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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Memorials of Grief

It was around the time of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, that memorials stopped being remembrances of virtue, and became therapy sessions. The old statues of determined men gave way to empty spaces to represent loss. Their lessons of courage and sacrifice, were replaced by architecture as therapy session, clean geometrical shapes, reflective pools and open areas in which to feel grief at what was lost and then let go of it.

September 11 memorials have inevitably followed this same pattern, empty spaces, still pools of water groves and names tastefully inscribed in row after row. How do you tell the Ground Zero memorial from the Oklahoma City memorial? The Oklahoma City memorial has one reflecting pool and the September 11 memorial has two pools.

There is no larger meaning to these memorials and there isn't supposed to be one. A hundred years from now they will be nothing more than giant pools surrounded by trees with nothing to say.  These new memorials are not about teaching us to remember... but about helping us to forget.

To find a memorial that actually in some way addresses what happened on September 11. you would have to leave New York to go across the river to New Jersey where the much maligned Teardrop hanging between a torn tower at least represents something concrete, even if it is more grief and pain. Unlike the useless winged shapes of the Staten Island Memorial and the Pentagon Memorial, it at least acknowledges that something terrible happened here and transforms into a symbolic image.

But the abstract symbolism is still the problem. There's an American eagle overlooking the Battery Park World War II memorial a few blocks from Ground Zero, but to find an American eagle on a memorial to the attacks you have to travel 30 miles across the river to Allendale, New Jersey.

The official September 11 memorial has sustainable architecture, but Dumont, NJ with a per capita income of 26,000 dollars managed to acquire and place one of the steel beams from the World Trade Center as their memorial.

The closest to a traditional memorial that tells you what actually happened and why it matters, as opposed to handing you a three acre handkerchief of empty spaces and waterfalls, is across the street from the monstrosity of emptiness. Just turn your back to it, cross Liberty Street and walk up to Firehouse Ten where the FDNY Memorial Wall depicts the events of the day in bronze. You may have to dodge some trucks and search for it underneath the scaffolding, but it's there.

That's more than can be said for the identity of the attackers which is invariably absent, except as a crescent that pops up ominously in memorial design after design, entirely by accident of course. But the memorials are not about history, they exist only to allow us to release our grief and move on by expressing life-affirming sentiments in response to this "tragedy" through community service that helps others.

From cries for revenge to serving soup to the homeless at a community kitchen-- that is the intended trajectory. If it hasn't worked as well as intended, as shown by the people who gathered to loudly celebrate Osama bin Laden's death, instead of sighing at the cycle of violence, this is the long game.

The Pew polls show a steady growth in the number those who believe that American wrongdoing led to the attacks-- from a third after the attacks, to 43 percent today. Give the enemy another decade to do its work and those numbers will be in the sixties. And their game is simple enough, remove the actual history and the images of the massacres-- and replace it with an emphasis on foreign policy. Mix in news stories about Islamophobia, stir the pot a little and you're done.

Numbers like that are why Obama was able to win and why Ron Paul is polling better than ever. When revisionist history becomes mainstream, then people will accept anything so long as it sounds good. So long as it lets them forget.

Alongside the usual Noam Chomsky 9-11 essay collections and conspiracy theory books on display on Amazon and at every bookstore; those who want purely fictional history can get pick up a copy of Amy Waldman's The Submission about a 'secular' Muslim architect's 9/11 memorial and the bigotry he experiences from the right-wing.

Or if they want to dig through the remainders bin, there's John Updike's next to last novel, Terrorist, an overwritten teen novel by one of America's most famous literary authors, who shares his protagonist's hatred for the country. "They can't ask for a more sympathetic and, in a way, more loving portrait of a terrorist," Updike said of his book. 'They' being the literary critics, not the Taliban who don't need to rely on the author of 'Rabbit Run' for that sort of thing.

Finally there's 'Forgetfulness' by Ward Just, whose title encompasses the literary goal of the left in the story of a man who loses his wife to terrorists but avoids the "climate of revenge" and the "anger of the sort that swept all before it... the anger of the American . . . after September 11". Instead he learns to relate to the men who murdered his wife.

Forgetfulness is the underlying theme of everything. Stop being angry. Stop being vengeful. Forget!

