining of the plotters.
However, the magnitudes of the resulting geopolitical explosions were not simple functions of the notoriety of the acts themselves. For example, in Europe between 1890 and 1940, more than two dozen heads of state were assassinated, including the kings of Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, an empress of Austria, three Spanish prime ministers, two presidents of France, and so on. But apart from the murder of Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, none of these events instigated a war.