When do the dead cost more than the living? Is there greater worth being dead than being a survivor? In the wake of a national tragedy the lost automatically become more important than the living and I wonder why such great value is placed on the dead. After the Towers fell there was great mourning and public expression of loss. 

As plans grew to rebuild the area where the Towers fell, there was always a plan that a grandiose “memorial” to those who died in the Towers would be erected. The cost of the 9/11 memorial alone is hovering around $500 million and I am wondering why so much money is willing to be spent to memorialize those who fell.

A national event like the Towers falling is not a specific event limited to beloved individual loss. That event belongs to the world, not just the dead and their families.

Gravesites are for the expression of individual loss. National monuments are intended for shared, public, mourning for the encompassing sense of shared community reflection.

There is a greater sense of community mourning and national yearning that also must be recognized and acknowledged and I argue a larger sense of faceless loss provides greater magnification of the 9/11 event than the particulars of a solitary name embedded in the grander scheme. When the individual dead are made more important than the majority survivors then something is wrong with the way the dead are nationally remembered.

I believe this Incongruity of Mourning is found in its greatest example in the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. where — instead of just having a giant black gash in the land — the black gash also holds the names of each person who died in the conflict.

People now visit that memorial not to remember the war but to mourn specific individuals by rubbing off names with paper and pencil to take home a physical memory of a virtual experience. Shouldn’t national memorials include a greater sense of national mourning than merely listing the names of the dead? The dead, when they were killed, were not in the service of themselves.

They were serving a notion of something larger and grander than the lone person. Their deaths have less value when they are whittled down to a specific name. Their deaths have greater resonance when they invisibly build a larger part of the shared national ideals and values that abstractly make up the notion of war, the honor of sacrifice and the ultimate gift of giving your life for your country.

There are plenty of people who served in Vietnam who didn’t die there but who still suffer alive more than those who are already dead. Why are the dead more valued and better memorialized than the waking wounded and the coherent living and the broken and abandoned and disabled? The Vietnam Memorial should be their living memorial as well but it is not. The Vietnam Memorial is only for the dead and for those who choose to remember them with an etching. National mourning should be remembered in memorials in the greater sense of us and not the solitary fallen.

I suggest the 9/11 memorial be redacted down to the essence of us all in a simple marble slab that says: “Here They Fell.” Some might wish to add “We Remember Them” but I argue “Here They Fell” reflects a national face, a national shared mourning and a national honor that is elegant and appropriate. “Here They Fell” automatically and silently fills in “We Remember Them” without any direct prodding or harsher interaction from the memorial itself. Your loss is no more important than my loss.

War deaths, terrorism deaths, highway accident deaths and any other unnatural, innocent killings are all equal. No dead person is more special in their coffin than the dead next to them in the graveyard. No one death is more honorable than another death. To glorify only some of the fallen and not all of the suffering is to be incongruous in the heart and inequal in the merits of mourning a national loss that can never be resurrected — not even with a name chiseled in marble.

30 Comments

  1. Call me ‘out there’ but I think there is good reasoning behind having a list of names.
    Stalin once famously said that a single death was a tragedy but a million was a statistic.
    One hundred twenty five years from now when most likely not one of us that is here today will be alive, I think a list of names will keep the nearly 3000 people that perished as a result of the attack from becoming a statistic.
    Maybe it’s just me but when I would see a list of names at Peddie of WWII veterans I would be hit with more awe for each individual student than if there were just a plaque that said that 100 students had gone overseas.
    I can just imagine someone pointing to the 9/11 memorial and saying, “The person named there was my great-grandfather”, or something like that.

  2. I understand your argument, Gordon, and it is a popular one.
    For an example of a perfect national memorial, look to the Marine Corps War Memorial:

    The Marine Corps War Memorial stands as a symbol of this grateful Nation’s esteem for the honored dead of the U.S. Marine Corps. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in the defense of the United States since 1775.

    http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/usmc.htm
    I think “pointing to names” is something that should be done on a gravestone, not a national memorial.

