Memorial Plots

The clash over exactly what story to tell at the ground zero museum

"I've always been supportive of having some form of what I would call a living memorial or something that engages people positively," says Tom Roger, whose daughter, Jean, was an attendant on American Airlines Flight 11. "After they've visited the site and paid their respects, to me it makes sense to take people in a sort of different direction." Roger says he thinks the planners of the Freedom Center are too ideologically diverse for the museum to espouse a left-wing agenda.

Some family members, however, are anxious that visitors will fail to grasp the linkages that the Freedom Center will make between 9-11 and struggles for freedom in other places and times. They are frightened by any attempt to introduce complexity to the site. Burlingame contends that people will be confused when they look down at the WTC site from the Freedom Center and, instead of seeing a crushed fire truck, view exhibits on Chilean refugees and Chinese dissidents who fought for freedom. "Americans do not want a sacred memorial to be about causes. They want it to be about people," Burlingame says. "September 11 was an atrocity in itself. Is American blood so cheap that that is not enough to tell the story of man's inhumanity to man?"

Families' values: Protesters at ground zero on Monday
photo: Kate Englund
Families' values: Protesters at ground zero on Monday

The question, though, is how that story would read, a point that divides even the people who oppose the Freedom Center. Like every argument about 9-11, the fight over the Freedom Center is about simplicity versus complexity—the big, intricate picture opposed to a broad-stroke portrait of horror and heroism.

Burlingame, for one, sees 9-11 as a moment of quintessential American character. After learning that her brother Charles "Chic" Burlingame was on the plane that rammed into the Pentagon, she says, "I looked back at the television and I saw what my fellow New Yorkers were doing. It was black, white, young, old, and it was a picture of America. That was the story of that day."

But Regenhard says the failures in planning before the attack, and in radio communication, and in emergency management on the day of the disaster, demand mention. The museum, she says, "should be about accountability and responsibility of government, which is a huge lesson of 9-11."

A host of family organizations, like September's Mission and Advocates for a 9-11 Fallen Heroes Memorial, are protesting the Freedom Center, but other groups take no position. September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, on the other hand, will soon press for a greater theme of forgiveness at the site.

« Previous Page