Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Breaking the Bank
At Thanksgiving 2004, The Mrs. and I did some sightseeing in Washington, D.C. I wrote the following about the National World War II Memorial:
Its soaring columns and iron wreaths are as overblown as the black granite of the Vietnam Memorial is understated, and having one festooned column for each of the 50 states, DC, and various territories is overkill. As several historians have noted, public memorials say as much about the times in which they are erected as they do about the past events or people they commemorate. Even though the World War II Memorial was designed in the late 1990s, it's clearly an artifact of America's 21st Century empire.
In New York, they're still hassling over the World Trade Center Memorial. Recent reports indicated that the cost of the memorial could run anywhere from 500 million to one billion dollars. Billion, with a B. Tom Engelhardt wrote a great post at TomDispatch last week, in which he compared that cost to other memorials, and found that the World Trade Center Memorial will cost more than all the other famous American memorials combined. Far, far more.

Ain't that America? Everything's bigger here. Our hamburgers, our movie stars--and our sense of violation when something bad happens to us. When homegrown terrorists blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, we built our first inflated memorial for $29 million. The World War II Memorial was the next one built. We weren't necessarily salving open wounds with that one, but we were surely conscious of the way our victory (and we always consider it "our victory," never mind the British or the Free French or the Russians) did nothing short of creating the modern world. And at the precise moment in history when "the greatest generation" was being venerated, anything less than what we built would have been perceived as too little. (Try not to think about the irony of the WWII Memorial looking like something Mussolini would have built for himself if he'd been on the winning side.)

Now comes the World Trade Center Memorial. As Engelhardt notes, our desire to spend a billion on a 1776-foot tower and reflecting pools is more about glorifying our suffering as Americans than about remembering those who died. But that's in keeping with who we are, too--21st century Americans are the most egotistical race of people who've ever walked the planet. So we're going to break the bank for an obscenely elaborate monument to the most psychologically wounding day in our history, the events of which started us on our current spiral down history's drain.

Perhaps the World Trade Center Memorial is fitting, then, but not in the way it's supposed to fit.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?