I am not an architect, but here is my 9/11 architectural philosophy: War memorials should memorialize war. If you want peace and understanding and healing and good will toward all, go build Kabbalah centers.
Please, for the sake of those who have sacrificed, let's put the design of war memorials in the hands of creative people committed to erecting monuments of courage over capitulation.
This past weekend, to mark the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Discovery Channel aired a searing documentary on Flight 93. It was the "Flight That Fought Back" against al-Qaeda hijackers who crashed the United Airlines plane into a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania -- 15 minutes' flying time from the nation's capital and the killers' likely target, the White House.
The movie fleshed out many of the heroes of Flight 93 through actual cell phone recordings and interviews with relatives. One was Alice Hoglan, mother of Mark Bingham, who encouraged her son not to sit back and surrender. These are excerpts from a voice mail message Mrs. Hoglan left for Bingham during the hijacking:
"Mark, this is your mom. It's 10:54 a.m. [Eastern time]. The news is that it's been hijacked by terrorists. They are planning to probably use the plane as a target to hit some site on the ground. So if you possibly can, try to overpower these guys if you can -- 'cause they will probably use the plane as a target. I would say go ahead and do everything you can to overpower them, because they're hell-bent. You know the number here. OK, I love you sweetie. Bye."
Throughout the documentary, family members recounted the take-charge, can-do attitudes of their loved ones. These were Americans who refused to sit down and be quiet and allow Islamic terrorists unfettered control over the flight stick of history. These were doers, not hand-wringers, who engaged in a violent and valiant struggle against evil.
I remind you of all this because the official Flight 93 memorial unveiled last week is now embroiled in overdue public controversy. Funded with a mix of public money and private cash (including a $500,000 grant from Teresa Heinz's far-Left Heinz Endowments), the winning design, titled the "Crescent of Embrace," features a grove of maple trees ringing the crash site in the shape of an unmistakable red crescent. The crescent, New York University Middle East Studies professor Bernard Haykel told the Johnstown, PA, Tribune-Democrat, "is the symbol of ritual and religious life for Muslims."
Some design contest jury members reportedly raised concerns about the jarring symbol of the hijackers' faith implanted on the hallowed ground where the passengers of Flight 93 were murdered. But their recommendations to change the name of the memorial (to "Arc of Embrace," or some such whitewashing) were ignored. Memorial architect Paul Murdoch, whose firm emphasizes "environmental responsibility and sustainability," did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment, but he did emphasize to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his creation was about "healing" and "contemplation." He is also proud of his idea to hang a bunch of wind chimes in a tall tower at the site as a "gesture of healing and bonding."
Wind chimes? Hey, why not add pinwheels and smiley face stickers and Care Bears while we're at it, too?
Let's set aside the utter boneheaded-ness of using a symbol that, inadvertently or not, commemorates the killers' faith instead of the victims' revolt. The soft-and-fuzzy memorial design of "Crescent of Embrace" still does injustice to the steely courage of Flight 93's passengers and crew. It evokes the defeatism embodied by those behind a similar move to turn the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in New York City into a pacifist guilt complex.
This is no way to fight a war. Or to remember those who have died fighting it.
A proper war memorial stirs to anger and action. We all remember passenger Todd Beamer's last heard words as he and his fellow Americans prepared to take back the plane from al Qaeda's killers, don't we?
No, the phrase wasn't "Let's meditate." It was "Let's roll."
(View the memorial design at http://www.flight93memorialproject.org/. Voice your concerns by e-mailing FLNI_Superintendent@nps.gov.)
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