Choosing From the Many Lessons of Sept. 11
June 4 Choosing From the Many Lessons of Sept. 11
By PATRICIA COHEN
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
In eight years of planning a museum at the National September 11 Memorial, every step has been muddied by contention.
One of the difficult questions that the National September 11 Memorial Museum has grappled with is how to explain why a group of radical Islamists wanted to bring down the World Trade Center towers and attack the Pentagon. We asked a group of historians and educators to talk about what they thought was essential for people to understand about the history leading up to 9/11.
David Blight, a professor of American history at Yale University and an adviser to the museum, started off the discussion by urging people to take the long view and place the attacks in a larger tapestry of human experience.
What do you think is essential for people to understand about the history leading up to Sept. 11?
Mr. Blight: To concentrate only on the horror and drama of that day and the events in its immediate aftermath, while utterly compelling, does not necessarily leave us understanding anything. While mourning, people are not easily capable of seeking historical understanding, of taking a long view; 9/11 seemed so unparalleled, unique, without precedent. But is it? The methods and the overwhelming and immediate results were new. But the human impulses, as well as our own human reactions, were and are hardly new. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we desperately searched for historical analogies through which to find understanding. Was this a Pearl Harbor? An Antietam or a Fort Sumter? Was this only the beginning of an enveloping conspiracy against Western values and societies? Was this warfare of a new kind for which we had no analogies?
All the panelists agreed about the importance of understanding the historical context. But the other commentators — Anthony Gardner, whose brother died in the attacks and is on the museum’s advisory committee; Bill Braniff, executive director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) based at the University of Maryland; and Wilfred M. McClay , a professor of humanities and history at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga — took issue with Mr. Blight’s approach, particularly his insistence on a centuries-long timeline and his reluctance to single out the Sept. 11 attacks as special.
Mr. Braniff : I agree that while terrorism is a painfully human phenomenon that has analogous moments in the history of political violence, the tragic events of 9/11 were unique. They were the product of a specific and violent modern history and a group of violent individuals who rejected it, lashing out in an attempt to reorganize society according to their interpretation of a pre-modern Islamic political doctrine the world had largely left behind.
Mr. Braniff explained the particular nature and aims of Al Qaeda.
Mr. Braniff: Al Qaeda was born during a decade-long war in the 1980s, constituted largely by aggrieved citizens of failed post-colonial nations and nurtured by a confluence of specific geopolitical and ideological factors. From the resulting safe havens, Al Qaeda has endeavored to enable the violence of others and orient that violence against the West, attempting to bleed it in a war of economic, military and political attrition. According to this logic, attrition would lead to the severing of ties between the West and what they view as the illegitimate regimes of the Muslim world, allowing just governments informed directly by Islam to ascend in their place. Al Qaeda is a rational, zealous and murderous organization that has influenced other militant groups and individuals. And because of its ability to incite other locally or regionally oriented organizations and individuals through training, funding, networking and propaganda, we see Al Qaeda as a central node is a larger system of violence.
When teaching about Al Qaeda and the events of 9/11, I try to force my students to grapple with the multifaceted reality of Al Qaeda’s coexistence in a crowded landscape of actors. Many treatments of the topic look at Al Qaeda as an ideological manifestation exclusively — appearing out of the ether of religious ideas to attack and disappearing once more. Others treat Al Qaeda as if it exists in a vacuum untouched by the forces affecting the rest of us, or perhaps in a boxing ring going toe-to-toe with only the United States as an opponent. Al Qaeda can only truly be understood in a broader context.
Mr. Gardner said that in too many accounts of 9/11, the focus on Qaeda members as rational actors has been obscured.
Mr. Gardner: In most 9/11 narratives, the perpetrators — Al Qaeda operatives, plotters and financiers — are often absent. Planes crashed into buildings as if by accident, the tragedy caused by some illusive invisible evil. Following is a good example of this: The 9/11 Commission Report includes a timeline of the hijackings. Several of these hijacking timelines reference the words of the terrorist captured through radio communication, i.e. “We have some planes,” and yet each timeline lacks a few important words. Consider: “8:46:40, AA 11 crashes into 1 W.T.C. (North Tower).” Some might say this is a nuance, but there is no reference to the men who deliberately crashed those planes. A more historically accurate description might be: 8:46:40, Al Qaeda terrorists crash AA 11 into 1 W.T.C. (North Tower). Indeed, men, fueled by hatred for the Western world, flew those planes with innocent civilians onboard deliberately into buildings with innocent civilians in them. These were educated men who made choices. They were radical Islamists.
