No Time for Monuments

How can we build 9-11 memorials when the crime is yet unavenged?

On Thursday, the nation will mark the opening of the country's first major Sept.11 memorial with an evening ceremony at the Pentagon, where 184 people died, not including the five men who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77.  (Washington Post)

This edifice is intended to honor and remember the Americans so unexpectedly murdered on that terrible day.  Those who have caused it to be built are patriots; they love their country and its defenders.  There is no doubt that they intended the Pentagon Memorial to be a respectful and appropriate monument to those who died in the line of duty.

Unfortunately, it isn't.  It's more of a slap in their face.

Let's think back to the previous time thousands of Americans were suddenly murdered on American soil: December 7, 1941, when, as President Roosevelt said to Congress the next day, "...a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."  2,386 Americans died in the famous sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; some hundreds are still entombed in the wreck of the USS Arizona, whose explosion and sinking killed half of the victims that day.

Today, there is a memorial built over the wreck with the names of the dead engraved on a marble wall of remembrance.  All in all, the Arizona memorial appears quite similar in principle to the Pentagon Memorial.

But there's an important difference.  The purposes of a memorial of this sort are twofold: to remember the honored dead and to provide a sense of closure for the living.  There's a time and a place for that; unfortunately, we are not there yet.

The USS Arizona Memorial was dedicated in 1962, long after the defeat of Imperial Japan.  Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, was dead in combat, his transport shot down by American long-range fighters; Gen. Hideki Tojo was arrested and executed for war crimes; Japan was first occupied by U.S. forces and governed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then released under a new constitution and American-allied independent government.

In short, all those responsible for the slaughter had paid the appropriate price, in combat or in court.  Justice had been done; the time had come for closure.

What a contrast with 9-11!  Obviously, the criminals most directly involved in 9-11 died at their own hands and stand before the highest Bar of Justice.  But their leaders, their organizers, the men behind the villains - their cases are still open.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the so-called "mastermind of 9-11", is in U.S. custody, but his trial is far from completed, much less his payment made.  Osama bin Laden himself is famously hiding somewhere, free and independent, gleefully plotting new atrocities.  If 9-11 represents anything at all today, it is a catalog of unfinished business.

Would it have been appropriate to construct and dedicate the Arizona Memorial while the Marines were storming Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima?  Of course not.  Why, then, are we so concentrated on building memorials and monuments for the dead while their suffering goes unavenged and justice has not yet been served?

Terrorism will always be with us; it is not an enemy, but a tactic.  The specific terrorists who attacked us on 9-11, however, are mortal men who can be made to pay the price.  Until that has been done, we cannot achieve any sense of closure.

A memorial implies that 9-11 is a part of history.  It is not: it is an ongoing injustice that demands all our efforts to pursue.  Only when Osama bin Laden has answered before a court, mortal or immortal, will 9-11 monuments and memorials be anything but a hollow mockery and a sorry sham.

Is our sense of reality so debased that we accept a phony feel-good closure, so as to make us less inclined to pursue the real thing?

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
The Democrats in Congress hope that by building monuments they can say "Well, glad that's done!" and get back to stealing our paychecks. They don't believe in the War on Terror so closure of any kind can't come fast enough for them. They would have invented some kind of closure on Sept 12, 2001 if they could have.
September 11, 2008 8:38 AM
Putting up a monument does not express or imply any closure. You used WW2 as an example, but there are plenty of other monuments that were put up early before the conflict had been resolved.

Furthermore, you contradicting yourself. You say that terrorism will always be with us. If that's the case, there will *never* be an okay time to put up a monument for acts of terrorism because we'll never have beaten it.

A monument is just a monument. There's no reason to read something else into it.

The more monuments for things like this the better off we are as a nation because it helps our children and grandchildren remember what happened. I hope they keep adding monuments for years and years to come.
September 11, 2008 9:36 AM
Hardly. Do you feel a sense of closure at the funeral of a murder victim when the murderer is still at large? If you don't know who the murderer is, that's one thing - but what about when you DO and still haven't caught him?

We can do something about bin Laden, or we can put up memorials to the atrocity. Yes, we should do both; but first we need to put all our efforts into vengeance. Once that's accomplished, there will be plenty of time for monuments.

Seriously, how many major-construction, significant WW2 memorials were built before WW2 was over? Ad-hoc wood crosses and ribbons, for sure; but not big official statues, museums, or memorial gardens.
September 11, 2008 11:37 AM
Many people do feel a sense of closure at funerals even though the murderer is still not behind bars. That's a great example because it's analogous to 9/11.

Funerals are sometimes called "memorial services" when the two coincide. That's because part of getting closure is remembering the person (or with 9/11, the multiple persons) who died. Finding the villain and 'hangin em high' is only a smart part of closure. Have you ever lost a dear friend to a criminal act? I have. My sister-in-law was killed by a drunk driver. The driver had a history of DUI. After the initial outrage subsided, very few members of the family talked about the driver. It was far more healing for us to think about our dear sister and what her life meant. Forgiveness doesn't help the person you are forgiving; it helps you.

As for the United States, there is no guarantee that Bin Laden will ever be found. Some analysts believe that he's already dead. It's naive to think that we should wait to build monuments until there's some global consensus that he's dead or found or properly flogged or whatever.

Putting up monuments or dedicating construction projects is a part of the way we keep a living light shining on the history we want our grandchildren to remember.
September 11, 2008 2:10 PM
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