Ship of fools

NEW YORK — A goliath of gray, huge beyond human proportions, the USS New York sits in the Hudson River, here to be commissioned in the city that gave it its name.

This is a warship — or, more prosaically, an "amphibious transport dock" — with 7.5 tons of steel from the World Trade Center in its bow. Judging from its islandlike size, 7.5 tons is the steel equivalent of a pinch of nutmeg in a pumpkin pie. But like that pinch, it changes everything. Thanks to it, this ship is officially bequeathed with a soul: my city's.

I figured I owed it a visit.

On a morning so crisp it felt as if the sun was using a flash, a small crowd of squinting onlookers was visiting, too. A day earlier, the ship had given a 21-gun salute at the site of the Trade Center itself. I'll say this for USS New York: At least it got built. The Freedom Tower is still a construction site. It's embarrassing.

That may explain the relief some people felt upon seeing something — anything — officially commemorating our loss. "At least we have a way of memorializing it," said Larry Davis, a 24-year-old who works with children with autism.

"Its nickname is 'Never Forget,'" said an audio engineer named Scott.

"Is very special," said Bronx-born Eric Asaveda, whose first language is Spanish. "Remember the guys who die over there — innocent people. Not everything go to the garbage."

Asaveda is a grandfather now, but he was an Apache helicopter pilot in Vietnam with the Marines. His great-grandfather was a Marine, too, he said, "on that." Asaveda pointed to the Intrepid, an aircraft carrier turned into a museum. It is permanently docked on the Hudson, with the USS New York temporarily berthed beside it.

Seeing the ships together, it was hard not to compare. One helped us win World War II. The other was begun at the start of a war against ... the wrong country. Even the most ardent patriots paying their respects understood we had made a wrong turn. And battleships are hard to turn around.

"This war now over there is stupid," Asaveda said. "We have no basis (for it). Almost 2,000 soldiers have died already — more than that. Young kids." He shook his head. But he still felt glad the Trade Center would live on. "It's an honor to the innocent people who died."

"I can see where some people might be taken aback," said another visitor, Juan Faya. But he was trying to see the ship in a positive light. "It's a lasting memorial."

It is — to the people who died, but also to the leadership at that time. Leadership that didn't know what to do.

When work began on the ship — about a year after the attacks — then-New York Gov. George Pataki announced: "On Sept. 11, 2001, our nation's enemies brought their fight to New York. The USS New York will now bring the fight to our nation's enemies well into the future."

That was his whole plan: Let's fight and keep fighting, well into the future. It was the Bush administration's plan, too. And unfortunately, that's just what happened. We still are fighting.

As Swedish tourist Magnus Riemer noted, "It doesn't feel very modern to make a warship out of a building that has been bombed." In fact, it feels positively primitive: You hurt us; we'll hurt you.

A group of teachers waiting to tour the Intrepid imagined what else those 7.5 tons of sacred scrap could have made.

"Schools," said one.

"Wind turbines," said another.

"A bridge to the Statue of Liberty."

Imagine: A school in every country a World Trade Center victim came from — America reaching out in solidarity. Or wind power to cut our dependence on foreign oil. Or a symbol of liberty rather than rage.

The USS New York is a memorial to the last administration. It is fitting.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now" and "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy (lskenazy and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

Share This Story