The Sept. 11 Memorial Museum begins its recounting of history with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which incited an armed resistance by Islamic fighters supported by the United States. Mr. Braniff, Mr. McClay and Mr. Gardner agreed that this date is a logical starting point. Mr. Gardner, who is also the director of a museum, spoke of his experience as executive director of the September 11th Education Trust.
Mr. Gardner: Over the years I have interacted with thousands of high school teachers who are struggling with how to teach 9/11 in the classroom. They wonder about what to say about the perpetrators. For the most part, they all report the same thing: the biggest challenge is that students want to know why this happened. Some education programs out there go as far back as the crusades to begin the conversation of religiously motivated conflicts and brutal acts through time. The scope of a timeline affects the depth of context it provides for historic events such as 9/11. A shorter timeline may lead to very different causes and conclusions than a timeline of greater scope. This raises the interesting question of when does the history of 9/11 begin. In the September 11th Education Program, the timeline begins in December 1979 with Soviet forces invading Afghanistan. Our first mention of Osama bin Laden references how he provided financial and organizational aid to the mujahedin in Afghanistan in 1980.
He and Mr. McClay followed with varying lists of terrorist threats and attacks that should be included in a historical review, including, for example, the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979; the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut; the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center; bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa instructing all Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies, civilians and military, in any country where it is possible”; the bombing of the United States Navy destroyer Cole in Aden, Yemen in 2000; and the suicide bombing less than two weeks ago by a Qaeda militant in Yemen’s capital. They emphasized how an accurate understanding of this history was essential to current policy-making.
Mr. McClay: The situation in which we find ourselves has developed through the Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and now Obama administrations. No political party escapes blame for where we are now. And the revolutionary Iranian regime that started it all back in 1979, whose apocalyptic religious vision has been shared to a greater or lesser extent by others in the loose network of Islamist militant groups, now appears on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. There seem to me to be some fairly obvious inferences to be drawn from this history.
Mr. McClay addressed what he viewed as the shortcomings of Mr. Blight’s perspective.
Mr. McClay: Mr. Blight’s willingness to constantly sift through and reconsider the past from a variety of perspectives, including those antithetical to one’s own interests and settled convictions, is admirable. But we academics have a tendency to think that all the world is, or should be, a freewheeling seminar room. And that becomes a problem when one wants to draw fruitfully upon the past to make consequential choices as a citizen or a statesman. The long view can be the wrong view when it blinds one to the demands of what is proximate.
Mr. Gardner: I agree with Mr. McClay. Because the threat of terrorist attack is ongoing, the study of events leading up to and since 9/11 provides context and has the power to save lives. We must ensure that generations that follow us do not become complacent once again. In the spring of 2001, I had a conversation with my brother Harvey about terrorism, specifically about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. That day, we stood at the base of 1 World Trade Center and looked up at the soaring tower, and concluded that the only way terrorists could take it down would be through an air strike. We quickly dismissed this as highly unlikely because no enemy would be able to get jets anywhere near the buildings. After all, our military would intercept the enemy long before they could reach the towers and by extension — us.
What my brother and I both lacked that day was an in-depth understanding of the history leading up to the 1993 bombing and a timeline of terrorist activities and threats to that very moment in time. This lack of knowledge provided a false — albeit convenient — sense of security. We never could have comprehended that less than a year later, Al Qaeda terrorists would use commercial airplanes as weapons, killing 2,977 innocent people (including Harvey), damaging the Pentagon and reducing the W.T.C. to a smoldering pile in their brutal, coordinated attack. As a nation we were stunned by the terrorists’ actions on 9/11. No Americans should ever be caught off guard again. I want people to understand the history of 9/11 is still being written, that it was a deliberate coordinated attack and it is an ongoing narrative that has an impact on all of us. If the lessons of 9/11 history are heeded, perhaps 50 years from now, when two brothers stand below (the new) 1 W.T.C. and assess their safety, they are informed by the in-depth knowledge 9/11 history provides.
