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We Must Remember That
By Frank Gruber
In an age of media and information, when emotion is the subject of instant audiovisual dissection, when our critical faculties are more developed than our sentiments, when mourning is brief and to the point, when we can rationalize anything, and are skeptical of everything, memorials are a challenge.
But maybe nothing has changed. For the innumerable monuments to the heroic or tragic dead, for all the speeches at their dedications, precious little of the art approaches the level of a Pieta, and only two speeches -- Pericles' funeral oration for Athenian dead of the Peloponnesian War and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address -- have survived as part of the canon.
In his case Lincoln turned out to be wrong, but he was on safe historical ground when he predicted that people would little note, nor long remember, the words said at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
At least in Pericles' day, though, and in Lincoln's there were certain rituals that were meaningful.
Now in the face of tragedy, we hardly know what to do. For the first annual commemoration of 9/11 the mayor of New York didn't trust anyone to say anything new about the event and had someone read the Gettysburg Address instead.
We've perfected the "life must go on" rituals of mourning but lost the others.
You wouldn't know it by reading the papers, but the biggest hurt of 9/11 was not what it did to the economy.
Over the holidays I spent a lot of time looking at memorials. This wasn't planned. My wife had a conference in Washington, D.C., and before going there we visited her family in Pittsburgh, which meant that we drove from Pittsburgh to Washington, and that meant we could stop and spend an afternoon with our eight-grader son in Gettysburg.
I had never been to Gettysburg before and the next time I go I'll give myself more time. We arrived with about three hours of daylight remaining and set out on the Park Service's "two-hour" self-guided auto tour. At dusk we had only made it to the end by skipping most of the Confederate memorials.
Next time I go to Gettysburg I'm going to give myself a day and rent a bicycle. That's how to see it. You want to read every name, you want to imagine what happened, you want to think about what did not perish from the earth those three days in July 140 years ago.
The memorials are unique, the quantity of them overwhelming, and their communicative power immense. Nearly all are related to place. States, regiments, brigades, cities, even individual artillery batteries, erected monuments to remember the sacrifices their sons, husbands, fathers and comrades made at specific locations. The monuments tell the story of the battle, sometimes with words, sometimes with sculpture, often with both. Names are everywhere.
The memorials are personal, idiosyncratic. One unit, the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, included its dog, Sallie, in its monument -- Sallie had guarded their dead and dying for two days during the battle.
Another monument consists of an undressed "puddingstone" boulder from Roxbury, Massachusetts. This was the kind of boulder that the men of the 20th Massachusetts played on together as boys, and they thought this was a fitting memorial to how they fought together as men.
This week the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation will release details of the design its memorial jury has selected for the principal memorial for all the 9/11 attacks. The memorial will not only commemorate the attacks on the World Trade Center, but also the attack on the Pentagon and the people who died on Flight 93.
Based on an earlier version of the design, we know that its dominant elements will be two reflecting pools occupying the footprints of the twin towers, but we won't know until the unveiling this week of the revised plan what the iconography of the memorial will be. The jury has shown itself to be conscientious and capable, and I am hoping for the best.
Nonetheless, having spent those few hours recently at Gettysburg, and then three days in Washington where I also visited many of the most important monuments and memorials, my mind is on the subject.
One of the disputes that has dogged the process for selecting a design for the 9/11 memorial has been an unfortunate one between some of the families and surviving comrades of the fire and police personnel who died trying to rescue people and some of the families and survivors of "civilians." The dispute is whether the names of the rescue personnel should be listed apart from the names of the civilian victims.
While those who want to list all the names together say that there should not be two different "classes" of victims, I would say, respectfully, that the more detail the memorial employs, the better it will allow future generations to remember all the victims and comprehend the tragedy of the day.
The monuments at Gettysburg are a living memorial because they tell the story of what happened. More than a century later it means something to know that the "Philadelphia Brigade" held the line at the "Angle," or that Patrick Henry O'Rorke -- born in Ireland, first in his class at West Point -- died leading the 140th New York in repulsing the rebels' last attack on Little Round Top.
While it is easy to analogize to the Gettysburg monuments a monument, for instance, to the five fire fighters from Engine Company 55 who died in the north tower, or to the 37 Port Authority Police who died, or to the heroes of Flight 93, I would go even further.
I would list the names of all the victims of Sept. 11 in such a way that we know just what they were doing that day. I would group together the names of the 79 workers at Windows of the World who died, just as I would group together the business people who were attending the Risk Waters seminar at the restaurant. I would memorialize as a group the 300 people who were working at Marsh & McLennan, the insurance brokers whose offices on the 96th floor of the north tower were struck by the first plane.
I would build a monument for all the people who were just visiting, and another to passengers and crews of the planes
When you get down to it, if Gettysburg was a clash of armies, what we want to remember about 9/11 is that it was an attack on the unsuspecting.
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