Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Stealing Ground Zero

Debra Burlingame's brother Charles was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which was hijacked by jihadist murderers and crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. She currently sits on the board of directors of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation. In a piece from the June 7th Wall Street Journal, Ms. Burlingame warns that "Ground Zero has been stolen, right from under our noses." Instead of telling the story of 9/11 in all its heroism and horror, the memorial will drown it in a sea of political correctness and moral relativism:

On Memorial Day weekend, three Marines from the 24th Expeditionary Unit who had been wounded in Iraq were joined by 300 other service members for a wreath-laying ceremony at the empty pit of Ground Zero. The broken pieces of the Twin Towers have long ago been cleared away. There are no faded flags or hand-painted signs of national unity, no simple tokens of remembrance. So why do they come? What do they hope to see?

The World Trade Center Memorial will break ground this year. When those Marines return in 2010, the year it is scheduled to open, no doubt they will expect to see the artifacts that bring those memories to life. They'll want a vantage point that allows them to take in the sheer scope of the destruction, to see the footage and the photographs and hear the personal stories of unbearable heartbreak and unimaginable courage. They will want the memorial to take them back to who they were on that brutal September morning.

Instead, they will get a memorial that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the yearning to return to that day. Rather than a respectful tribute to our individual and collective loss, they will get a slanted history lesson, a didactic lecture on the meaning of liberty in a post-9/11 world. They will be served up a heaping foreign policy discussion over the greater meaning of Abu Ghraib and what it portends for the country and the rest of the world.

Rest assured that the "Abu Ghraib" exhibit won't be about the amputations and mass executions that occurred there under Saddam Hussein.

The World Trade Center Memorial Cultural Complex will be an imposing edifice wedged in the place where the Twin Towers once stood. It will serve as the primary "gateway" to the underground area where the names of the lost are chiseled into concrete. The organizers of its principal tenant, the International Freedom Center (IFC), have stated that they intend to take us on "a journey through the history of freedom"--but do not be fooled into thinking that their idea of freedom is the same as that of those Marines. To the IFC's organizers, it is not only history's triumphs that illuminate, but also its failures. The public will have come to see 9/11 but will be given a high-tech, multimedia tutorial about man's inhumanity to man, from Native American genocide to the lynchings and cross-burnings of the Jim Crow South, from the Third Reich's Final Solution to the Soviet gulags and beyond. This is a history all should know and learn, but dispensing it over the ashes of Ground Zero is like creating a Museum of Tolerance over the sunken graves of the USS Arizona.

The public will be confused at first, and then feel hoodwinked and betrayed. Where, they will ask, do we go to see the September 11 Memorial? The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation will have erected a building whose only connection to September 11 is a strained, intellectual one. While the IFC is getting 300,000 square feet of space to teach us how to think about liberty, the actual Memorial Center on the opposite corner of the site will get a meager 50,000 square feet to exhibit its 9/11 artifacts, all out of sight and underground. Most of the cherished objects which were salvaged from Ground Zero in those first traumatic months will never return to the site. There is simply no room. But the International Freedom Center will have ample space to present us with exhibits about Chinese dissidents and Chilean refugees. These are important subjects, but for somewhere--anywhere--else, not the site of the worst attack on American soil in the history of the republic.

More disturbing, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is handing over millions of federal dollars and the keys to that building to some of the very same people who consider the post-9/11 provisions of the Patriot Act more dangerous than the terrorists that they were enacted to apprehend--people whose inflammatory claims of a deliberate torture policy at Guantanamo Bay are undermining this country's efforts to foster freedom elsewhere in the world.

In museum exhibits, context is everything. What is and is not included, and how the overall exhibit is tied together thematically, are the key factors. In this case, the atrocities of 9/11 will be removed from their specific historical context and simply used as just another example of human cruelty, no different than the Spanish Inquisition or slavery. No doubt the "gulag" at Guantanamo will also be included. The IFC exhibit will not be about how a jihadist terror organization murdered nearly 3,000 Americans in the bloodiest one day attack ever on the United States. Instead, it will be a politically correct monument to the evils of human intolerance, in which Osama bin Laden is considered no different than Lynndie England, and America no better than Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Ironically, the WTC Memorial will more than likely serve the purpose of helping delegitimize the War on Islamist Terror that started in earnest on 9/11.

As Ms. Burlingame correctly argues, the focus of the WTC Memorial should be completely on the events of September 11th, letting visitors draw their own conclusions:

The so-called lessons of September 11 should not be force-fed by ideologues hoping to use the memorial site as nothing more than a powerful visual aid to promote their agenda. Instead of exhibits and symposiums about Internationalism and Global Policy we should hear the story of the courageous young firefighter whose body, cut in half, was found with his legs entwined around the body of a woman. Recovery personnel concluded that because of their positions, the young firefighter was carrying her.

The people who visit Ground Zero in five years will come because they want to pay their respects at the place where heroes died. They will come because they want to remember what they saw that day, because they want a personal connection, to touch the place that touched them, the place that rallied the nation and changed their lives forever. I would wager that, if given a choice, they would rather walk through that dusty hangar at JFK Airport where 1,000 World Trade Center artifacts are stored than be herded through the International Freedom Center's multi-million-dollar insult.

It is inconceivable to me that this nation could have fallen so low as to memorialize the victims of 9/11 with a museum that is an exercise in phony moral equivalence and national self-flagellation. Those who perished at the hands of al Qaeda, and their families, deserve far better.


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