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WTC Memorial Can Be a Unifying Force

David Sloane is an associate professor in USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development. He is author of "The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History."

In his article “The Hue and Cry of Art” (Oct. 10), Paul Lieberman chronicles artists’ difficulties in making sense of the World Trade Center tragedy. The same challenges will affect the design of a memorial to the tragedy.

We all agree that a memorial to the tragedies of Sept. 11 should be built on the WTC site. Since the Pentagon will continue to be off-limits to most Americans, the New York City locale takes on national importance as the primary place to grieve for the deaths there and at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. A memorial could combine the sense of mourning for the dead and the hopes of the survivors.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Nov. 07, 2001 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 7, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Marine War Memorial--The Marine War Memorial depicts soldiers raising the flag over Iwo Jima. The Counterpunch article in Monday’s Calendar gave the wrong location.

New York’s landscape artists and sculptors should be commissioned to embellish the site as a place of reflection for the families, friends and Americans who will want to visit to remember.

But other war memorials remind us how hard that task can be.

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington has become a national shrine, beloved by its millions of visitors. We may have forgotten that conflict almost undermined Maya Lin’s innovative design, which some viewed as a degradation of the war dead it was intended to honor. In response, Frederick Hart’s statue was placed near the memorial wall, its heroic figures representations of wartime courage.

Lin’s design proved enduring because it is a space where people can bring their emotions wrapped in flowers, photographs, letters and other materials. It became the people’s memorial, standing in contrast to such heroic statues as the Marine War Memorial, whose giant figures raising the flag over Okinawa inspire awe but no interaction.

The Vietnam memorial’s success, though, didn’t end the conflict between solace and celebration. The Korean War Memorial tries to combine the two with its wall and company of advancing soldiers. The proposed national World War II monument on the Washington Mall has been criticized partly because the neoclassical design returns to mid-century percepts of awe, leaving little space for the people’s expressions.

President Bush has declared that we have entered a new kind of war. The memorial to Sept. 11 will be the first publicly sponsored art dedicated to our losses in that war. These victims, even the courageous public servants, were all noncombatants. The memorial must celebrate the heroism of the emergency workers as well as that of ordinary Americans who reached out for a fallen co-worker or helped carry a slower runner in the descending dust storm.

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Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger has suggested that the World Trade Center rubble’s landfill should be landscaped as a peaceful place with gravestones identifying the dead. He would create a conventional place of remembrance out of an unconventional site. Artists should consider creating an unconventional memorial at the site that uses traditional American conventions of grief. The memorial then will reflect our mixed emotions of anger, sorrow, dismay and pride.

The spontaneous democratic memorials, such as the “Wall of Prayers” that Lieberman describes, offer one suggestion for such a design. A place could be created where the lives and the heroism of these ordinary Americans would be honored in a sanctuary for a grieving public. The memorial then becomes more than a memorial. It could reinforce the humanity that we have witnessed from even supposedly hardhearted corporate leaders. It could even become an element in rebuilding lower Manhattan and a public reminder that this war, in a way unlike any in the 20th century, is already the people’s war.


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