  3. My biggest concern is that this country tends to forget things – and it seems to forget things way too quickly.
    A few years ago when I was working in a law school office I went in on Bastille Day and wished them a good Bastille Day and they asked me what a Bastille was.
    Some people look at me like I’m d-dumb when I raise a glass in memory of D-Day. D-what, they ask? Veterans still are amongst us and people already are forgetting it happened.
    Never mind people who outright claim things didn’t happen. (Holocaust Deniers). Hard to deny something that was so meticulously recorded by the people who were perpetrating it. (To think they were recording it all for posterity!)

  4. I have a newspaper page that was printed on 9-11-2004. It has a flag with all of the names of the victims of the WTC attack printed on it. I’ve had it posted on my door since then.
    There’s something about seeing names that makes it more real.
    The Vietnam Memorial has a statute with three soldiers dedicated to the men and women who served during that era, if I remember correctly.
    The names help future generations to remember that it wasn’t some event that happened “back in the old days.” Real people going about their daily lives were caught up in something deadly that they never saw coming.
    Here’s what a young woman writes about “The Power of a Name” after a trip to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.

    Looking around, I no longer saw thousands of words; I saw thousands of brothers, grandparents, husbands and sons. I saw inspiring people who each had been adored by their loved ones. Only then did I realize the essence of the Vietnam Memorial. It is not a name that needs to be remembered, it is a person.

    After all, it isn’t the fall of the building that makes us sad when we think about it. For the size and glory of the WTC, it really wasn’t that exciting of a building. It was the individuals — just like us doing their daily routings — who were killed on that day that move us to tears when we think of 9-11.

  5. I understand what you’re saying, Chris.
    The Wall, if you remember, was not liked by some when it was first unveiled in 1982 and there was even racial tension that an Asian design student won the job of creating the memorial.
    The Wall wasn’t traditional enough for some people, so in 1984 the following was added:

    A short distance away from the wall is another part of the memorial, a bronze statue known as The Three Soldiers (or The Three Servicemen). It was designed to complement the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, by adding a more traditional component. The statue, unveiled in 1984, was designed by Frederick Hart, who placed third in the original competition. The soldiers are purposefully identifiable as White American, Black American, and Hispanic. The statue and the Wall appear to interact with each other, with the soldiers looking on in solemn tribute at the names of their dead comrades. It has been suggested that the sculpture was positioned especially for that effect.

    Then, political activists felt women were being ignored, so they were added to “The Wall” in their own separate memorial in 1993:

    Also part of the Memorial is the Vietnam Women’s memorial. It is located a short distance south of The Wall, north of the Reflecting Pool. It was designed by Glenna Goodacre and dedicated on November 11, 1993 to the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War, most of whom were nurses.

    Then, the “living” victims of the War were added in 2004 who weren’t on “The Wall”:

    A memorial plaque was dedicated on November 10, 2004 at the northeast corner of the plaza surrounding the Three Soldiers statue to honor veterans who died after the war as a direct result of injuries suffered in Vietnam, but who fall outside Department of Defense guidelines. The plaque is a carved block of black granite, 3 feet by 2 feet, inscribed “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember their sacrifice.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_Veterans_Memorial
    Do all those Vietnam memorials seem like overkill to you?
    Does it bother you one national memorial was not enough?
    The Iwo Jima memorial and its simplicity of purpose and its encompassing spirit for all the fallen Marines, not individual Marines, is even more stellar in comparison with “The Wall” and its tendrils.

  6. Maybe a better design would be to have a park with a memorial sculpture in the likeness of the firefighters raising the flag.
    It would be elegant in its simplicity.
    The names could be in a the visitors’ center, along with exhibits, etc.

  7. I agree simple and SEMIOTIC and not complicated and SEMANTIC is the way to go with these memorials, Chris.
    There is already a makeshift “memorial” already in place for the WTC in the shape of a cross. Rescuers claim it was found naturally in that state in the midst of the burning rubble. You can view it now if you visit Ground Zero.
    I’m sure you wouldn’t like it though, because it holds no names and offers no words:
    http://images.google.com/images?q=world%20trade%20center%20cross
    Do you think they’re done adding to the Vietnam Memorial? Perhaps they’ll do a K9 garden celebrating the dogs who served followed by the Jeeps memorial where all the hard-working modes of transportation will be enshrined forever in bronze!

