Thursday, January 08, 2004

Minimalizing: Not the American Way

Reading the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday I came upon an article that showed me that maybe we are recovering from the 9/11 attacks. It seems as though not everyone is satisfied with "Reflecting Absence", the winning World Trade Center memorial by designers Michael Arad and Peter Walker. The minimalist design, highlighted by reflecting pools in the old WTC footprints, has come under fire.

Anthony Gardner, who lost his brother in the attacks and is a member of a coalition for family groups, said the design is "unacceptable."

Gardner said Tuesday, "This is minimalism, and you can't minimalize the impact and enormity of September 11th."

I believe that Gardner meant to say "you can't minimize the impact and enormity of September 11th." Never minding his confusion, there has been some voicing over how the victims should be remembered. The memorial will remember all of the victims of the attacks, including those killed in the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania, and aboard the hijacked airliners. It also will honor those killed in the 1993 WTC bombing. This grouping of all the victims of both attacks together is drawing heavy criticism from rescue workers who want separate recognition for their colleagues. This contention by the rescue workers reads to me like an extension of the tribal mentality that emerged during the cleanup of the WTC site after the attacks. In "American Ground", a three-part expose in The Atlantic Monthly William Langewiesche wrote of the feudal system that developed between volunteer construction workers, FDNY, and Port Authority officials, and of the power struggles between them.

I find it both alarming and comforting to find that the Arad/Walker design is drawing criticism. At the risk of drawing fire from those who lost loved ones on that day, it appears as though the wounds are healing. The scars run deep and obvious, and as they begin to fade voices like Mr. Gardner and the rescue workers raise in petty bickering and politics.

March 2004 will mark two-and-a-half years since the attacks. In short order the WTC site will be bustling with new construction as both the memorial and the proposed Freedom Tower will be built. In the interim I fully expect the Bush administration to use the WTC site as an emotionally charged photo op when the Republican convention hits New York on the eve of the attacks fourth anniversary. A photo op that will be used ad nauseum to sway voters into actually electing Bush into a second term this time.

The best way to honor the collective memory of those who died that day would be to shelve the egos and get to rebuilding. In an age where we're letting fear dictate how we live, a rebuilt WTC site would send a powerful message to those who wish to frighten us- abroad and at home- that we will not cower in the shadow of heightened alerts.

That would show that we're not minimalizing the impact and enormity of it all.

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