Sunday, September 24, 2006

If we stop memorializing 9/11, then the terrorists will have won!

Memorial excess erupted once again, this time in Arizona:

Inscriptions etched into Arizona’s Sept. 11 monument — meant to inspire and capture the horror of the terrorist attacks — sparked the beginnings of a political blog battle this week.

The monument was unveiled at Phoenix’s Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza near the state Capitol on the fifth anniversary of the attacks.

A timeline and record of key events and quotes are etched onto a giant angled ring reflected by sunlight in what designers said was intended to capture how Arizona and the nation responded to the attacks, and to remember the strong emotions.

But this week, blog visitors have said they’re shocked at some of the inscriptions, which they describe as political statements against the Bush administration and its war on terror.

One inscription states, “You don’t win battles of terrorism with more battles.” Another: “Congress questions why CIA and FBI didn’t prevent attacks.” And another reads, “Erroneous US air strike kills 46 Uruzgan civilians,” referring to a wedding reportedly hit by mistake in Afghanistan.

“It’s a worldview that is critical of America, and in many cases cheapens 9/11,” said Greg Patterson, a lobbyist and consultant who operates the EspressoPundit blog, where he and his readers have been critical of the memorial. “It is bent on attacking the Bush administration’s take on the war, at the expense of the memory of 9/11.”

Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he was stunned to learn of the inscriptions. “To politicize it to me is absolutely outrageous, instead of a memorial to remember those who have sacrificed their lives,” he said.

Tempe resident Donna Bird, whose husband Gary was killed in the attack, was among the 30-member Arizona 9/11 Memorial Commission created by former Gov. Jane Hull in 2002.

She said all the inscriptions were found factual by an Arizona State University history professor. She added that she wouldn’t have helped design the memorial, which names her husband, if it were political.


First of all, why does Arizona need its own 9/11 memorial? This is part of a trend that I find very annoying, and you see it both in state and local government as well in local news coverage. From the news perspective, it takes the form of news stories that highlight the local connection to seemingly every national or international story of interest. What local people were there, what are the reactions of them or their relatives at home, how do local people feel about the story, yada yada.

From the government perspective it takes the form of memorials, special proclamations and official days of recognition or remembrance, yada yada. I don't know if it is motivated more by a desire to grab the spotlight by politicians eager to be re-elected, or by a fear that if they don't take any action they will be viewed as insensitive, or both. But it has gone too far. And as the story shows, these events provide opportunities for political activists to hijack them to promote their own message.

The kicker has to be the quote I highlighted regarding the point that the fact-checker was a history professer at the state university. We all know how scrupulously honest tenured history professors at state universities are. Why, if they weren't, we all know that they can be sacked in a flash, right? But in the context of some of the inscriptions fact-checking really doesn't apply, because they are value statements and not facts. Like "You don’t win battles of terrorism with more battles." The statement doesn't make sense. Is the battle against terrorism? What does "battles of terrorism" mean? I think the statement implies that if we engage in a battle with terrorists, then we are terrorists as well.

I say that all future memorials should take the form of a bronze equestrian statue of some anonymous general in a local park. Just keep using the same statue for every new war or disaster. The state can make a bulk order for 100 statues and then warehouse them until they are needed. In 50 years noone will remember the war or the real persons inolved anyhow. People will just say "I'll meet you by the old dead guy on the horse in the park" like they do now .

13 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The bulk statue idea was pretty much what was followed after the Civil War.

Little Green Footballs had the story, and a more than usually paranoid comment that an aerial view of the Arizona site somewhat resembled a crescent.

My sense is that the various memorials proposed for 9/11 seem inadequate or trivial because they are commemorating an emotion that is not deeply felt.

Waving the bloody shirt certainly is no guarantee of winning an election nowadays, is it?

Part of it is that America is too big, too powerful. The attack on New York was truly, relatively a pinprick. Most of us have not been more than inconvenienced.

Query: What, if any, memorials erected in the past 50 years do you find moving?

I find two, one a memorial, the other a class of them.

The first is the Marine Corps memorial, which I have never had a chance really to visit, though I have driven past it a couple of times.

The other is the list of veterans killed in action in my county and similar memorials I have seen in other rural counties and small towns.

Places that do not have resources to set up marble slabs or giant buildings, just a public place -- in Maui County, the wall outside the municipal gym -- with a list.

And when you see all those names from such a small place, it hits you -- hits me, anyhow -- harder than a big, showy pillar, of which the Anzac Memorial (which I have seen only in photographs) is a notable example.

This year, Maui County finally opened its memorial to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the other American-Japanese vets of World War II. A long time coming, especially when you consider those guys have run the local and state government since 1954.

At first it was going to be a monument. But then it turned into a children's center. The old boys had a long time to think that one through and came to a touching result.

September 24, 2006 10:47 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Two thoughts:

The first is that there are limits to our ability to summon up or command reverence. Memorials for dead soldiers touch almost everyone because they speak to lives consciously risked and sacrificed to protect us. The modern penchant for memorials to victims of terrorism, poverty, abuse, breast cancer, etc. etc. are in the end just reminding us that sh-t happens. We already have memorials to these people. They are called graves.

