On Thursday, the nation will mark the opening of the country's first major Sept.11 memorial with an evening ceremony at the Pentagon, where 184 people died, not including the five men who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77. (Washington Post)
This edifice is intended to honor and remember the Americans so unexpectedly murdered on that terrible day. Those who have caused it to be built are patriots; they love their country and its defenders. There is no doubt that they intended the Pentagon Memorial to be a respectful and appropriate monument to those who died in the line of duty.
Unfortunately, it isn't. It's more of a slap in their face.
Let's think back to the previous time thousands of Americans were suddenly murdered on American soil: December 7, 1941, when, as President Roosevelt said to Congress the next day, "...a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." 2,386 Americans died in the famous sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; some hundreds are still entombed in the wreck of the USS Arizona, whose explosion and sinking killed half of the victims that day.
Today, there is a memorial built over the wreck with the names of the dead engraved on a marble wall of remembrance. All in all, the Arizona memorial appears quite similar in principle to the Pentagon Memorial.
But there's an important difference. The purposes of a memorial of this sort are twofold: to remember the honored dead and to provide a sense of closure for the living. There's a time and a place for that; unfortunately, we are not there yet.
The USS Arizona Memorial was dedicated in 1962, long after the defeat of Imperial Japan. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, was dead in combat, his transport shot down by American long-range fighters; Gen. Hideki Tojo was arrested and executed for war crimes; Japan was first occupied by U.S. forces and governed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then released under a new constitution and American-allied independent government.
In short, all those responsible for the slaughter had paid the appropriate price, in combat or in court. Justice had been done; the time had come for closure.
What a contrast with 9-11! Obviously, the criminals most directly involved in 9-11 died at their own hands and stand before the highest Bar of Justice. But their leaders, their organizers, the men behind the villains - their cases are still open.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the so-called "mastermind of 9-11", is in U.S. custody, but his trial is far from completed, much less his payment made. Osama bin Laden himself is famously hiding somewhere, free and independent, gleefully plotting new atrocities. If 9-11 represents anything at all today, it is a catalog of unfinished business.
Would it have been appropriate to construct and dedicate the Arizona Memorial while the Marines were storming Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima? Of course not. Why, then, are we so concentrated on building memorials and monuments for the dead while their suffering goes unavenged and justice has not yet been served?
Terrorism will always be with us; it is not an enemy, but a tactic. The specific terrorists who attacked us on 9-11, however, are mortal men who can be made to pay the price. Until that has been done, we cannot achieve any sense of closure.
A memorial implies that 9-11 is a part of history. It is not: it is an ongoing injustice that demands all our efforts to pursue. Only when Osama bin Laden has answered before a court, mortal or immortal, will 9-11 monuments and memorials be anything but a hollow mockery and a sorry sham.
Is our sense of reality so debased that we accept a phony feel-good closure, so as to make us less inclined to pursue the real thing?