Posts about memorial

The true 9/11 memorial

I just read a most wonderful story in The New York Times by Dan Barry about a mother who finally had the courage to look through the laptop owned by her daughter, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. I’m sorry that it is behind the TimesSelect wall but nevermind that. In that laptop, Ann Nelson’s mother found an unfinished list of the 100 things she wanted to accomplish. Barry writes:

36. Learn about wine.

Ann was supposed to attend a wine class the evening of Sept. 11….

After 36, there is a 37, but it is blank.

Mr. Nelson reads the list as an inventory of his daughter’s values. “You don’t see any Corvettes in the garage or any of those material things you might expect from someone that age,” he says. “She recognized that you appreciate a few things and kind of live your life wisely.”

Reading this made me wish that on the fifth anniversary of that day, The Times would return to some of the families who spoke in its Portraits of Grief series and book to see where they are today, to remind us of the individual lives lost, the innocents and heroes of that day. That is the best memorial I can imagine.

That is a more important memorial than the $1 billion it would take to build a huge monument in stone and water at the site of death. It’s not about the place. It’s about the people.

Build that. Here.

I’m staying a few blocks from The Alamo. I don’t see any International Freedom Center there. I don’t see exhibitions devoted to the rest of the world’s problems. I don’t see a Why Mexicans Hate Us Pavillion. I see a big monument to independence and the memory of the men who lost their lives defending it.

Remember the World Trade Center.

Do not build that. Not there.

The NY Daily News exposes another questionable angle on the International Freedom Center that is still insisting it should be part of the memorial at the World Trade Center. The News says the IFC had…

…”drawn inspiration” and received “important practical advice” from the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience.

Now before we get to the advice this coalition has given, let’s make this clear: What we build at the World Trade Center is not a “musuem of conscience.”

If you want to build museums of conscience regarding terrorism, go franchise them in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and Pakistan and all over the Middle East.

What we build at the World Trade Center should be a memorial.

This coalition joins museums at places where evil was concocted and executed: apartheid, the Holocaust, gulags.

The evil of 9/11 was not concocted at the World Trade Center. Innocents died there that day because of an evil born elsewhere.

That is why it is so inappropriate to turn the place into a why-they-hate-us pavillion, to import political debate about unrelated ills: about slavery or concentration camps.

The World Trade Center is the place where 3,000 heroes and innocents died and the role of a memorial is to remember them and tell their story.

Further, if you go to to the coalition’s site, they do not list terrorism — only “state terrorism” — as a “contemporary human rights issues.”

So I don’t know why the IFC is seeking not only advice from but also inviting exhibits and debates from this coalition.

Now here’s some of the advice that coalition is giving to the IFC:

“Don’t feature America first,” the IFC has been advised by the consortium of 14 “museums of conscience” that quietly has been consulting with the Freedom Center for the past two years over plans for the hallowed site. “Think internationally, where America is one of the many nations of the world.” …

“No one in the civilized world would ever defend what happened on 9/11,” said Sarwar Ali, the coalition’s chairman and a trustee of the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh.

“But what happened after 9/11 – with restrictions placed on human rights and the cycle of revenge and the allegations of human rights abuses in prisons – must also be explored,” Ali said in a call from London.

Coalition members gathered for their annual conference at a Holocaust site in the Czech Republic in July 2004 – and assailed the United States for “reasserting its power in an arrogant way,” the conference report shows.

Among its suggestions for the place where the United States was attacked and nearly 3,000 innocents massacred: “The Freedom Center must signal its openness to contrary ideas.”

Philip Kunhardt, the Freedom Center’s editorial director, was in attendance at a session called Bringing Conscience to Ground Zero and was given this advice:

* “Help distinguish between American people and the U.S. government in exhibits …”

* “Use reports from human rights organizations to examine contemporary abuse of rights.”

* “Involve the United Nations, UNESCO and other international bodies.”

* “Use the museum as a venue for international meetings, where all views are welcomed and considered.”

At the conference, the coalition also leveled barbs at the IFC: “The Freedom Center is a caricature of the typical American response to everything [telling every story from an American viewpoint].”

Members of the coalition also expressed these concerns:

* “It seems that whatever Americans want, Americans get!” the conference report states. “Is the definition of the ‘struggle for freedom’ simply defined by the victors, or also by those engaged in ongoing struggles? Will Americans really create a balanced vision of freedom?”

* “The WTC was attacked because it was a symbol of power and influence. In building the Freedom Tower, the U.S. reasserts its power in an arrogant way: Does this mean the U.S. will not only build the biggest building, but also define freedom for the world?”

* “Many nonsecular Muslims may be very skeptical about the intent of this museum (e.g. the average Bangladeshi condemns the Sept. 11 attacks, yet at the same time feels his/her human rights have been violated by the U.S.).”

Kunhardt, an ordained Episcopal minister and the writer of the PBS series “Freedom: A History of Us,” mostly listened. He agreed with some things that were said, disagreeing with others, an observer said. He didn’t return calls.

