Saturday, November 6, 2010

American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center By William Langewiesche

Although it is almost impossible to read, write or talk about 9/11 without getting emotional, I think author William Langewiesche does a commendable job in American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center. Essentially, American Ground is about how the debris from the 9/11 tragedy was dealt with. It’s is also an interesting homage to the people that took an intensely delicate and horrible mess apart and took it away, with dignity.

Langewiesche, almost by accident, was the only journalist given unrestricted access to what was called “The Pile” (the collapsed buildings). Other than the well-executed flying of the planes into the twin-towers, there was little about the disaster or cleanup that happened according to any plan or procedure. There are no procedures for how you deal with commercial airliners flying into 110-story buildings full of people, or how to clean up the resulting destruction.

What Langewiesche portrays in this book is sort of like Nietzsche’s observation, "Out of chaos comes order." The organization that emerged from nowhere, with no authority, to run the rescue and a cleanup effort is a testament to the human spirit. It is amazing what we can do when we have to. There was so little organization in the whole clean-up of the destruction that it was a astonishing that it got done at all – much less as safely and fluidly as reported by Langewiesche. Click on Read More Below...

(Author William Langewiesche)
Although American Ground is primarily about the cleanup of the 9/11disaster site, it is really about people (as with any good story). Langewiesche writes about the rescue workers who found no one to rescue; the families who struggled with the knowledge that the remains of their loved ones were being scooped up with the debris during the cleanup; the construction guys who had to make the decisions about what to do with debris populated by human remains; the heated conflicts between the fire and police departments and the cleanup crews; and the volunteers who traveled from afar to sit in a tent all day and hand out sandwiches. As you can imagine, it was all highly charged. And although Langewiesche has been attacked for showing bias, this book felt to me like objective journalism.

I learned a lot about the 9/11 disaster I’d never heard or read about before, and I learned a lot about disaster cleanup, and how people react, good and bad, to horror. American Ground is the most informative and least emotionally difficult story about 9/11 that I’ve read so far, and it is told with amazing elegance.

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