Today we’re all remembering the tragedy of 9/11. This has, of course, meant different things to different people. A special feature in today’s New York Times entitled “The Reckoning” examines the impact of 9/11 from a variety of different standpoints. It doesn’t pretend to give definitive answers; rather it recognizes and remembers a tragedy while also helping readers to look at it constructively and objectively.
Not everyone took as good an approach. Many news outlets have basked in the sick glory of finding something to inflate into a week-long nonstop tear-jerker. And some have decided that today is the day to make cynical political points. I’m talking about Paul Krugman, usually a favorite columnist of mine, who posted an obnoxious blog post this morning arguing that we’ve failed terribly as a nation in a multitude of ways since 9/11. Some of his points are well taken, and all are well argued, but I can’t fathom why Krugman felt the need to make them today, or in such a contrary tone. There’s a difference between looking at what we’ve done since then rationally, and disparaging a decade of our history angrily and one-sided-ly.
Today is also the day that the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York opened. (I blogged about this memorial several weeks ago.) I’m still not sure the design is as good as it could be, but as I’ve been inundated with more and more pictures of it, I’ve come to like it a little more. I’m reserving final judgement for when I actually go and see it myself. (For an in-depth look at the memorial, check out this feature from the New York Times.)
Since the memorial consists of two voids, it’s hard not to remember the buildings that once stood there. Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the World Trade Center towers were not good pieces of architecture. They were nervously delicate, huge buildings from a nervous Modernist who was never entirely comfortable with Modernism. Like many of Yamasaki’s buildings, they never seemed sure of their size or their place. Their boldness of size was bizarrely countered with the false delicacy of their narrow windows.
The buildings now rising in their place are also not shaping up to be masterpieces, despite the involvement of more famous architects than I can count in their designs. But there are elements of the plan to be excited about, and the reopening of a road cut off by Yamasaki’s original design is a sign of both progress and healing.
What’s important to remember today is that a tragedy happened 10 years ago, and we need to remember it. We have a grand, somber memorial to do that. We shouldn’t remember it falsely — since their destruction, the twin towers have come to be known as beautiful, which they never were. We should remember the people who died, who were injured or who were affected, the damage done to our nation, and we should remember the lessons we learned.
We can also look backward from a vantage point of ten years later, and try to figure out whether we reacted well or poorly — what we handled properly and what we could have done differently. We can take what we learn with us as we move forward. But today, remembering should come first.