Letter to the Editor: 9/11 Memorial/Museum a Permanent Affront

by James McCaffrey

With the marking of yet another painful 9/11 anniversary, we are again reminded of two disparate perspectives. First, with the partial opening of the 9/11 Memorial/Museum (MM) last year, the mayor and MM officials will continue to congratulate and laud themselves for reaching what they believe to be a milestone achievement. The second unfortunate perspective, however, is that of the crushed hopes of countless 9/11 families and others who believe this “milestone” instead represents ensconced disrespect for the 9/11 victims. They do not view the MM as a national monument, but something more resembling a national disgrace. The visceral grief suffered by so many for years is compounded by this rendition,and they remember that their concerns regarding its design and construction were too often dismissed by various development officials and politicians.

Opposition to the current MM design can mainly be attributed to what many view as glaring mistakes by the 9/11 MM. Herein, a compendium of those missteps.

One. Astonishingly the issue of interment for the human remains of the 9/11 victims at Ground Zero is still unresolved. Despite a massive public relations campaign to the contrary by the city and MM, full consultation with every 9/11 family as to the disposition of those remains has never occurred; indeed, the city never sought the input from the families. How is it possible that the remains of the 9/11 victims are in the control of a few politicians and other influential individuals and not in the hands of their loved ones? This unconscionable breach of ethical and moral standards must be rectified, and a FOIL lawsuit intended to compel the city of New York to notify every 9/11 family and request its input is ongoing. Human remains should not be tantamount to an attraction in an underground museum, but rather, they should be interred at ground level as part of the memorial in something akin to a Tomb of the Unknowns.

Two. The listing of the victims’ names is inherently disrespectful. Ranks of military and first responders are elided. “General,” “Captain,” ” Battalion Chief,” and so on do not precede the names of those who died while operating under such titles. Also egregious is the omission of corporation names, the floor number for non-uniformed victims, and the age of every victim. Who could be offended by the poignant listing, for example, of the age of a two-year-old child? Such listings are immediate and powerful reminders that each person lost was a precious soul, not just a name on a wall.

Three. The museum section of the complex will be a dangerous and disrespectful 70 feet below ground. Visitors need ask themselves just one question when realizing this fact: “DoIwant to be seven stories beneath the earth while visiting the #1 terrorist target in the world?” Danger is not just a by-product of the museum’s location, but it is rather intrinsic to its design.

Four. The attention devoted to telling the story of the terrorists in this “memorial” museum is extremely inappropriate, particularly when contrasted with the stories of the victims. This “terrorist hall of fame” will be replete with martyrdom quotes, videos, and photographs easily observed while one must search for victims’ information at smart tables and kiosks. The attention devoted to the terrorists “story” should instead be scaled down and the information should be located in a less prominent location within the complex.

Five. Final cost estimates of nearly $1 billion and $60 million for construction and annual upkeep, respectively, are abhorrent. There seems to be no end to the fiscal irresponsibility and political infighting surrounding the entire process. One could question whether this is a memorial to the fallen or a self-indulgent profit scheme.

The foregoing is but an abbreviated listing of how the MM foundation has fallen well short of its stated mission. Consequently, rather than continuing to fund failure, control of the MM should be transferred to the National Parks Service, since this is putatively “America’s Memorial.” The opinion of a considerable number of 9/11 family members is that disrespect has permeated the entire MM development process and myriad recommendations by those families (and others) intended to create a safer, more respectful, amaranthine memorial have been mostly ignored. Those who oppose this design have assiduously spoken only for those who can no longer speak for themselves. For whom do redevelopment officials speak? Without significant changes, years from now a visitor to this MM will ask the same question that legions have been asking for 10 years: “Why was this allowed to happen?”

James McCaffrey is a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York and brother-in-law of FDNY Battalion Chief Orio J. Palmer, who died in the WTC attacks. He is co-chair of Advocates for a 9/11 Fallen Heroes Memorial.

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