"Remove your belt!"
I'm passing through the crowded security checkpoint at the new 9/11 Memorial on the site of the World Trade Center ruins in lower Manhattan and I realize this goon in a blue shirt that says "SECURITY" is yelling at me.
He is also poking some kind of a wand into the tray holding my camera and cellphone, knocking them around a bit before they pass through the magnetometer.
"Be careful with that stick you're banging my camera with," I tell him.
"Remove your belt," he repeats loudly, in a tone that not even the rudest TSA screener would dare to use at an airport. He glares at me in a way that says, "If this was Guatemala, you'd be on the ground right now, pal."
Welcome to the 9/11 Memorial where, given the absurd degree of pointless security that abounds, the terrorists have clearly won.
There is not a sign, and barely a reminder, of the courage and fortitude shown by New Yorkers on that terrible day as those huge buildings crumbled and all of those people died at the hands of religious-fanatic murderers who were determined to bring this great city to its knees.
No, there is just the security, the fear that is so obviously on display, now that the actual threat is gone.
You need to go online and arrange a pass and a time to visit the memorial site, which is dominated by two giant sunken pools with waterfalls cascading into the pits where the Twin Towers each once stood.
I know that ground well, because I worked for years at the Wall Street Journal, pre-Murdoch, when Dow Jones was based at the World Financial Center across the street from the World Trade Center. When I go there today, I see not those holes in the ground, so tastefully designed to eradicate all memory of the offense of the horror, but the vast and unspeakable emptiness in the air. All of that mass, gone, and yet I still feel it there.
The security, I am deeply saddened to say, spoils any sense of reflection or reverence at the site. Instead, the fear is everywhere, in the humorless faces of all those rent-a-cops, all those real cops, all on guard. All that law-enforcement presence, and for what?
I wanted to tell the hump who ordered me around at the metal detector, Listen, Skippy, you are aware, are you not, that this place has already been blown up? That there is nothing left to destroy? That the threat to American freedoms is from the likes of you in your quasi-military blue uniform and your Guatemala militia manners? The terrorists have moved on. There is no opportunity at this place now.
The New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly, has given interviews about the security at this site and come up with little more than an expressed concern that some people might be so overwhelmed with grief that they might feel the impulse to jump into one of those reflecting pools. I am not kidding.
"People might commit suicide," Kelly said in one interview. "We're concerned about the possibility of somebody jumping in. This is what we're paid to think about."
It does not matter, because common sense has died, that anyone with a desire to end it all can merely cross the street, stroll a block west, and hop a low railing right into the churning Hudson River.
No, we have a memorial at the World Trade Center site, the site of such courage and resolve when the enemy was real, and the memorial is to fear. And to the growing security state. And in a very sad way, it is a pathetic tribute to the murderers who sought on 9/11 to make that hideous statement about the vulnerability of America.
I'd post a photo or two of the site that I took yesterday but I cannot. As I left the security area, I turned around to snap a picture, and one of the glowering rent-a-cops blocked my exit.
"You can't take a picture. You have to delete it," he ordered me.
I insisted that he call an actual police officer, and two responded. Yes, they agreed, I would have to delete the picture.
I wasn't sure how to do that, so the rent-a-cop took my camera and did it for me. Deleted all. And then dropped the camera, which no longer functioned properly.
This, of course, would be an illegal act in America. But not here, I guess. Not at this tasteful memorial to fear, where the security state rules.