it's about life - not "lifestyle"
News accounts of the recent (2001) opening of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Center,  built on the site of the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building which was destroyed by a truck bomb, gave me another jolt of vague uneasiness.

The place is described as "an elaborate $29 million dollar, three-acre national memorial" which commemorates the 168 people who died and the terrorist-event survivors. According to a Los Angeles Times article by Edwin Chen, it features exhibits "that recreate the moments before and after the blast - including recorded sounds of the explosion".

My sense of uneasiness comes from the notion I have that such memorials are as much inadvertant monuments and victories for the terrorists as they are rememberances of the victims.

I know this isn't a popular view. Public grieving is really "in" right now and certainly not limited to terrorist or criminal episodes. At the time Alaska Air Flight 261 crashed at sea off Ventura County, California, I lived in a house that afforded a backyard or hot tub view of the north/south flight path from LAX to San Francisco. On clear afternoons one could sit in the hot tub and look at the west end of the Santa Monica mountains, watch the traffic coming down the Conejo Grade on Highway 101, and if you held your head just right and the sun was at the right angle, you could see the white paint of the Alaska Airlines jets as they came and went between Los Angeles and the Bay area. Having flown the route myself I knew where to look; when northbound I could see my house from the right side of the plane. So when a certain horrifying afternoon featured television coverage of an obviously doomed rescue attempt off a coastline I'm intimately familiar with, it hit home on a most personal level.

The sadness of a tragedy like that is inescapable and human. One year later a large and fairly formal anniversary ceremony was held for the families. I can understand that, but what I can't fathom was the talk in the media about making this an annual event. A wound can't heal if you keep picking at it. It isn't likely that anyone who lost family or friends in a plane crash will ever forget them, nor will the people who worked the accident recovery soon forget the somber reality - that's normal and natural and healthy even - but it isn't healthy for surviving family and it's kind of sick for total strangers to obsess on accidents like this. Accident investigations will hopefully determine the causes and corrective steps will be taken, but planes have to keep flying and people have to keep living.

Which brings me back to the Oklahoma City events. My opinion is that by turning the site of the worst terrorist event to date in U.S. history into a monument to the immediate victims and rescuers, it glorifies the crime and criminal. It takes away the productive use of a federal facility (not to mention the legacy of Alfred P. Murrah, the namesake of the building). I would have to think any museum about this particular tragedy would also out of necessity have something mentioning the perpetrator.

President George W. Bush had this to day at the opening ceremony:

"Memorials do not take away the pain. They cannot fill the emptiness. But they can make a place in time and tell the value of what was lost. The debris is gone and the building is no more. Now this is a place of peace and rememberance and life."

I'm not saying this is a bad thing to have done, or a wrong thing, and I will go there to see for myself when the opportunity arises. Yet may I suggest that if it had been up to me - or for me - I think I would prefer to see another federal building put up on the site. Put a plaque up with the basic details of what happened, and when, and the names of the victims. In my view the best victory over terrorism and tragedy would be to rebuild, fly the flag at the top of the pole, and carry on.

Nels Norene

Copyright 2001. All rights reserved.
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