Mr. Blight: I take the point that urging too much of a “long view” of the causes and immediate consequences of an event like Sept. 11 can — in its own urgent crisis — stifle necessary responses, even impede decisive military action. Yes, it is the job of leadership to provide people with a clear sense of direction. And yes, indeed, 9/11 came from a “specific and violent modern history” that forged Al Qaeda out of radical Islamism. But is 9/11 really “unique” because Al Qaeda is a “rational, zealous, and murderous organization” bent on recruiting other disgruntled, post-colonial militants from failed states to their heinous methods and ideology? This too has happened before.
I am all for understanding and teaching the very specific historical origins of 9/11 in the post-1979 Iranian-hostage world. But history never stops happening, and what the famed French historian Marc Bloch called the “idol of origins” will always, and necessarily, take us further back, back into pasts — even our own — that we often prefer to avoid. Fifty years of U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians are relevant. Why were those U.S. Marines in those barracks in the first place in Beruit? We in the West have a long history in Afghanistan well before Osama bin Laden created bases there. The U.S.-supported Contras in Nicaragua carried out terrorism in our name in the 1980s. And President Reagan called the U.S.-backed Jonas Savimbi — the rebel leader in Angola for so long and one of the worst mass murders of modern history — the “Abraham Lincoln of Angola.” Totalizing forms of war on civilians are not new to the past decades; we too practiced it on a massive scale in order to win World War II, and whether in the tales of Homer or of Shakespeare, the Trojan War was all-out slaughter of civilians in the name of “nation,” or “people,” or “cause.”
In the “Supplement” to his collection of Civil War poems, “Battle Pieces,” published in 1866, Herman Melville left this plea: “Let us pray that the terrible historic tragedy of our time may not have been enacted without instructing our whole beloved country through pity and terror.” Melville looked down deep through time at the human condition. All world-historical events should make us do the same.
Mr. McClay: I think it’s important for us to stay focused on the particular issue we’re trying to address here: What are the essential things that everyone should understand about the history leading to 9/11? Mr. Blight poses profound and thoughtful questions, but I don’t think they get to the issue at hand. He seems primarily concerned to stress two things: first, that America is not an entirely innocent nation, and second, that every war brings unspeakable horror in its wake. In short, he wants to stress that America is not an exceptional nation — not in its virtuousness and not in its suffering. There is something to be said for both contentions, particularly the latter, but they do not seem to me to be the most helpful or important points to be made in this context. Hence Mr. Gardner’s passionate rebuke seems to me entirely warranted, and is a useful warning about the dangers of attempting an Olympian posture with respect to these still-vivid events.
Mr. Blight asks, “Why were those Marines in Beirut in the first place?” The short answer is that they were there as part of a multinational peacekeeping force, also including French, British and Italian troops, which had been brought in to stabilize the Lebanese government and society after many years of devastating civil war. The peacekeeping force enjoyed some success, but eventually became a target for the various factions in the civil war, and after the calamitous barracks bombings, President Reagan chose to withdraw the Marines and leave Lebanon to its factions. It is a complicated history with complicated lessons, but one extremely relevant point emerges from it all. Osama bin Laden told John Miller of ABC News in a 1998 interview that "the decline of American power and the weakness of the American soldier”/// — whom he dismissed as “paper tigers” — had been “proven in Beirut in 1983, when the Marines fled." In other words, the Beirut bombing, and the passive American response to it, played a key role in emboldening bin Laden to undertake the audacious 9/11 assault.
And, as much as I admire the beautiful and oft-quoted words of Melville with which Mr. Blight concludes, I do not think they should be read out of context. Earlier in that same “Supplement,” Melville insists that “we should remember that emancipation was accomplished not by deliberate legislation,” and that “only through agonized violence could so mighty a result be effected.” Yes, it would have been far better had a civil war over the issue of slavery never been necessary. It should always be the goal of statesmen to prevent wars or minimize their effects. And yet I doubt that Mr. Blight would contend that the American Civil War should not have been fought, or that it was fought in vain, or even that the ruthless but decisive tactics of General Sherman were unacceptable. For all of its horrors and atrocities, war is sometimes the least unacceptable alternative on offer. That fact, too, is part of the dark moral complexity of the human condition, a complexity from which none of us is exempt.