The second is that the memorial itself may make a difference. The modern taste for marble slabs and the abstract may make solemnity more difficult. In Ottawa there is a large war memorial downtown that dates from WW1 and is a statue of a real soldier with a huge angel on his soldier. It's actually very kitschy, but nothing happens there except the annual moving service on Remembrance day. Four hundred yards away is a 1970's memorial to the victims of the struggle for human rights that, as I recall, was actually put up as a competitor by the left. It consists of three huge cement slabs with "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" on them. Not a day goes by that some aggrieved group or another isn't walking all over the base, draping them with home made slogans and chanting about this or that outrage.

September 25, 2006 6:27 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

The modern penchant for memorials to victims of terrorism, poverty, abuse, breast cancer, etc. etc. are in the end just reminding us that sh-t happens. We already have memorials to these people. They are called graves.

That's brilliant, Peter. If the opportunity arises in conversation, I will definitely pass it off as my own.

September 25, 2006 7:00 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

There is one sort of memorial that does tap a deep emotion, and that is the historical monument to crimes, or perceived crimes.

The skulls in Cambodia, for example, though I don't know much about that.

But consider the 'memorial' of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian. That one certainly was deeply emotionally felt.

For the curators, the emotion was hatred of the U.S. and dismay (or worse) about the atomic bomb.

Recall that the context of that 'memorial' was that those memorialized were Japanese. Their victims were unrepresented.

That called out an equally emotional response from the fans of the bombing.

In 'Soldier Slaves' by James Parkinson, I find this description of the Capas National Shrine at Camp O'Donnell, Philippines, where Japanese soldiers murdered tens of thousands of Filipino and
American soldiers for sport.

'At the center of the Capas National Shrine stands a one-hundred-foot obelisk molded in the form, curiously, of a bullet. Divided into three sections, this towering structure serves as a memorial to the nationalities that once inhabited O'Donnell: Filipinos, Americans and Japanese. A plaque at the bottom of the bullet states that the memorial is ecumenical and nonjudgmental to preserve harmony "in this era of global peace."

'After I read the inscription I turned away in disgust, appalled that there could be any acknowledgment, let alone tribute, to the Japanese at a place where they violated so many basic rules of morality. Erecting a memorial to the Nazis at Auschwitz would be no less objectionable.'

September 25, 2006 10:04 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

What Brit said.

September 25, 2006 1:39 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Thank you, Skipper. I confess I've been biding my time for a thread something like this to engage you in a debate on a far-removed issue by analogy. I'm not sure this is it, but I will give a hint to tantalize you. Might not your oft-repeated, famous thundering question: "Tell me how gay marriage can affect your marriage!" (first order evidence only, s.v.p.) be responded to by the following question in reply:

Why are you, as a proud military man, uneasy about all these memorials to non-military deaths? Why not give out the Congressional Medal of Honor to all brave people from all walks of life? How can recognizing them in the same manner be said to undermine the bravery and accomplishments of the fallen of the US Armed Forces?

Harry:

Let's keep going here because I am struggling. You make some great points. I'm going to throw out the idea that most folks will take memorials solemnly to the extent they represent actual soldiers and victims and are not back-handed ways to promote causes. The Filipino memorial you talked about is obviously a tranzi political statement and I assume most Filipinos know that well. The problem, though, is that focussing on individual deaths is eactly what the left tried to do after 9/11 with no small success, because it was too early to challenge the politics of the response.

I assume you would be moved by a small Alabamian town's memorial to their lost sons in the Civil War, but not to a shrine to the Confederate cause. The memorial in Ottawa I talked about remembers individual dead soldiers, not a glorious victory over German militarism. But what do we do when that kind of general, non-specific reverence is used by people in the name of the tragedy of all war to thwart an appropriately robust response ?

September 25, 2006 4:16 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Thank you, Skipper. I confess I've been biding my time for a thread something like this to engage you in a debate on a far-removed issue by analogy. I'm not sure this is it, but I will give a hint to tantalize you. Might not your oft-repeated, famous thundering question: "Tell me how gay marriage can affect your marriage!" (first order evidence only, s.v.p.) be responded to by the following question in reply:

Why are you, as a proud military man, uneasy about all these memorials to non-military deaths? Why not give out the Congressional Medal of Honor to all brave people from all walks of life? How can recognizing them in the same manner be said to undermine the bravery and accomplishments of the fallen of the US Armed Forces?

Harry:

Let's keep going here because I am struggling. You make some great points. I'm going to throw out the idea that most folks will take memorials solemnly to the extent they represent actual soldiers and victims and are not back-handed ways to promote causes. The Filipino memorial you talked about is obviously a tranzi political statement and I assume most Filipinos know that well. The problem, though, is that focussing on individual deaths is eactly what the left tried to do after 9/11 with no small success, because it was too early to challenge the politics of the response.

