Monday, October 15, 2007

9/11 Fatigue? A Modest Proposal

As it has been for past five years, the 6th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center was much in the news. This year, though, there is a public debate about whether the time has come to move on. Yes, says Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, who has been pushing the city to let go of its grief. No, says Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security. “Some people ask the question: . . . has the time come to move on? I will tell you that as long as I draw a breath, I will not move on and neither will the . . . people in my department.”

I’m with the mayor. I feel sympathy for the victims’ relatives, and believe they should have fitting ceremonies to commemorate the tragic day. But I don’t think they are well served by perpetually channeling their grief into disputes over how their loved ones will be memorialized. And I don’t think anybody is well served by massive granite monuments dedicated to the 9/11 dead. (In general I think all memorials should either be impermanent or in the form of parks that encourage quiet contemplation.)

The attack on the World Trade Center already has the most affecting memorial I have ever seen anywhere. Every year, during the days surrounding 9/11, twin towers of light are beamed into the sky over New York. Every time I see them they take my breath away and I remember.

I have another idea for a memorial, one that might also help the victims’ families to move on. Instead of funneling huge sums into concrete remembrances, why not use those funds to succor the living, the men and women who risked their lives at Ground Zero and who are now gravely ill. Perhaps the most fitting tribute to those who perished would be to care for the people who tried to save them.

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