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Sunday, September 10, 2017

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.

20 comments:

Infidel said...

Interesting points that hadn't occurred to me.

Reminded me of the people who think Climate Change is more of a threat than Islamic Terrorism. The one is a man-made threat, the other the slow-moving processes of nature, which aren't aimed at anyone in particular, and which may not even be real, but just a fictional construct.

David Swartz said...

I'll bet the islamists aren't forgetting.

alans218 said...

This is a very powerful piece of writing. One of your best!!

Anonymous said...

Excellent. Thank you for the truth...it is the day we get angry. The fight goes on.

Anonymous said...

I had always heard how moving the Vietnam Memorial was. When I went to Washington, it was just a wall. I thought it was beautifully done, just not as moving as I had expected. Far more moving to me was the Korean Memorial, with the concrete soldiers in a patrol configuration, all dressed in winter uniforms. The soldiers are rendered in detail, from the uniform to the facial expressions. I just found more there to connect with.

September 11 is still to recent to memorialize, at least for me. Too much remains to be done, and the Islamists make too many inroads in our culture. I'm not yet comfortable with the thought that outrage is far enough behind us yet. I still see too much of a chance of something like this in our future: http://www.dansimmons.com/news/message/2006_04.htm

Victoria said...

Very powerful piece, Daniel.. A voice of truth for Americans... Remember! The fight is not over yet...

D.D.Mao said...

Anonymous: Sorry you didn't find it moving. I guess you had to be there.

eagle99 said...

I still the tribute to the innocents who died that day is appropriate, but I think you bring up some very valid points and agree with alans218 in thinking this is one of your best.

mg said...

Yes, I get angry. But I get angry at the Bush administration and the Saudis who knew but did nothing to stop it. They have blood on their hands.

Stacey Gordon said...

Memories are important. I was excited to see Dunkirk had finally been brought out as a movie. That at least drags some folks who had never heard about it to learn and understand. I was immediately disappointed in the opening minute... They could not even name the enemy. This is not verbatim, but essentially the opening sequence says something like: The British and Belgian and French troops were trapped and encircled by... the enemy. Generic enemy. Generic story. It's like they just didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by mentioning Germany. As I continued watching the movie, that's all I saw.. a generic war movie, not the incredible pivotal moment in history it represented. Just another genetic movie with CGI, explosions, and tense moments the same as any other war movie but with period costume. So sad. It could have been so much more.

Brian Richard Allen said...

What a wonderful reminder of who and what we Americans are. Or is it of who we used to be? Thank you

As for what would have been an adequate memorial of that day's atrocities? Try this: https://www.thoughtco.com/trumps-world-trade-center-solution-178533

Glenn Swiatek said...

Good vs evil

It is an endless war.

Victoria said...

Excellent article and very thought provoking. I was in WDC that day. I will never forget the anger I felt at the betrayal by those who claimed to be our "allies and friends". That day we were collectively wounded as a nation, many people died, and today, 16 years later, we continue to bleed every time there is another attack on our soil. Are we resolute that we need to fight this evil ideology until it is, as you say, as decimated as the Twin Towers were? No, in these 16 years we have espoused new terms to repress free speech--politically incorrect, hate speech, insensitive terminology, Islamophobia, shaming, name-calling, even physical violence--no, we are not of one mind. On the contrary, we are more divided than ever. Isn't that the best strategy an enemy can choose to defeat us? Divide and conquer. All I have seen so far is that we waffle in our efforts, aid and abet the enemy and continue to demonstrate that we don't even understand this supremacist ideology or desire to confront it. We are willfully blinded to the fact that a war was declared upon us on September 11, 2001. Do we need another catastrophic attack to wake up? May God help us!

Stacey Gordon said...

I re-read this one every year: http://southgeek.blogspot.com/2011/01/in-memoriam.html

braintrust49 said...

For Stacey Gordon: Thanks for the link!
For Daniel Greenfield: Insightful article.