It is the commandment that echoes from the empty spaces and the revisionist histories, the slabs of events gouged out and dumped as landfill in Staten Island or sold off in bulk to China. The endless degradation of memory turned into a national ritual. A way to test ourselves to see how much better we feel about it-- how much more we accept what happened on that day as being in the past.

Drown history in enough reflecting pools and it stops mattering. Put up enough empty benches and people will remember to forget. Tell them that they're courageous for moving on and they'll admire themselves for putting it all behind them. And if they won't forget, then fill them with grief until they can't take it anymore and willingly forget.

But by all means avoid outrage, keep messy emotions like anger out of the way. Anger is not part of the healing process, which begins with an empty bench and ends with a visit to a mosque to reconcile with your killers. It retards the process, it says, "Hey wait, we're not done here yet!" It says, "These bastards are still walking around here plotting to kill us." It says, "They're building a mosque right here to look down on your reflecting pools." And all that is most unhelpful.

Let's take a brief detour from all the forgetting and travel up Broadway some eighty or so blocks to Central Park. There at the entrance to the park stands the Maine Monument to the hundreds of dead in the destruction of the USS Maine. There are no reflecting pools or geometrical shapes here. Instead there is a warrior, the figure of justice and the representation of the dying avenged by Columbia Triumphant, standing atop, cast in bronze out of the guns of the lost ship.

The New York Times, being what it always was, sniffed at it as a "cheap disfigurement" and the history of the war has since been revised to American jingoism and the sinking of the Maine is invariably described as an accident. If this goes on, we will no doubt live to see experts promoting the theory that it wasn't the suicide attacks that killed thousands of Americans on September 11, but the flaws of the buildings.

Yet the Maine Memorial is still there towering above them all. In bold text so different from the carefully selected fonts of modern memorials it proclaims unashamedly; "The Freemen Who Died in the War with Spain that Others Might be Free." And of the men who died on the Maine it declaims: "Valiant Seamen who Perished on the Maine by Fate Unwarned, in Death Unafraid."

There are mourning figures on the memorial and there is grief and pain, but it takes place in the context of a larger struggle. The struggle against those who committed the crime and the triumph of a nation against those who would attack it.

It is inconceivable that anything so bold and proud would ever go up at Ground Zero. The culture that represented virtues through the figures of men and women has given way to one that represents abstract feelings in geometrical shapes and reflecting pools. It is why we have no new buildings like the Empire State Building, and why we won't even be able to replace the stark geometry of the WTC with anything but smaller 'green' buildings which exist as a calculated show of ugliness and a rejection of human aspiration.

On the way back from Central Park, stop by the Bank of America Tower, the second tallest building in New York, the most ecologically friendly tall building in the world constructed by Obama's BOA pals. And I defy you to spend more than a minute looking at it and then describe it. It isn't just ugly, it's forgettable. Your eyes move past it even as they look at it. Its peak is a deliberate mockery of symmetry and order.

Then pass by the New York Times Building, the fourth tallest building in the city, in hock to Mexican-Arab billionaire Carlos Slim, built through eminent domain land seizures with money from the Lower Manhattan Development Fund, even though it's firmly in midtown.  Then repeat the same exercise with this glorified apartment building. Again you come away with nothing, because nothing is there.

Finally after you pass by the Bloomberg Tower, even more devoid of personality, the jumbled twin towers of Time Warner Center opposite the Maine Memorial, and the rest of them all, return to the site of the former Twin Towers, and look up at the Woolworth Building, once the tallest building in the city. It hasn't been for a long time, but yet it is. It stands as a monument to human endeavors. And that is what makes it human.

Let us consider what memorials are for and what skyscrapers are for. Are they meant to be empty spaces or are they ways of reminding us who we are?

We don't need more holes in the ground, more places to feel empty and alone. What we need are things to aspire to. The World Trade Center's towers were not targets of convenience, no more than the Saudi and Emirati skyscraper building spree is. Towers are symbols of achievement. They are guardians of the skyline who remind us of what we can accomplish.

