schama on that day


What are public memorials for? Are they meant to perpetuate the sorrow of loss; pay a debt of respect, or set a boundary about grief by turning it to public reverence? Must their primary obligation always be to the immediately bereaved? Should such places be no more than a site where those victimised by slaughter can find consolation in a community of mourning? Or is a public memorial, by definition, created to make something more universally redeeming from atrocious ruin? Does remembrance invite instruction or forbid it? Should it make mourners of us all; bow the heads and stop the mouths of all who stand before it? Is it greatly to their credit that Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama will stand at that haunted site on the 10th anniversary and not utter a word? Or is that silence a missed opportunity for reflection? For some of us these will never be purely academic questions. I was in New York on 9/11 and in London on 7/7. I am a citizen of both of these unapologetically secular, mostly tolerant, rowdily cosmopolitan cities that the exterminating apostles of destruction chose as their target. I am at home in both places: I think of them as “the mansion house of liberty” – in John Milton’s fine phrase from Areopagitica, the poet’s passionate 1644 defence of freedom of publication – and the temerity of that liberty was, in the mind of the murderers, cause enough for immolation.

more from Simon Schama at the FT here.