Visiting the 9/11 memorial and museumRoundup
To get into the 9/11 Memorial Museum, you have to pass through a world-class security arrangement—a conveyor belt for shoes, belt buckles, cell phones; a three-second hands-above-your-head body scan—overseen by a notably grim private-security corps. “Stand there!” uniformed guards shout at those in line moseying ahead. “Don’t advance.” A terrorist planning to commit an atrocity at a museum devoted to the horrors of terrorist atrocities might seem unduly biddable to his enemy’s purpose, but then perhaps the security apparatus is itself a museum installation. At the other end, as you exit, toward West Street, another uniformed man is obliged to spend his day telling kids not to stand on the benches in the memorial park. “You, there! Down.” It doesn’t occur to the kids that standing on the granite plinths could be an offense, and they wonder at first whom the guard could be addressing. They look bewildered—you mean us?—and then descend. The idea that we celebrate the renewal of our freedom by deploying uniformed guards to prevent children from playing in an outdoor park is not just bizarre in itself but participates in a culture of fear that the rest of the city, having tested, long ago discarded.
The site contains more contradictions, unresolved and perhaps unresolvable, than any other eight acres in Manhattan. A celebration of liberty tightly policed; a cemetery that cowers in the shadow of commerce; an insistence that we are here to remember and an ambition to let us tell you what to recall; the boast that we have completely started over and the promise that we will never forget—visitors experience these things with a free-floating sense of unease. The contradictions are already so evident that they’ve infuriated critics, from right to center to left. The theocrats in First Things deplore the absence of any common patriotic imagery, while Patrick L. Smith, in Salon, asks if those who worked in what was admittedly a center for world trade—global capital—are truly “innocents.” Michael Kimmelman, in the Times, protests the way that the new complex seems to deny the city around it, both by hedging itself off from the streets and street life and by creating that hyper-security mini-state within Manhattan.
It is a rule in American life that commerce dwarfs commemoration. So let it be said that the new World Trade Center—at least, to eyes still a little in love with skyscrapers—is pretty dazzling. ...
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