The terrorists and the memorialmakers have a common purpose-- to make us forget what we are capable of. To drown us in our own pain and grief, to make us drink of the Lethe waters of reflecting pools until we forget who we are. The terrorists and the memorials have done their best to break us. But it is not in grief that we must remember the day. Grief is for the foregone conclusion. But though thousands upon thousands are lost-- we are not yet lost. And the war is not over.

The holes in the ground are not symbols of grief, or empty places in our hearts, they are open wounds inflicted on us by our enemies. Filling them with water will not change that, only anesthetize the pain of a fatal injury. To forget that is to sink into a mirage and die in delirium that we are recovering.

The attacks of September 11 are not a time for reflection, or personal remembrance, but a sharp reminder that we are bleeding. And we can only bleed for so long before we die. There are worse things out there than four hijacked planes used as missiles. There are actual missiles and suitcase nukes, nerve gas, toxins and whatever else can be dredged out of laboratories by Western trained researchers.

And even worse than these is the endless struggle, the constant waiting for another attack, the security measures meant to keep us safe while imprisoning us in our own security, the waiting for the day when an attack succeeds. The day we die.

September 11 is not the day we cry, it is the day we get angry. It is the day we remember who our killers were, how many have been lost, and how little has been done to bring down the ideology responsible as completely as they brought the towers down. It is the day we remember not to forget. It is the day we remember that the war has just begun and that until it ends, there can be no comfort or solace. The fight goes on.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

A stunning piece of writing.

Bosch Fawstin said...

Powerful stuff, Daniel, thank you.

Lisa G said...

Perfect. I have less eloquently been saying these same things, now I can quote this or hand it out. The entire decade since 9/11 has showcased just how far our country, as represented by the "leaders" in charge of the entire area and rebuilding, has morphed into soft, petty, apologetic claw-gnawing beakless bantam roosters - still have the urge to strut and flap wings and shake their wattle but without much of anything to back it up. New towers should have been up within a few years, bolder and bigger; no bucolic scene that from overhead looks like two giant shower drains with a wedge of brie inbetween and arugula garnish.

Lemon said...

Cain replaces Abel, Esav replaces Jacob.
Their PR folks are busy with implementing it.

Anonymous said...

I am a new fan and now a studied reader of your insightful articles. Simply, thank you for your eloquence... I will share these...

mindRider said...

A, from the psychological aspect seen, extremely interesting and deeply difficult article you wrote here Sultan, measuring the depth and direction of feeling by the shape of the memorial. Here the names of the killed engraved in stone and the flowing water as a steady stream of tears. In the Washington memorial engraved names open to the touch and caress but in neither any heroic warrior statues calling out for revenge. Styles and interpretations change, I remember a huge marble monstrosity on the fields of Verdun while a block further on a wall a simple marble plaque, a corner chipped, which was inscribed with words truly touching the essence of senseless death: "Depuis tu a fermé tes jeux mon fils, les miennes ont pas cessée de pleurer" (Since you closed your eyes my child mine have not stopped crying) having on me at least more impact than all those battle ready marble soldiers. Memorials are to remember the dead not to remember those who killed them.

Dave Waxman said...

I'm not much of a one for appreciating memorials, but your article caused me to remember the last time I visited Yad Vashem, some years ago. One of the memorials there consists of a valley surrounded by walls in which are engraved in intaglio (counter relief) the names of 5,000 European Jewish communities which were destroyed in the war. It spoke to me of what was and then was not. Simple in a way, and very subtle, but I still remember the feeling.

Edward Cline said...

It was symptomatic of America’s decline from a proud nation able to go to war and get things done to a grieving one that lets a strength-sapping, moral ulcer grow when President Reagan did nothing (or not much except to order a few shots from the New Jersey) about the murder of 220 Marines, 18 Navy men, and three Army soldiers in Lebanon in October 1983 by Iran-backed suicide bombers. Fifty-eight French paratroopers also died in a separate attack that day. We know what has happened to France since then: its accelerated Islamazation. Mayor Bloomberg of New York and President Obama are acting to ensure it also happens here, as well.

A nation that believes that feeling sorry for itself is a supreme virtue is not one that is going to eliminate states that support terrorism, that is, going on the offensive and destroying its enemies root and branch.