I assume you would be moved by a small Alabamian town's memorial to their lost sons in the Civil War, but not to a shrine to the Confederate cause. The memorial in Ottawa I talked about remembers individual dead soldiers, not a glorious victory over German militarism. But what do we do when that kind of general, non-specific reverence is used by people in the name of the tragedy of all war to thwart an appropriately robust response ?

September 25, 2006 4:17 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, far be it from me to tell other people how to grieve, but I have my suspicions about the self-centeredness of strangers who rush to pile teddy bears at the site of a murder/house fire/bad wreck.

(Aside: unrelated to this post, we were talking in the newsroom yesterday about teenage drinking. We lose 'em in threes and fours every graduation weekend, and the teddy bears, balloons and T-shirts pile up. One of the reporters was marveling that at a particularly bad wreck site (3 dead drunk teens), the memorial consisted, in part, of cans of beer.)

You're right about the Confederate dead. And even, despite my great contempt for the Japanese, I bridle somewhat whenever a fuss is made about the prime minister visiting Yasukuni-ji.

True, there are the ashes of seven 'major war criminals' there, and ashes of a lot more soldiers who, never tried, were heinous lesser criminals. Still, most of them also were conscripts, and a cohesive society needs to acknowledge what it asks of its members.

Not to say that, sometimes, the visit has unsavory political overtones, but I'll reserve most of my contempt for the major actors. and even more for those, still above ground, who wave the bloody shirt.

As I mentioned some time back, one of my sons-in-law was very interested in visiting the World Trade Center hole. Not sure why. Going there did nothing for me.

The multiplication of otherwise unobjectionable war memorials on the National Mall is also getting out of hand: memorial to women vets, to disabled vets, I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't get one to combat canines.

It used to be thought, back when the idea of the memorial to the unknown dead was in fashion, that there was an equality among all who had died 'pro patria.' Which is why, I believe, all the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery are the same.

Memorials don't need to be endlessly subdivided. Class and caste are best forgotten in cemeteries.

September 25, 2006 7:13 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Maybe the confusion stems from the fact that engaging in all this memorializing while the war is still underway is a little like holding a big wake while the poor sap is still in the operating room.

September 26, 2006 3:04 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

The WOT is not going to have a clear ending date. It's like getting rid of cockroaches - how do you know when you've been totally successful?

Memorializing 9/11 is easier because it was a point in time and also because it grabs the sympathies of both sides of the political divide over the war. But you think that both sides would have the common decency to remove their own political concerns from the expression of grief. This memorial reminds me very much of the Wellstone memorial service, in that hardcore lefties cannot extract their political passions from any higher expression of moral commitment.

September 26, 2006 6:05 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't know if other countries memorialize defeats and disasters to the extent Americans do -- Valley Forge, Ft. Sumter, USS Arizona, Cabas, Vietnam Memrorial and now WTC, which was, after all, a defeat.

There are at least some: by the Anzacs at Gallipoli, but as far as I know it's an Anglo thing. I don't count the Hiroshima Memorial as I interpret that one's motive as unlike, say, the Arizona Memorial.

I also don't know if other countries memorialize their civil war battlefields in the conciliatory style that Americans did at Gettysburg and Chickamauga in the 1880s and '90s.

Perhaps Brit can tell us what's at Marston Moor or Hastings.

September 26, 2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I don't know if other countries memorialize defeats and disasters to the extent Americans do...

I don't know either, but I suspect that part of the reason that America does so is because we've won all of the really important ones. We have confidence enough to acknowledge failures.

September 27, 2006 1:15 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I hadn't ever really thought about the meaning of memorials, except that I've always had a vague distaste for just about all the ones built in my lifetime.

Until this thread, I never thought much about why and what we choose to memorialize. Until recently, perhaps, the question hardly arose.

I think I know why I dislike the design (as distinguished from the motive) for modern memorials. Each is ad hoc, with various (usually too young to have experienced much of life) architects attempting to devise a wholly novel approach.

This abandons all the built-up sense of emotion you get by using an organic and traditional motif, whether the tradition is Roman monumental (Lincoln Memorial) or Austronesian (line of skulls in a men's house in the Sepik country).

A glance at a carven tomb in an Italian church tells you immediately what the purpose is, even if you cannot make anything out of the Latin inscription. The 9/11 memorial in Arizona gives no hint that it even is a memorial.

As for what is memorialized, this thread has finally clarified for me what I found objectionable about the Vietnam Memorial -- it is not to the men and women who served there but to the ones who died there. Unlike, say, the Iwo Jima Memorial.

As a result, you get at the Vietnam Memorial not only the genuine memorialists coming to make a gesture toward members of their own families or communities who died there, but the grotesque street theater of the fake Vietnam vets in raggedly clothes. (See Burkitt's 'Stolen Valor')

The Vietnam Memorial is pretentious in two senses of the word. Grandiose and tending to inspire pretend piety.

September 27, 2006 1:42 PM  

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