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Reflections on the 9/11 Memorial

A somber Memorial Day Weekend visit.

By 5.27.14

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In recent years I have spent Memorial Day Weekend in New York with my Dad. This year we made a point of visiting the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which opened last week at the site of the 9/11 attacks.

The last time we were at Ground Zero (as it was then known) was on April 30, 2011. I will always remember this because the following day Navy SEAL Team Six killed Osama bin Laden. With the 9/11 Memorial & Museum opened, we concluded it would be appropriate to make our return. 

Its opening, however, has not been without controversy. Susan Simon, whose husband and son perished in the September 11th attacks, made her way from her home in South Carolina to pay her respects prior to the official opening only to be asked to leave the museum which (to her credit) she refused. Workers had told her the museum was being prepared for its official opening the following day. But in fact the museum was closed in preparation for a swanky VIP party that included former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Upon learning the real reason for the museum’s closing, Simon was outraged. “I found out the next day there was a VIP party, and I thought we were the VIPs! It’s like having a party in a cemetery,” said Simon. 

The 9/11 Museum is no place for a party and those of us who aren’t VIPs possess this common sense. Those of us who were in attendance behaved in a subdued, solemn, and nearly silent manner. And how could anyone with common sense not respond otherwise? No sooner than we descended the stairs into the exhibit, Dad said, “Can you imagine if we were trapped here?”

Understandably, some of those who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center have chosen to stay away because the September 11th attacks bring forth painful memories with which they cannot cope. Should you decide to visit the 9/11 Memorial be prepare your senses for the worst. You should prepare yourself for the worst despite the beauty of the two reflecting pools with waterfalls where the North and South Towers once stood are overlooked by the nearly completed Freedom Tower. 

It is important to prepare for the worst because of the voices. There are the voices of those who tell us where they were when the attacks occurred, the voices of those who made the 911 calls after the planes struck the Towers, the voices of rescue workers and those they rescued, and most painful of all the voices of those on the hijacked airlines who left their final messages to their loved ones.

One will also be confronted with the remains of the WTC be it a staircase, the floodwall, a satellite antenna that was once atop the North Tower, and the last surviving column. There are also reminders of the damage that occurred outside the WTC once the Towers collapsed, including damage to a police car, ambulances, and fire trucks. When we passed the FDNY Ladder 3 fire truck, Dad told me he could smell the dust from the Towers.

Then there is the room with pictures of everyone who perished on September 11, 2001. They truly represented a cross section of America. This act of evil did not discriminate where it concerned race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, income level, or general station in life. I did not know there were three Goldsteins among the dead. They were not related to me, yet I believe they are a part of my family. The same could be said of everyone else on those walls. We grieve for them because they were part of the family of Man. 

One exhibit I did find puzzling was a multimedia presentation called “Through the Lens of 9/11.” It would take a name or an event and then bring up a few headlines associated with the person or event from September 11, 2001 to the present day. After watching this for about 15 minutes or so it seemed a not so subtle dig towards the Bush Administration over Iraq. 

For instance when former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s name came up there were various Associated Press and USA Today headlines such as “Rumsfeld criticized by former military officials” and “Former WH Press Secretary: Rumsfeld spoke of invading Iraq day after 9/11.” When President Bush’s name came on the screen, one of the headlines read “Bush Administration Dead Wrong on Pre-War Intelligence.” When Osama bin Laden’s name came up, one of the headlines was “Bush acknowledges CIA secret prisons.” One event that was notably absent from the presentation was Benghazi. More on that later. “Through the Lens of 9/11” just seemed out of place. I think it would have been more valuable to have had this sort of presentation with the events leading up to 9/11. All of which led me to fear that the 9/11 Memorial & Museum would honor those who perished on September 11, 2001 while not telling us why they perished.

Fortunately, my fears were not realized. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum does not shy away from terrorism inspired by Islamic fundamentalism. The first WTC bombing in 1993 is dealt with in detail addressing the plot, conspirators (most notably Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman and Ramzi Yousef), the investigation, and the trial. The history of al Qaeda and its aims and objectives were also well documented and included this quote from Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa: “Kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military.”

Perhaps the starkest part of the entire exhibit was a short film about United 93 whose passengers fought back gallantly preventing their flight from crashing into the White House or the Capitol Building before crashing in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. When bin Laden's followers put his words into action on United 93 one of the hijackers shouted, “Allah is the greatest!!!” This candor has caused consternation among some Muslim organizations, but too its credit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum will not sugarcoat the awful truth where it concerns the events of September 11, 2001.

The last image I remember from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum was a photo of the Tribute on Light that has taken place every September 11th since 2003. The photo was taken on September 11, 2012. At the moment that picture was taken more than 5,000 miles away the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was under attack by terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda resulting in the deaths of four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. An attack the Obama administration blamed on an internet video. Unlike Osama bin Laden, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. 

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum not only must serve as a remembrance for what happened on September 11, 2001, but a remembrance for what happened on September 11, 2012, a remembrance for what happened at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009 and a remembrance for what happened at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. It must also serve a monument for what will happen in the future. Osama bin Laden is dead, but his fatwa against America is alive and well and al Qaeda isn’t finished killing Americans.

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.