Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fitting Tribute for Flight 93?

Paul Murdoch Architects

"And do you wonder how this memorial design--benignly passive at best, offensive and inexplicably clueless at worst--possibly passed muster as the best representation of the spirit, courage, and resilience of the 40 passengers who saved countless American lives?" Michelle Malkin

The media brouhaha over the proposed Flight 93 Memorial has come and gone, for now. But every day our leaders continue to show themselves to be venal and uncaring. And every day ordinary citizens still step up and Do the Right Thing.

Which gives the Flight 93 Memorial more context, and requires us to seek more discussion and debate. All memorials, all sacrifices by everyday Americans deserve more attention. And although I'm almost choking on the words, I'm compelled to say (take me now, Satan): I agree with Michelle Malkin about the Flight 93 Memorial.

We have different reasons. And I'd like to think mine reflect more rational thought and less, well, conservative rationale.

I was, born, raised, educated, married and still live in Pennsylvania (after a few forays to national and international locales). Back in the day, I worked for a Governor of PA. During that time and then subsequently while working for two presidential candidates, I traveled almost every inch of this state, including the tiny burg of Shanksville. So when Flight 93 went down there on 9/11, I felt more than a passing connection with the event, and the place.

Like most of us, I've followed many 9/11 stories the past four years, and viewed with interest a variety of proposed memorials all over the country. There were a few early passes at a pastoral Shanksville memorial which seemed fitting in content and design. A memorial should be a Living tribute, showing Growth as well as Respect. Life, after all, does go on. And memories expressed through the beauty of nature have more value in my mind than those too overwrought in granite and steel.

However. The most important component of a memorial is its symbolism. It's got to evoke something real and special and lasting to meet its twin goals of providing comfort and fitting memories for those here now, and representing a historic event for those who come in the future.

So. A Red Crescent in Shanksville. Is the primary symbol of Islam really appropriate as centerpiece for a memorial to American patriots killed by a corrupted fringe group of Islamic terrorists? Whether it's meant that way or not, I don't think it is. In fact, it actually defeats the purpose by seeming to dishonor a whole people, most of whom who are as much victims of terrorism as we Americans.

Appearance is reality when it comes to memorials, especially these days.

When the Vietnam Memorial was first unveiled to the public, I loved it instantly. Remember all the nay-sayers claiming it was cold and harsh and too plain, too ordinary? History has proved them wrong, and not just for artistic reasons. The War in Vietnam was a travesty. There was nothing patriotic about it. On the contrary, it tore the country apart because it was fought for political and economic gain, which, in the end, gained us nothing. Brave men and women--as always, the least advantaged among us--died needlessly and horribly for rich men's purposes.

A clean, stark, distinctive and moving tribute was imperative to honor their memories. No statues of soldiers erecting flags of victory could possibly represent the War in Vietnam -- there were no victories to celebrate. Only pointless suffering, and loss. It's important--crucial--to recognize the sacrifice of every single man and woman who served in Vietnam, in clear and lasting tribute. The Wall, with its rows and rows and rows of names, does just that. It's about the People, not the War.

A memorial for Flight 93 should be especially about the people -- in this case, 40 ordinary Americans who in an instant became soldiers in the War against Terror. And particularly because they were not trained soldiers, yet still unhesitatingly gave their lives for their country, their names and their heroism should be recognized, first and foremost.

They literally stepped up and Did the Right Thing, and in doing so, saved countless American lives. That alone convinces me we should demand that every memorial be "the best representation of the spirit, courage, and resilience" we can provide. And there must be no possible misinterpretation of the meaning of their sacrifice, and its impact on all of us.

Memorials do more than honor the dead. They also inspire the living. These days, sadly, we need all the unequivocal, clear, heartening inspiration we can get.



Blogger David Goldenberg said...

Sally--as usual a well-thought out piece. I have a couple of items to bring up.