For Anonymous who wasn't moved:
For Stacey Gordon: thanks for the link.

For Mr. Greenfield: Very insightful column.

For Anonymous:
As a Vietnam vet, I finally got to the memorial in Washington, DC in 1997. Thought it would be moving, but little more than a sad walk past the polished granite. As I approached the one end and saw the wall and the people there on a sunny day, I realized I could not approach the wall and sat down on the bench to sort out my thoughts and memories. Spoke to no one and watched and listened to those who came to see the memorial. Took me a full hour to work up the emotional strength to walk the length of the wall, finally realizing the totality of the deaths of so many of men in uniform: my comrades in arms. It was more than moving; it was, like a death of a parent, a turning point in a life. It still brings tears to my eyes remembering the men on that Wall and all the lives impacted by their deaths.

JackIAm said...

It is the date and act, by which brought me about to full attention, to learn about our enemy, once and for all, especially after hearing the GRAND LIE of Bush and so many sick others about “…of peace”, which prima facae is a poor man’s lie! So within a couple years, I started first full time to begin learning, I innately knew to not go to the source, but to look at shadows cast, critics comments first. Becoming instantly insulted into massive self-contained anger, by mohammad’s attempt to have evil overtake my globe, me included, (after knowing God and Christ, through the Bible) I went full time to learning current events, images, history, who was being honest, accurate, and the evil gang’s hadiths, koran, sura, sharia. Robert Spencer’s Jihad watch, comprehensive accuracy, professionalism, dispassionately was a great source among others.

Until all people, (perhaps impossible, except through Christ) learn the difference between good and evil, it may be a long war, ultimately won by overwhelming brutality against muslims, as always, always required in every past beat down of muslims sent back to their spider holes in the sands. They, the pious mostly are mentally robbed of any saving good, through proven brainwashing techniques, and are primitives, only paying regard to overwhelming force, brutality. It just never happened in any way better than that in 1400 odd years. Truces with such nor any agreements are of no value or worth at all, as they are commanded eternally to lie and break them, always.

So the future is unknown, totally full of hope and reason to expect to conquer this latest iteration of evil, but not without paying the price of many great heroes, before. It is humanity’s way. It is our testing. So be it, we run to the sound of gunfire, and take it down, always. As our heroes in the Paris train did, and as our responders, and airborne heroes did in Shanksville 9-11, at all the battles against evil, in which we have had to engage, through our exceptional USA’s time, hero Founder’s and Tripoli onward! So it must be, good, worth doing, has no price, not worth paying. FREEDOM HAS A PRICE ALWAYS WORTH PAYING. Slaves knew that when a hundred thousand or so fought, alongside Republicans, many died, on their feet, as men, freemen heroes, in the Civil war. The rest of us shall pay no less, always. On our feet, standing as men with backbones, by any means able, never on our knees, whether Iran, NK, islam, or others, only nature and God, should we ever, and always, fear!

Lolitas brother said...

New Zealand, Christchurch, has a piece of a twisted and contorted metal beam from the Trade Centre support system. I agree with the tenor of your article. There is something missing though from the reality of the situation. That is the compelling scientific evidence for the heat explosion required, to free fall those steel beams, and the presence of thermalite. paul scott Christchurch NZ

Brian Richard Allen said...

+JackIAm said: ....

Said, what?

Clorinda said...

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

That's right. The next time Ashley Judd, Madonna, Gloria Steinem, and other assorted hysterical, potty-mouthed harridans in silly pink hats, gather to scream about how angry they are because their Uber-Witch lost the elections, I will tell them to forget. I will remind them it is better to move on. Like the protagonist of "Forgetfulness," I will advise them to learn to relate to "the enemy" (that's you and me, dearies). I will tell them not to be vengeful.

Let's see how long it takes my darling gender sisters claw my eyes out.

Brilliant, as usual, Daniel.

Anonymous said...

Superb, Daniel, mo Chara! The Irishman.

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