Opinion Brief

The 9/11 memorial: 'Poignant' or 'flawed by bad taste'?

After years of debate and delay, an eight-acre memorial at the former site of the World Trade Center opens to the public

The 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero was 10 years in the making, and over that decade, it experienced more than its share of controversy. (The latest: The name of one of the 2,983 victims killed in the terrorist attacks is misspelled on the memorial.) But on Monday, the many battles over the memorial came to an end of sorts, as the eight-acre park — which features victims' names etched onto dozens of bronze panels surrounding two memorial pools at the site of the fallen towers — finally opened to the public. Is it a fitting tribute?

This is a "poignant reminder" of our staggering loss: The tree-covered memorial plaza will "instantly become one of the most dramatic and compelling public spaces in the world," says Steven Litt at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It is a "wrenching representation of loss and absence," and a "poignant reminder of the new and alien sense of vulnerability that came over the country after the terrorist attacks 10 years ago."
"New York's new 9/11 Memorial is designed to blend mourning and vitality at the heart of a bustling financial district"

But it distorts the complex memory of what happened: For years, Americans circled the place where the twin towers once stood, says Philip Nobel at Metropolis. They searched, often in vain, for meaning. At first, they hunted in a smoking pile of rubble "of truly awful proportions," and, later, "a hole in the ground deep enough that its bottom was rarely seen." Now we're left with a "purpose-built" memorial — "deeply compromised, existentially confused, and flawed by bad taste" — that will never equal the "spontaneous one we are now losing."
"Two ongoing wars and many controversies later, the search for meaning at Ground Zero still proves painfully elusive"

Come now. This is a milestone in our healing: The memorial's central feature — endless streams of water plunging into acre-sized pits — "is an extraordinary thing," says Philip Kennicott in The Washington Post. It "works, in part, because it recalls ancient and deeply embedded connections among water, memory, and death." But the more important test will come once the fight that preceded construction is forgotten. If the memorial still inspires pride and awe, we will have moved "past grief," and the memorial will have done its job.
"Review: 9/11 memorial in New York"

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