The News also editorializes against this offensive insanity.

I’ve been saying that the IFC should be built, just not at the World Trade Center. And if someone wants to build this thing, they should build it. But judging by the company they keep, I can’t say that I’ll ever see any good reason to go there.

The Lower Manhattan Develoment Association is waiting until Sept. 23 to decide the fate of the IFC at Ground Zero. I agree with Take Back The Memorial: We must not wait until then. To have this hanging over the memorial events on the fourth anniversary of the tragedy would be an insult to the memory of those who died that day.

Do not build it. Not there.

Now New York’s Uniformed Firefighters Association has pulled its support for the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation.

In a letter dated July 27, 2005, the union cited its objection to the foundation’s support for the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center to be located at the final resting place of many of the rescue workers and victims of the attacks.

“We must never forget that 343 firefighters perished during the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11,” said Steve Cassidy, UFA President. “Currently, our membership and our 9-11 families believe that the memorial design will take away from the memory and sacrifice of the firefighters who bravely gave their lives during the most horrific terrorist attacks our country has had to face.”

This is a damned shame. If the IFC had self-respect — if, indeed, it were not trying to force its agenda onto this hallowed ground — then it it would withdraw from this site and allow it to be a memorial and it would find another site anywhere in New York for its debates. If the LMDC, Pataki, and Bloomberg had any courage, they would make it so. It was a mistake to invite political debate to be part of the memorial and it is an equal mistake to then try to curtail — to censor — that debate. And it is a final mistake to try to put the families in the position of censor by making them the bad guys when this was not their error.

But, instead, they and The New York Times editorial page try to … what’s a slightly lighter word than demonize? blame? hide behind? … the 9/11 families and Debra Burlingame. The paper said:

Mr. Pataki has not been able to force the founders of the Freedom Center to back out, but he has managed to talk the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which includes several staunch defenders of the center, into establishing a new six-week process for approving its plans.

There is nothing wrong with asking the Freedom Center to provide more detail about how it intends to govern itself and what programs it intends to create.

Well, actually, there is. If you have to ask the IFC not to be offensive and to prove it, then you’re censoring them before the fact; you’re trying to get them to define politically correct for you. If they were not at this place, you’d never think of asking them that. That is the issue Pataki, Bloomberg, and the LMDC didn’t think through when they invited a debate society to a funeral. The Times continues:

And everyone presumes that a center so close to the memorial for the victims of 9/11 will be sensitive to its location. But this new appraisal of the center’s plans may mean little more than subjecting them, essentially, to the veto of Debra Burlingame, the family member who began the Take Back the Memorial movement.

Stop. Debra and the families did not ask to be in the position of censor, for that position never should have existed and would not exist if New York’s leaders had thought about what they were doing.

Right after Debra exposed what was happening here in her Wall Street Journal op-ed, I spoke with her and we agreed that she and the families should not want to edit the site or the committee but instead should just remind officials that the memorial should be a memorial, and urge that the debate should happen elsewhere. That has been their constant stand. So The Times’ characterization of Debra and the families — and the position the LMDC and The Times try to put them in — is most unfair. The paper continues:

But neither Ms. Burlingame nor her followers can be allowed to dictate the future of the entire area. That has a place in the heart of the nation as a whole, and its use must reflect not only the nation’s spirit, but its commitment to its basic principles.

And neither should the odd member of the IFC or Bloomberg or The Times.

Do not build it. Not there.

On Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show this morning, guest host Marty Goldenson and guests talked about the 9/11 tapes and then the 9/11 memorial, recounting the controversy about putting the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center there and then limiting — censoring — what they could say. I felt compelled to call in and said that though I don’t speak for the 9/11 families, I am with them here and wanted to make it clear that no one is saying these centers should not be built — but they should not be built there. Pataki, Bloomberg, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. bought themselves this peck of trouble when they decided that this is a place for political debate. It is not. It is a place for a memorial.

It so happens that this weekend, I exchanged email with Debra Burlingame, who has led familes on this, trying to maintain the memorial as the memorial. We both talked about how hard — but necessary — it was to hear the just-released 9/11 tapes. My comments here (nevermind the troll’s comments). Debra wrote:

The recent release of thousands of pages of FDNY survivor transcripts and audio recordings of radio transmissions bring the reality of that day back. I have to steel myself to listen to the audio. I only read three of the transcripts before I had to stop. They are very tough to read. These people struggled so hard to stay alive, to help others get out. And they struggled in the dark, choking and bleeding, to find their way to safety and light. How can anyone read these accounts and still think their stories should be hidden underground, in the dark–for all eternity–at Ground Zero?

We continue to believe that the story of 9/11 will inspire people from all over the world. We believe that the a 9/11 museum which shows this simple contrast–between the destruction wrought by religious fanaticism and the saving grace of brotherly love–will win more “hearts and minds” than any grandiose symposia put on by politicians, activists and academics at an International Freedom Center.

Well said.

My latest post on the IFC here.