1. Michelle Malkin, who wrote a book defending the Japanese interment camps of WWII in this country, is a disgusting example of what happens when the right wing panders to the knee-jerk flag-wavers who support their country, right or wrong under all circumstances. I realize you used her quote to illustrate a controversy, and I remind you of Groucho Marx’s famous advice that spelling her name right gives her publicity, which I for one would rather not see her get.

2. You are totally right about the Vietnam debacle, except that when you refer to “every single man and woman” who served in Vietnam, it is important to remember the tens of thousands of innocent Vietnamese men, women and children who were killed due to the misguided policy of the US government. They didn’t ask for a conflict, either.

A similar rationale goes for all the innocent passengers on flight 93 who were swept up in the moment of a horrendous act, and had no say in whether or not they would react, and many may not have reacted. We'll never really know.

A memorial is fitting, and I agree with your reason for not liking the one which was designed, and as long as we continue to draw lines between “us” and “them,” and forget that it is about we as people, the best damned memorial in the world isn’t going to straighten out what’s wrong underneath.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Sally Swift said...

David, as always thank you for your thoughtful comments.

1. You're totally right, I will not use MM's name again.

2. I agree that many Vietnamese people also died needlessly, but I was specifically referring to an American memorial for all the American military personnel as listed on The Wall.

And really, thank you--and shame on me--for failing to acknowledge ALL the passengers on Flight 93 who died so horribly for their country.

Please, keep on keeping me sharp and honest.

12:03 PM  
Blogger dare_i_say said...

Dear Sally,

I truly enjoyed your article and think that you have raised several important points.

The Crescent, whether or not it was intended to be a symbol of Islam, is flawed in concept due to its inability to capture the historical significance of the event that transpired. Rather, the concept aims to enhance the void and emptiness of the Bowl much like that proposed for the World Trade Towers. Unfortunately, both are not parallel tragedies – one evokes tremendous lost, the other SHOULD evoke the mandate of the Mission Statement which reads:

A common field on day. A field of honor forever. May all who visit this place remember the collective acts of courage and sacrifice of the passengers and crew, revere this hallowed ground as the final resting place of those heroes, and reflect on the power of individuals who choose to make a difference.

The chosen design should memorialized the lost through their acts of courage and sacrifice, not through their abscence. It is in their actions that we remember them. I feel that the debacle that has transpired is due to the jurors’ straying from the Mission Statement. Why? It is obvious that we do not have the answers but I feel that the outcome of the selection was due to majority of the jury feeling the need to express their feelings of tremendous grief at the time – ie a void and emptiness. If the message of transcending time was taken into account the jury should have veered back to the Mission Statement. Today the design is a memorial, for future generations it will become a park devoid of meaning.

I agree with Congressman Tancredo on the matter that “ … the Department ought to direct the committee to choose a different design rather than moving forward with a design that could make the memorial a flashpoint for controversy and criticism.” The design is flawed to begin with and a redesign on an already failed concept is impractical. From a historical perspective, this flaw has lead to layer upon layers of criticism and conspiracy tarnishing its ‘lasting image’ which was suppose to inspire. The question of inappropriate symbolism is unparallel to that of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. Lin’s memorial was devised to convey a critical point of view from the beginning – she shaped the landscape to do this; the Crescent’s concept is a residue of site topography which is important but should not overshadow the living memory of the tragedy.

This is not to say that they should rerun the competition, there are designs by two other finalists that are more appropriate than the Crescent. Granted that according to the Jury Report they require minor adjustments, but theirs is not an adjustment on a severely flawed concept. More importantly, some successfully memorializes the living memory of the passengers and crew thereby allowing their actions and deeds to transcend time.

I think our focus should shift from what we shouldn’t do to what we should do.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Sally Swift said...

To dare_i_say,

Thank you for providing so much additional informaiton. Too bad you don't have a blog of your own -- I'd be interested in hearing more of what you have to say.

11:20 AM  

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