A 9/11 Divide That Unites

Two years after Sept. 11, the debate in New York City over the rebuilding of the World Trade Center seems a lot like the US debate over the war on terrorism.

Both began with the destruction of the twin towers, and both aim to reclaim the civic space, security, and opportunities Al Qaeda tried to destroy. And each debate, in its own way, pits a spirit of idealism against very practical concerns.

For New Yorkers, the design and development of new structures at ground zero must be both meaningful to a great city and a memorial to those who perished. Developer Larry Silverstein, however, must worry about pleasing potential tenants with low rents and high convenience.

In the war debate, meanwhile, the idealist camp includes those who would protect civil liberties at all costs and who cherish a universalism that embraces the United Nations, while the other camp endorses tactics that, with few allies or a bending of rules, would quickly eliminate terrorists.

Both debates focus on single leaders (Silverstein, President Bush) who generally operate in secret but must answer to public purpose. These men were forced to let the public influence their decisions, but their recent choices - such as Silverstein's altering of architect Daniel Libeskind's design and Mr. Bush's handling of postwar Iraq - have evoked public outcries worthy of a healthy democracy, one no terrorist can destroy.

And finally, both debates will come to a denouement a year from now. The cornerstone will be laid for Mr. Libeskind's 1,776-foot-tall tower (note the patriotic height), while Bush and his war policies (wrapped in patriotism) will be accepted or rejected in a presidential election.

On this second anniversary of 9/11, the civil nature of these two debates reflects the best in American society. And that's something worth honoring.

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