  8. Hi David,
    I’m fickle. 😉
    I like the cross memorial idea.
    The powers that be should make a nice park around the cross. It would be like the old ruins of churches found in England that do more to move people than a memorial to the church would ever do.

  9. I think there are two problems with the cross remaining permanent, Chris.
    1. It’s too convenient. It’s too perfect. There had to be some “shaping” done to get it to look just like that in the aftermath. If it were just a little off or not so recognizable I’d buy it as a natural occurrence in nature after a disaster.
    2. A cross doesn’t really appropriately memorialize the Jews who fell that day.

  10. I’ll have some more pictures that are even better than those. The “LSD” picture was just me learning how to use the program, and the others were published here before they were over there.
    Now that I know a little more about editing my photos, I promise to get some good ones for a “Four Corners” shortly.
    Did you notice in my screen shot, I have this post as one of the open tabs?

  11. I have hundreds of fair pictures from last year.
    I love my small digital camera since nobody notices it and thus I can get nice street scenes. I’m going to have to bring my camera with me next time I go to Chicago and get some pics of people doing things downtown.
    Here’s the link to the winning design of the WTC Site Memorial since I couldn’t visualize what it would look like:
    http://www.wtcsitememorial.org/fin7.html

  12. “The cost of the 9/11 memorial alone is hovering around $500 million”
    Does this mean that they are honoring the survivors by taxing them to pay for the memorial?
    I agree with Gordon Davidescu in that this country tends to forget things but I’m not sure it if merits something as grand as a $500 million memorial which names all the lives that were lost. The power of having actual names as opposed to just a figure of how many people were killed would make the loss more real for some but would people really want to be remembered for being at the wrong place at the wrong time? Also, what of the people that may have died in the tragedy without close relations… will their name be forgotten while others are etched in stone?

  13. Strangely enough, talking about 9/11, I signed up a few days ago to write a tribute to one of the victims of 9/11. I was sent a photo of the person, along with their name and age.
    This tribute can be written in ANY way, so long as it honours that person. It MUST be written on 9/11 itself. There were 2966 victims on that terrible days, and the person with the website is hoping to have enough bloggers sign up so that every victim can be honoured. So far, there have been 1000+ bloggers signed up, but they still need more.
    If you’re at all interested, the link is .

  14. That’s interesting, Dawn.
    It looks the project you’re working on is a “self-promotion” job according to the site’s main index page:
    dcroe.com
    “Welcome to my center for self-promotion” has a sort of bitter ring to it in light of the work you are doing for the site.
    The New York Times profiled each dead person in the WTC as have several online portals.
    What’s unique and new about the work you’re doing except — for the fact it’s “self-promotion” for the website owner?

  15. To be honest David, I’m not doing this in order to promote this guy’s website..
    A very close friend of mine lost his girlifriend in the Twin Tower attacks, so for me, it’s MY way of honouring those victims. I never had the opportunity before now to do that.

  16. When I was driving north on I-294 in the southern suburbs of Chicago, I saw a billboard advertising the WTC memorial. It had contact information, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention to remember it.

  17. Hi David,
    You think the same way I do.
    I’ll have to take a closer look at it when I get back over that way later this month. It could be legit, since it looks like fundraising efforts have been resumed after being halted in May. See N.J. firm awarded contract for WTC Memorial.
    I was wondering where the money was going when everyone had their coffee cans out gathering donations to help the WTC survivors. Did the money really go where it should have gone?
    You can never be too careful with charities, since there are always unscrupulous people who will take advantage of the kindness of others.

  18. I agree, Chris! If you want to donate to the WTC memorial, write a check to the Port Authority of NY/NJ and mark it for “World Trade Center Memorial.” The Port Authority now has control of the project and donating money other places to serve the WTC memorial is not wise at this point.