Mr. Blight: Mr. McClay misses the point of my use of Melville, even as he too appreciates complexity. If by “instruction” from “tragedy” we mean that the only lesson to be learned is to know thy enemy and kill him first, we would have a good clarion call for war-fighting. But what will we have learned as a civilization or as human beings? And of course some wars are worth fighting. What Melville meant was that even emancipation, the cause that might redeem the blood, itself came through pity and terror. The best lessons learned from history are not those that confirm what we want to hear, or think we already know; they are those that expand us, deepen our awareness, make us look way back in time to see ourselves anew.
Mr. Gardner challenged Mr. Blight’s assertion that “while mourning, people are not easily capable of seeking historical understanding, of taking a long view.”
Mr. Gardner: As Mr. Blight suggests, concentrating on the horror of that day and the events in the immediate aftermath alone does not lead to understanding causes. But there is a supposition in Mr. Blight’s statement that grief took away our ability to be historically cognizant. Ironically, those with the most direct experience of 9/11 (families, survivors and rescue workers) became its first historians, struggling with redevelopment officials to ensure generations that followed would have a tangible connection to 9/11. Despite our best efforts, the National September 11th Memorial at the World Trade Center lacks context. In the years since Sept. 11, 2001, I have been an advocate for the preservation of artifacts (like the structural foundations, or footprints, of the towers at bedrock) and the return to the plaza of the large “Sphere” designed by Fritz Koenig that originally stood between the two towers. I have also pushed for 9/11 education because I want the generations that follow us to learn from this event (including its pre- and post- history). The stories from that day and its aftermath have the power to inspire.
Mr. McClay underscored that a review of the history leading up to 9/11 should include America’s intelligence failures.
Mr. McClay: Related to these matters is another essential and practical point that I think can be drawn from the lead-up to 9/11 and about which there should be broad consensus: we need far better and more reliable sources of intelligence than we had then. The 9/11 Commission Report was clear and emphatic in making that point, and the situation has not changed in that regard. Better, more trustworthy, less politicized intelligence could have changed a great deal about the history of the last decade and a half. We will need it even more in the years ahead, to know when to act and when not to act.
Mr. Braniff took issue with Mr. McClay’s disparaging characterization of America’s intelligence capabilities.
Mr. Braniff: The call for better intelligence is understandable but may set unrealistic expectations for the capacity of intelligence to predict the future and may also discount the intelligence successes since 9/11. The decision to fund anti-Soviet militancy in Afghanistan was a well-informed national security decision made through the cold-war lens, just not a prescient one. In terms of post 9/11 intelligence, according to data and analysis through 2010 from the START Consortium, the United States ranked higher on the list of most-frequently attacked nations before 9/11 (No. 10) than after 9/11 (No. 21).
The data also demonstrates a similar decline in the percentage of attacks globally: from 3.03 percent of terrorism incidents globally before 9/11 to 0.57 percent after 9/11. One of the many possible explanations for this decline is that the counterterrorism community disrupted, deterred or interdicted plots more successfully in the post 9/11 world. It is always worthy to strive for better and more forward-looking intelligence, but the efficacy of intelligence is notoriously hard to determine and even the best intelligence cannot obviate all risk.
He also pointed out that despite the tremendous loss of life on 9/11, the primary victims of Al Qaeda’s terrorism have been Muslims, adding that the organization has also failed in achieving its political aims.
Mr. Braniff: What actually has often been overlooked until more recently is Al Qaeda’s failure to limit the violence it inspires to the non-Muslim world. While 9/11 was intended to bait the West and serve as a rallying cry for anti-Western violence, the legacy of 9/11 includes horrific internecine violence within portions of the Muslim world itself. Our data pins only 0.3 percent of the terrorist attacks in the world on Al Qaeda and its associated movement from 1998 to 2008, but these attacks were responsible for 5.4 percent of terrorism fatalities over the decade.
The lethality of Al Qaeda-inspired violence belies the organization’s political failures — increasing levels of ideological rejection in opinion polls in the Muslim world and violent rejection by citizens in active jihadist fronts such as Iraq and Somalia. Al Qaeda’s violent brand of anti-Western Islamism failed to take root, catalyzing Muslim-on-Muslim violence instead. The Arab Spring and its aftermath illuminates Al Qaeda’s political failures further; while Al Qaeda intends to overthrow the nation-state system, the Arab Street sought representative government within the nation-state system. Today, Islamist parties rejected by Al Qaeda for operating within that same nation-state system are capitalizing on the revolutionary moment.
