Should the New 9/11 Museum Tell the Whole Truth?

Victims' families say yes.

Jake Pauls, a leading expert on building evacuation based in Maryland, says the linkage between the memorial and the museum has "always been a bit of a puzzle."

"There are a lot of issues the museum could examine," he says. "The question is how you get into them. The controversies involve some fairly big actors. These are big targets. You will get all kinds of opposition."

Indeed, the FDNY, the Port Authority, the city, the Giuliani faction, ex-Governor Pataki, and Mayor Bloomberg all have an interest in presenting a certain portrait of 9/11.

Retired fire chief Jim Riches:"It should all be in there."
Willie Davis/ Veras
Retired fire chief Jim Riches:"It should all be in there."
Sally Regenhard, with her husband Al and daughter Christina, at the John Jay center named for her son, Christian.
Willie Davis/ Veras
Sally Regenhard, with her husband Al and daughter Christina, at the John Jay center named for her son, Christian.

Of course, there are also family members who don't believe the museum should examine the controversial stuff. Eileen Torres, who lost her cousin, a firefighter, in the attacks, says the museum should focus on remembrance. "It has to be about the people who died, honoring them," she says. "There are extremely important issues, but they shouldn't be the focal point. "

Lee Ielpi, who lost his son on 9/11, helped found the Tribute Center and sits on the memorial board. He says the museum should take a wider view. "We have an opportunity to show the events of 9/11, but we also have an obligation to inform the millions of people that will come here about the effects of hatred and intolerance," he says.

"A lot of things happened here; some haven't been proven," he adds. "I'm more concerned about tomorrow. If you want to touch base, you can look at the controversies, but if you want to hit a home run, it's the broader picture."

And what about the people who are actually in charge of creating the museum? Alice Greenwald, the executive vice president for programs, offers some clues in an open letter on the museum's website: "The museum at Ground Zero has the potential to educate and inspire with great power and authenticity," she writes, and, "most importantly," it will "facilitate the individual and communal grieving process." Elsewhere, the website states that the museum will "bear solemn witness" to the attacks.

Salvatore Cassano, the top uniformed member of the FDNY and an advisor to the memorial group, answers the question carefully: "There are people with differing opinions," he says. "It's important to tell what happened that day, and at the same time, to be sensitive to the needs of the families so they don't feel they are reliving it. It's a gentle balance."

Ask him whether the respiratory fallout should be part of an exhibit, and Cassano demurs. Ask him whether the problems in the emergency response should be highlighted, and he says: "They might be."

With three years to go, the curators of the museum have plenty of time to struggle with these questions, but for inspiration, they might look at a quote posted on a wall just inside the Tribute Center gallery.

The line is from Michael Macko, the son of a victim in the 1993 bombing, who points out how that earlier attack has faded from public memory: "How quickly it was reopened . . . the hole filled . . . Over the years everything was forgotten. If we don't remember these bombings, then we've lost more than the lives and the buildings."

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