9/11 Museum Stirs Memories — and Protest

Ira Chemus on History News Network:


Memories of old conflicts often spark new conflicts. So it's no surprise that there's controversy swirling around the National September 11 Memorial Museum, due to open on May 21, rising from the ashes of the fallen World Trade Center. The Museum will offer visitors a short video about another rising: “The Rise of Al-Qaeda”…

The real question that the critics of the video raise is: What story should the museum tell about the men who allegedly perpetrated the horrendous events of 9/11?

To explore that question, let's first consider another that they did not raise: Why tell the story of Al-Qaeda at all?

The museum is part of a memorial complex at the foot of the new One World Trade Center, now officially declared the nation's tallest skyscraper at exactly 1776 feet. That tower and its official height tell a symbolic story of their own, the story that George W. Bush began telling almost immediately after the attack: “The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake: We will show the world that we will pass this test.” “This will be a monumental struggle between good and evil. But good will prevail.”

One World Trade Center is a monumental way to say “We have prevailed!”, that (as Ronald Reagan boasted when the U.S. defeated Grenada in 1983) America and all it has represented since 1776 is still “standing tall.” We have passed the test; we and our goodness still tower high above all who would attack or condemn or criticize us.

To tell the whole story, though, there is also (at the foot of the tower) a memorial to the fallen, reminding us how incredibly gruesome the test was and how much blood had to be shed. Yet the memorial's website tells us that “its design conveys a spirit of hope and renewal.” Perhaps it should say “resurrection.” In a country so steeped in Christian traditions, you don't have to be Christian to get the message (at least unconsciously): The horror of wholly unjustified death is made holy because the victim is risen again, high and mighty, right before our eyes.

If the tower and memorial tell the story clearly, why need a museum at all? In part, to make sure no visitor misses the symbolic point of the whole complex. In part, to spell out the story in greater detail.

Most importantly, though, the museum adds a crucial piece to the story: This was a battlefield where good met evil in an unusual but very real kind of war, it says. If the tower and memorial tell us who the good people were (and still are), the museum tells us who were (and still are) the bad guys, the perpetrators of this horror.

The video might have been devoted to the heroic rescue efforts on 9/11 or the immense outpouring of generosity that followed. But instead it is devoted solely to a story that might well be called “Who Was — And Still Is — Our Enemy?” The hall that houses the video is, in a sense, a theater of war. And right next to it, lest we miss the point, there's a gallery with photographs of the 19 alleged hijackers.

Read the rest here.