Mr. Blight, who took on the task of starting off the forum, was given a final opportunity to respond to the other participants’ comments.
Mr. Blight: I appreciate very much Mr. Braniff’s broadening of the contexts in which we should understand Al Qaeda. As the enemy we have been fighting for 10 years, it is crucial to know that it has spawned larger patterns of violence across the world, and that we are not its only targets. I also honor Mr. Gardner’s eloquent voice as a family survivor, a witness, and a passionate teacher about 9/11. He may have, indeed, been one among the mourners who could step up and lead efforts for education and awareness of just who attacked us that day and why.
But most people do not have Mr. Gardner’s passion, time and devotion, and most prefer historical narratives kept simple, reassuring and triumphal. They want their sense of heritage confirmed, and not disoriented or obliterated, as 9/11 did at first. Merely fulfilling such popular emotions and desires (which I know are not Mr. Gardner’s goals) is hardly the job of historians and educators. Mr. McClay’s suggestion, therefore, that “the long view can be the wrong view when it blinds one to the demands of the proximate,” while perhaps a good prescription for fashioning a history that serves a current war effort, is hardly the way to educate the public up to larger understandings — especially in museums and classrooms.
Of course, all the world is not our “seminar room.” Would, though, that a little longer view of history may have emerged in the National Security Council’s war room when the president made the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. If what we wish to provide is a useful history for current policy makers about to decide matters of war and peace, then by all means offer options, buttressed with a short view. But if our goal as historians and educators is to expand the knowledge and imagination of the public and our students, then let us please offer the long-form essay at least, rather ideological sound bites.
Dan CahillSanta Ana, CA
If they emulate the museum in OKC, people will leave feeling like they had just lived through the event. Breathless, bereaving, and silent out of respect for all those who suffered & died...and for the historical significance 9/11 played in our lives. I commend Ms. Greenwald and the committee for their efforts to show respect for the victims & their families, without skewing it's historical significance and accuracy as a one of America's most significant battlefield mueums.
June 2, 2012 at 1:50 p.m.RECOMMENDED24
MarthaNew York, NY
I went to the memorial with two friends, one of whom is from Boston. It is a beautiful memorial, and the entire site is both upsetting and inspiring. Right now, with the surrounding buildings not yet completed and the rather beautiful structure that is the museum not yet open, it's possible to think about how difficult it is to make all of these decisions, yet people have to make decisions or nothing happens. I am impressed by what the Memorial has become, but told my out-of-town friend of the many arguments that could never be entirely resolved. The same thing, I think, will hold true for the museum. So many of us have a personal stake in the success of this breathtaking endeavor, but we have to trust that the planners are trying as hard as possible to make good decisions. That's all we have a right to ask -- and that's a lot, judging from the responses of those who have had to sift through all the "human remains."
I entirely respect what Ms. Greenwald and the curators and the staff and the advisors are trying to do. And I am so grateful to all of them for their serious effort to spare pain to the families. However, in the end, visitors oughtn't to go to the museum for comfort. That is the function of the Memorial. Visitors should go to the museum for edification. It was a horrible event, an event that had context. It's our choice to re-visit history or not.
June 2, 2012 at 1:57 p.m.RECOMMENDED41
When did we become a country so paralyzed by incessant arguing that we can never get anything done anymore? We used to be a country that decided to do something (build giant buildings, bridges, a spaceship to the moon, etc...) and simply did, despite naysayers who said it could/should not be done. Now it seems we cannot rebuild a simple skyscraper with a museum at its base. The new tower(s) should have been done by now (it should also have been the world's tallest, but 1776 feet is an interesting idea) and this constant delay simply reminds the world that a small group of criminals can and did cripple the world's most powerful nation. If you think about it, the United States' decline began with 9/11 because we panicked, spent all of our money on pointless wars, and gave up our core values in the name of safety and petty vengeance.
I understand the sensitivities of those affected by the horrific crime perpetrated on 9/11, but let's not allow the events of that one terrifying day make us forget that we used to be a nation that got things done and stood up for the greater good. We can be that nation again if we simply decided, collectively, to put our differences aside in order to build a better future. Let us not let fear,sadness, and anger destroy us.
June 2, 2012 at 2:14 p.m.RECOMMENDED110
The disinclination to include a full description of the perpetrator's motivations and reasoning is a testament to a continuing national denial to face up to, and undermine, the root causes of terrorism.
