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Ground Less Than Zero
9/11 Memorial Blight

It was always a matter of time before September Eleventh (or “September the Eleventh, as President Bush insists on so plumply putting it the eleven times a week he calls on the 11’s twin towers to prop up his numbers) became an obscenity of memorializing and opportunism. In fact it took just three days: By Sept. 14, 2001, the National Cathedral was all 1812 Overture rendered as the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and off we were on our vague new war on terror and distinctly less vague war on ourselves. At least back then we could still think that Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan would be one easy victory, a way to rebuild, move on, and up, remember but also live anew. New York City would show the world, right? Not a bit of it.

Ground Zero has become a symbol of the national failure that post-9/11 America has turned into—a hole in the ground literally, figuratively, politically. The nowhereness that Ground Zero plans have plumbed year after year parallel the nation’s projections abroad, and how it has managed, since 2001, to dig itself into holes economically and politically. Ground Zero is a deficit of imagination and resolve, a bankruptcy of ideals, a well of corruption: we learn today that “The projected cost to build the World Trade Center Memorial complex at ground zero has soared to nearly $1 billion,” which would “make this the most expensive memorial ever built in the United States.” Try the world (unless you consider the rebuilding of Hiroshima or Nagasaki citywide memorials). And to what end? To what end, a $672 million memorial and its related museum, or a $71.5 million underground chiller plant, or $300 million in “site preparations,” if the eventual cost, which will far surpass $1 billion once the monstrosity is built, ends up flirting with the kind of obscenity that contradicts the very spirit of the memorial site, of any memorial site?

“Memorials as massive blares—or worse, economic development—began in Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building,” I wrote in 2002. “The idea is striking, with two arches at either end of a reflecting pool, and the time before and after the blast imprinted atop the arches. But the thing is enormous. It is far bigger than the too-big World War II memorial planned for the Mall in Washington, D.C. And it is designed more as a money-making draw for downtown merchants than as a commemoration of the 163 people killed there on April 19, 1995. (A plaque celebrating “First Responder Teams” and other rescue workers is more hero-worship of those who did their job that day than reflection for those who died.) If Oklahoma City’s version of April 19 is preview to Lower Manhattan’s version of Sept. 11, architects might as well start looking for inspiration from Albert Speer instead of Maya Lin. That would be a tragedy in itself.”

“Would” no more. Is a tragedy. Roll in, contractors. One of these days, anyway. Meanwhile the place gapes, piling up dust and dishonor.

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