There is this new design out for the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Its original version, called the “Crescent of Embrace,” met a barrage of flak in the blogosphere because of its unfortunate resemblance to an Islamic crescent, aligned toward Mecca. In the wake of the criticism the architects retitled that section as the “Forty Memorial Groves” and revised their plan to close the crimson crescent of maple trees around a large natural depression in the earth, adjacent to the “sacred ground” where Flight 93 crashed.
I suppose that is an improvement. Nonetheless, the winning memorial to a plane crash is still…a hole in the ground.
Is that the most tasteful commemoration possible for a struggle aboard a doomed plane, one that may have saved the United States Capitol from the fate of the World Trade Center?
Next up from the same firm: The Titanic memorial ice sculpture.
The revised design is still the subject of some criticism, with one blog called “Error Theory” lambasting it as an “Islamofascist shrine.” I don’t buy that. I don’t think Paul Murdoch Architects, the L.A.-based firm who came up with this, harbors some deep affinity for Taliban hegemony. On the other hand, I do believe that the revised plan is so vague that it is possible to find any number of conflicting interpretations within its incoherent and nihilistic expanse. Murdoch’s designers bear some of the blame for this failure, but there are three sources of bad inspiration that deserve singling out as well.
The first precursors of failure were the poor design criteria. Murdoch’s design responded to a “Memorial Expression,” directing that the plan should “allow freedom of personal interpretation” of the Battle Over Shanksville. In a brochure announcing the new design, Paul Murdoch’s letter boasts that his memorial is “open to emotional experience, individual interpretation and personal contemplation.”
William Wallace’s monument near Stirling, Scotland, is certainly not open to “individual interpretation” about the legitimacy of Wallace’s opposition to English incursion. A partisan of Napoleon would be hard-pressed to find solace in either the monument to Admiral Nelson in Edinburgh, or the Column in Trafalgar Square. An Islamic terrorist sympathizer ought to be out of luck when trying to find support for his cause in the Flight 93 Memorial — but as the Error Theory blog has shown, he might yet find some.
Monuments are not neutral. They take a stand. They recognize virtue and heroism and they point out the good guys. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier leaves little ambiguity to interpret or misinterpret about the worth of those it represents. The new World War II memorial on the D.C. mall remembers American servicemen, and not Japanese or German veterans. There was a right side and a wrong side to that war, and the monument is not afraid to claim as much.
Would that the Shanksville memorial did so.
THE SECOND ANTECEDENT to the furor caused by the Flight 93 Memorial was Maya Lin and her Vietnam War Memorial.
Lin’s Vietnam Memorial was not just controversial, it was radical. It subverted the conventions of memorial architecture. Previously, memorials required a viewer to look up to take in the arch or obelisk or statue, because they represented something bigger and nobler, something elevated above the plane of daily life. But rather than commanding the terrain with a massive and solemn presence, Lin’s design bowed its head and tore through the dirt. It is, ultimately, an extended headstone, stretched out to include more than 50,000 names.
Lin’s design might have been a fitting monument for a tragedy — a natural disaster or an accident where thousands died without a discernible reason. But the dead of Vietnam commemorated on that wall were not victims — they were heroes.
As were the passengers of Flight 93.
Angry veterans, unsatisfied with the minimalist stone wall, demanded a real monument. They claimed Lin’s design used the color of shame and hid the memorial below eye level. So after a great deal of protest, a tall flagpole and a traditional, realistic bronze statue were added nearby. The “Three Servicemen Statue” by Frederick Hart is magnificent, gritty, and still quite complex: the soldiers are weary and wounded, the machine gunner bowed under the weight of his weapon. These are reluctant heroes, but clearly heroes all the same.
One essay introducing Lin’s works dismissed these new elements by noting that “[i]n the end, these additions were placed far enough away from the wall so that its artistic integrity was not seriously affected.” (After all, you wouldn’t want to see such an elegant, streamlined concept tainted by an encroaching American flag, or a heroic representation of soldiers. Tacky, tacky.)
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?