Was it American support for Israel? American bases in Saudi Arabia? Western Culture? Sanctions against Iraq? American support for Arab dictators? Hatred of American freedoms? Or pure psychopathy, devoid of even a modicum of reasoning? Is there such a thing as a wholly irrational, inexplicable monster?
If their reasoning is wholly fallacious, why not allow it to stand and fall on it's own, insane feet, like Kaczynski, McVeigh, or Hitler? If there is even the slightest basis in reality, should we not at least reflect on the root motivations behind their psychopathy?
I am 25: Will America spend the rest of my life at war with a metastasizing malignancy, at unfathomable cost? Can we bomb our way out of this conflict, if each dead terrorist has two take his place? Can America bear this cost? Or do we need to face up to the causes of the insanity, and address them on their own terms?
How can we learn from history, and ensure it does not repeat itself, if we do not engage with the causes of this tragedy, but only the effects?
June 2, 2012 at 2:28 p.m.RECOMMENDED120
KevinNew York, NY
"The museum was in a unique position to draw perhaps the most detailed and nuanced portrait of the men, but that was precisely the problem. Officials were wary of being seen as trying to do too much to humanize murderers. "
But this is precisely what is essential to understanding why this happened and in preventing such things from reoccurring. That is also the obvious intention of museums such as the Holocaust Museum. We must get beyond the simplistic notions of good and evil and examine the human factors that drive human behavior. I think we've all had enough of the jingoistic appeal of this tragedy, not to mention the marketability of that jingoistic appeal. It's time we all looked hard into the uncolored truth behind the histrionics (and that truth must include all the horrifying reality) and begin to understand what hit us. We must finally understand that 9/11 was not a great day for America. I had hoped that this was the intention of the museum.
June 2, 2012 at 2:58 p.m.RECOMMENDED49
Allen BraunUpstate NY
Memorials are not only about remembering the dead innocents but a reminder of the path to tragedy.
You cannot make a museum about Sept. 11 without reference to the terrorists and the climate that led to the events of that day.
Shielding anyone from the whole truth is a dis-service to all visitors and diminishes the deaths of the victims in the airplanes, the towers and the Pentagon.
June 2, 2012 at 3:26 p.m.RECOMMENDED31
KevinNew York, NY
What is the purpose of a museum if not to present historical fact in greatest clarity? A museum that considers the 'message' visitors will receive is an institution that seeks to manipulate the minds of its visitors, and therefore the truths themselves. The role of a museum is not to control visitor perceptions. It is to present all the evidence and history behind an event, thereby allowing the visitor to freely form their own perceptions. America is not a brand. It does not need to protect itself from any truth. Omissions or softening of the facts oppress the truth, and therefore the people. It is a fact that the flawed policies of United States government had a role in motivating these attacks. That does not excuse the attackers or make them less diabolical, but one of the lessons this museum should be teaching is a lesson in cause and effect. Without that, this is no museum. It's just another attempt at political damage control.
June 2, 2012 at 3:26 p.m.RECOMMENDED52
The museum not only belongs to the families of the survivors but to the world and future generations. Therefore the entire story must be told. The photographs of the perpetrators and victims must be displayed so we may understand what some people are capable of and at what cost.
June 2, 2012 at 3:53 p.m.RECOMMENDED32
Museums, office buildings, designer waterfalls and other extraneous structures just don't belong on Ground Zero. Period. It should have been reserved as a memorial park, for people to visit and contemplate, eat their bag lunches, watch their children play, listen to the planes overhead and remember. That's it. Instead, it's become a happening, a tourist destination complete with souvenir keychains. So sad, so expensive, and so unnecessary.
June 2, 2012 at 4:30 p.m.RECOMMENDED38
tx momHouston, TX
I was taken aback to read how many locals want victims' family members to "get over it." Please try to remember that these folks are not a monolithic group. Our family lost someone that day. I will never step foot in this museum after the bullying my sister endured at the hands of the curators. They pretty much decided for all the families how their loved ones will be memorialized. Opting out (please let us move on!) was not an option as the museum would create a life history for them without you if you didn't share materials yourself.
I think it is too soon for a museum. The Holocaust Museum is a tour de force. And it was created a generation after the events. This is too soon. Too raw. Just a memorial would be the right thing.
