I HAD the occasion to visit the National 9/11 Museum in Lower Manhattan, New York City on my last visit. It memorializes the terrorist attacks and subsequent tragedies that the World Trade Center, a complex of office buildings with two high towers (once the tallest in the world) experienced with grievous consequence of violent deaths and grievous injuries that were the aftermath.
Apparently, the terrorist world singled out the World Trade Center as a symbol of the America that was the center of capitalism or the reflection of the American can-do spirit. It became a target. In 1993 terrorists set off a bomb in one of the underground garages of the World Trade Center killing six persons and injuring many others. Immediately, the damage was repaired and the World Trade Center was once again the thriving symbol of New York finance and business..
On September 11, 2001, it suffered its second and more devastating terrorist attack – the unbelievable crash of two planes, one after the other in each of its two towers, causing the total collapse of the buildings with a dreadful loss of lives of people who were in the buildings and their vicinity as well as the large number of firemen who came to rescue them. As first responders, they fearlessly entered the buildings which were still standing only to die when they collapsed shortly after.
This terrorist nightmare remains in the American psyche and it had to be exorcised. The 9/11 Memorial is meant to do that. It offers a reflection of what happened, why, who and where. It has been a huge undertaking which has just been completed ten years after.
The 9/11 Memorial consists of two waterfalls falling 30 feet into two separate deep pools located in the footprints of the original World Trade Center twin towers. The pools have a void to which the water flows symbolizing the lives lost from the attack that took place. The names of all the victims are written in bronze on the parapets of the pools. The names are not just of those who died in the World Trade Center on that day but include the six people who died there in 1993, in the first terrorist attack as well as those who died in the two other planes that were hijacked on September 11, 2001 and crashed at the Pentagon in Washington DC and in a field in Pennsylvania. Everyone who died on 9/11 is named there including the many firemen, rescuers who died doing their duty. Interestingly, the names are not placed in alphabetical fashion but in clusters of friends, co-workers, family members or whatever connection they had in life to each other, termed “meaningful adjacencies.”
The 9/11 Memorial is a three part complex. Aside from the memorial pools, it has a museum that pays tribute to the people who lost their lives, showing pictures, artifacts, clothes, identity tags and other personal items that they had on that day. This is a very comprehensive collection which takes a few hours to get through. It is interactive and imaginative making it absorbing.
The third part is a history museum that explains what led up to the 9/11 event giving a background of world events that led to the terrorist attacks. In a sequence of images that were used to portray the history of terrorism I glimpsed references to the Philippines and the terrorists that were apprehended here with an image of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo included in the narrative.
The architect who conceptualized the complex is the world-famous Daniel Libeskind and the architects of the Memorial Pools (chosen by competition) are Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker. All in all, it is an extremely poignnant memorial that shows individuals and what happened to them in a very personal and direct way that brings on an emphatizing experience in visitors for the victims.
Everything is in the memorial complex from the last standing steel pillar displayed with due reverence and with signatures of the workmen who extracted it, to the steel posts twisted into bizarre shapes by the incredible heat generated by the ruinous and devastating fire that burned the towers. There is, as well, a pear tree, called “the survivor tree”, the only tree that survived the heat and fire that engulfed everything. It was found as a stump and nursed back to life and replanted in the plaza. It is 30 feet tall, grown from the 8-foot stump when it was found.
In the annals of violence and terrorism the World Trade Center destruction stands out for its immensity, horror and tragedy. The United States of America experienced a precipitate turning point into the future, driven by tragedy. It is to be hoped that through this physical manifestation of grief and remembrance the American psyche will overcome it to go on living the life and way they have chosen when they conceptualized their nation.
Visiting the 9/11 memorial brought my thoughts back to Yolanda, last year’s destructive typhoon in the Philippine south. We owe the victims of that tragedy close to home, their own memorial. It may heal those devastated souls left behind and bring them back to life with a timely and meaningful closure.