For a fictive 10-year retrospective on what might and ought to have happened after 9/11/2001 – keeping in mind Aristotle’s observation that while history can teach us what happened, art or fiction shows us what might and ought to have been – I invite readers here to peruse my column on Rule of Reason, “Our Post 9/11 World.” This column will also appear on Family Security Matters, and has been translated into Hebrew and French. I have lost track of the number of other blog sites that have reprinted it. http://ruleofreason.blogspot.com/

Also, here is the announcement of a new book on why the World Trade Center was never rebuilt. I wrote the foreword to it. http://www.klaatupublishing.com .

Honor and remember the dead, yes. But do something about it that matters. Victimhood is not an inexhaustible state to remain in. It can only ensure that we remain victims – and conquered.

scoutxlt said...

Yes.... The FIGHT Goes on, and it is not with an "unnamed" adversary as so many of the power brokers would have us believe.... it is with Radical islam, the intended caliphate that will never be as long as FREE MEN Exercise their Right to resist the islamization of America and Europe. Resist we must or the entire Culture of Western Civilization will be brought low by these thugs from the desert and the mad men who would have us on our knees.

Zilla/MJ said...

I have never stopped being angry about what those mohamadeen bastards did to us, and I will NEVER forget.
Great post, Daniel, thank you so much for saying what needs to be said and saying it so very damned well. Bless you.

DP111 said...

I remember the white hot anger on 9/11, not just Americans, but of all Westerners. In England, the anger was palpable. We have our differences, but we are united when attacked. The nation was waiting to go to war.

It was obvious that 9/11 was a Pearl Harbour event, and Islamic nations would pay a price that would bring them all down. After Pearl Harbour not only did we defeat Japan and Germany, with no quarter given, but went on to crush and obliterate the ideologies that drove them. The result is a decent and democratic Germany and Japan, never again to return to their self-destructive ideologies.

The response after 9/11 has been weak and self-defeating. The result is that Islam is empowered worldwide, and more so in America. What else can one expect when the immediate response of Pres Bush after 9/11 was to visit a mosque and proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace?

Keli Ata said...

Never forget. Never forgive.


BTW: This is a beautifully written and eloquent article:)


My heart and prayers do go out to everyone who was actually there and saw, heard, smelled the smoke and dust.

Anonymous said...

So how do you explain the NBC documentary with the children of the murdered Americans making victims out of the muslims even forgetting to tell the listeners who the perpetrators of this terorrism were. A pure lecture in Islamic propaganda to remember the 3000 murdered Americans. Appaling!

Anonymous said...

Here is my complaint about your columns: The font is too small! Am I overlooking a way to increase its size? The words are good, but hard to read.

Edgar Davidson said...

What is impressive about this article is that it explains the entire 'progessive' strategy in response to 9/11. I had never thought of it in this way, yet when explained like this it makes perfect sense. The concen I have is that the progessive strategy has worked brilliantly. Watching the 9/11 documentaries in the UK this week would leave an alien believing that it was some kind of a natural disaster in which the primary victims were Muslims. if the response to Pearl Harbour had been the same (namely a declaration of 'war against terror' followed by years of appeasement and funding of Japan and Nazi ideology) then indeed America would have been a Japanese colony by 1945, and Europe would still be under Nazi rule.

Mark Matis said...

For Anonymous on 9/09/2011:

Go to your browsers "View", "Zoom", and "Zoom In". That works on Firefox and Internet Explorer. I expect that Safari, Chrome, and others have similar options.

cornholio said...

Frontline had a report attributing 9-11 to "religion" as in "religion flew airplanes in the WTC". A classic example of Islamonazi Kitman in action, where lying isn't employed but rather half-truths.

Always On Watch said...

Those of us who remain angry about 9/11 are branded as "ugly fringe."

So be it.

I do believe that Americans are angrier than they let on. Political correctness is squelching the very emotion but not completely so.

Anonymous said...

MindRider - Perhaps it's no one or the other. We don't remember the dead in a vacuum. Died of old age. Died in an accident. Died in a war. Died in a terrorist attack. It's not all the same. And when we remember those who have passed, it's also vitally important in some situations to make damn sure we remember how it was they came to die. We mourn their loss AND we remember how and why they died.

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