Every now and then an idea comes along that seems so bad that you wonder how it got off the table in the media room, or wherever it was created. The Coca Cola decision to change the taste of the number one beverage in the world, Coke, still stands out as one of the best examples of smart people making bad decisions. And, smart people do make bad decisions all the time. Case in point is the decision to move the unidentified remains of 9/11 victims to the actual 9/11 Memorial Museum, the location euphemistically known as ground zero.
I’m sure there was good intention involved in the thought process; at least, I hope it had nothing to do with attracting more tourists to a souvenir shop. Still, making all allowances possible for how it came to be it occurs to me that the wisdom of the decision can be met and evaluated in one question: When have we ever buried (housed?) murder victims at the site where they were killed?
With all due respect to the sensitivity and solemnity of the issue and not wanting to compare one mass murder to another, it is possible that there are still remains of some sort at Pearl Harbor, or the Murrah Federal Building site in Oklahoma City, likely even Nagasaki or Auschwitz. But, that is by happenstance not purpose.
Rituals surrounding death vary from society to society as influenced, or not, by religious and spiritual tradition, etc., but it is customary in our particular culture, more a point of pride, not to leave a soldier on the battlefield, as it were.
Even the weakest sense of propriety tells us that the final place of peace for a murder victim is not the cornfield where the crime took place. Doesn’t that common sense apply to the victims of 9/11?
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – again, a case of unidentified remains – is located in the bosom of one of our nation’s most beautiful and honorable settings, Arlington National Cemetery: A cemetery – not the battlefield where any one of those men or women died. The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day by military in full uniform. There is a quiet at Arlington that acknowledges the depth of loss for the families who visit and the dignity of those who have died.
Visitors tend to speak in whispers while at Arlington, and the same can be said for the Vietnam War Memorial, and the World War II Memorial, where, by the way, no remains are included.
The remains of the 9/11 victims deserve a similar place of respect far and away from squealing children, the sounds of traffic as life goes by, and the ever growing collection of discarded gum, water bottles, and street corner musicians that will inevitably become part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum site. We expect that blend of the urbane and odd at a public venue and in that sense the Trade Center memorial will be an attraction to all who melt in the proverbial pot. Good. We like that. That’s America.
But, when getting it right doesn’t happen the first time around as has happened here, making it right the second time takes even more fortitude and courage. I’m hoping those responsible for operations at the 9/11 Memorial Museum will come to realize that the remains of those we lost that day do not belong at the scene of horror that brought about their end.