June 2, 2012 at 7:01 p.m.RECOMMENDED18
Thomas MeehanToms River NJ
As a parent and father who lost his daughter, Colleen Meehan Barkow,,in ten years I have not received, been told of, or heard of any communications from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum staff ,trauma psychologists, museum ethics experts, clergy, in regard to the placement of the remains, and seeking my input.
What Mr. Dainels and Ms. Greenwlad have failed to answer is
"Who Owns The Dead? Mr. Dainiels or Ms. Greenwald, do not own the dead, neither does New York, nor he Medical Examiner, or the Mayor.
None of these persons have the permission or the authority to dispose of the remains of any victims. PERIOD That is a sole right belonging to the next of kin. To deny even a single family from having a part in the decision making is to take away that right. It is unconceivable that the Museum Staff were not able to accomplish the task of affording ALL the families a way to render a response on how the remains were to be reposed.
The error lies in that to forge a concept that blurs the line between what exists as a museum, and what constitutes a memorial is directly in opposition to those who believed that the victims remains deserved a sacred (holy) place separate and distinct from the museum.
For how will a society be judged that does not preserve the memories of those we called heroes for future generations in a sacred and consecrated manner and place.
I and my family remain grateful for all of the good things that have been accomplised.
June 3, 2012 at 9:41 a.m.RECOMMENDED5
charles rotmilportland maine
being a holocaust survivor I have also struggled with memorials from Washington to Auschwitz. Nothing will seem right at this point. Memorials are for the living not the dead. When I walked over the same dust on the paths in Birkenau, nothing could be mores sacred then that dust. The pond which is now a memorial, was used to dump the ashes of the victims. Most of all silence permeates the grounds. It speaks volumes.
June 3, 2012 at 11:36 a.m.RECOMMENDED9
paula shatskypasadena, california
I was moved by the comments made by the 25 year old angst ridden subscriber. The question: "Why can't we as a nation cope with horror and disaster the way we have throughout the history of the republic?" As I read those words, they stirred my feelings, compelling me to make a contribution.
We havebecome a nation of insulated children, seemingly incapable of the heroism of the police, firefighters, and family members. Why can't we tolerate truth? Why is it constantly boiled down to pablum? Is this what we want to impart to the next generation?
At age 26, I went, alone to Dachau.I am a Jewish Atheist who felt compelled to face the horror my predessors endured. It was a day that I remember with crystal clear clarity. It changed my entire perception of the meaning of human existence.
This museum and the Oklahoma City Memorial, are the only tangible links for current and future generations, to experience what life is really about. Life isn't just emails, twitters, and having an iPad. If we deferr to the understandable requests to sanitize this, we are doomed as a society and culture to being incapable of reflecting sustainability to the rest of the world.
June 3, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.RECOMMENDED11
AesklepiosUS Virgin Islands
I can only speak for myself. As an ex-New Yorker who left in 2000, I couldn't even read this article without hyperventilating and squeezing my eyes shut to try to block out memories. I hope the Memorial Museum will be informative for those who need reminding, but I doubt that I shall ever enter it. It will be enough for me to sit by the waterfalls and grieve.
June 3, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.RECOMMENDED3
The events of 9/11 were a profound tragedy, but the relentless beatification of everything related to that day (i.e. designations such as Ground Zero, hallowed ground, sacred steel), etc., has become ridiculously hyperbolic. I understand the survivors and families want the terrible events of that day to never be forgotten, but the constant rehashing of 9/11 events and the publicity-seeking victimization of 9/11 families is getting tiresome; for many of us it has been tiresome for several years. On the tenth anniversary of the attacks, I intentionally avoided watching television, listening to the radio, or using the internet because I didn't want to hear or read the incessant coverage of the 9/11 attacks.
All of us have lost loved ones at some time or another; I have lost friends and family members to auto accidents, homicide, suicide, house fires, illness, and natural causes. Death is never easy to deal with, but it is something we all have to face eventually. Would your loved ones would want you to spend the rest of your lives playing the martyr, or would they want you to continue living, and devote your efforts to helping the people who are still suffering from the impact of 9/11 such as the surviving first responders who are experiencing health problems? Bickering over what should be built on the WTC site is distasteful, unseemly, and shameful. My late father used to tell me that you can't help the dead, but there is plenty to be done to help the living.