The history of judicious arson is a long one, stretching from the Great Fire of Rome in 64CE to post-war Manhattan. Some historians maintain that Emperor Nero hired arsonists to set the fire that destroyed huge portions of the old city of Rome whether for his own amusement or to build a new palace, makes little difference. Its net result was to renew a decrepit city, which was then rebuilt with wider streets, nobler buildings and less flammable public housing, creating the eternal city of the Rome, in turn inspiring the civic architecture of our own great cities, Washington, Pittsburgh, Albany, Ithaca, the list goes on. Can we not claim then: Nero’s arson was justified? Yes.
Similarly in the 60s and 70s, arson was how huge areas of rotting housing in the Bronx, Brooklyn and the Upper West Side were demolished, making way for renovated brownstones and town-houses, vest-pocket parks, wrought-iron street lighting, wine-stores and apparel outlets, the whole glorious wave of gentrification that washed over our great city in the 80s and 90s, cleansing and renewing it. Insurance compensated landlords impoverished by over-regulation and misguided urban policy. Firefighters became strong, nimble and smart from the physical and mental regimen of responding to 30 or 40 calls a night, ushering in a world-class NYFD which would give us so many mighty heroes during the dark days of 9/11. So can we not also claim that for post-war New York - more than any ill-conceived ‘projects’ or ‘apartments’ named for jazz musicians – arson was urban renewal? Yes, again.
This great edifice too and all it contains, brought low by forces beyond its control and often, comprehension, must be destroyed as swiftly and savagely as were Rome and the West 70s – by that swiftest and most savage of elements, fire. Arson is not merely justified, given the decayed state of our great newspaper, it is mandatory. Only through conflagration can a phoenix newspaper rise from its ashes. Whoever may have set the first flame did nothing more remarkable than the farmer of old who torched his harvested fields that they might yield greater and richer crops when the time for harvest came again. I must go now as my desk is beginning to smolder.