Museums usually commemorate and enshrine wars, causes and eras of the past. They are physical road markers of history, of how a nation or people arrived at a certain point in their history. Rarely do memorials have a message for the future like that of the September 11 Memorial Museum that opened last week and was dedicated by President Obama.
The 9/11 Museum serves a dual purpose of remembering the past and providing a message for the present and future.
To serve the past, the museum’s exhibits create a powerful remembrance and re-creation of the darkest day of New York’s history, September 11, 2001. The horror of the day is recreated with audio recordings of the victims calling for help or saying goodbye to their loved ones. It pays tribute to all the victims by exhibiting a biography of each person who perished in the attacks, as well as personal items of these individuals.
The museum also recalls the bravery and heroism of those who risked — and sometimes sacrificed — their lives to save others. The stories of courage in the face of the massive conflagration are many. The FDNY lost 343 of New York’s finest that day, and the bravery cut across rank and position. Peter Ganci, chief of department for the FDNY, died while leading rescue attempts in the North Tower, refusing to leave his men during those desperate attempts to lead others to safety.
But because the war on terror is still not over, the 9/11 Museum has another important function besides paying tribute and preserving memories: that of conveying a message to terrorist wannabes. The museum, in the shadow of the new Liberty Tower and the downtown construction renaissance, tells terrorists that New York doesn’t terrorize easily, that in the face of such cowardly murder, New Yorkers summon strength, rebuild and create out of the ashes of destruction an even more vibrant and thriving metropolis.
The honor given to each and every 9/11 victim, regardless of race, creed and color, flies in the face of everything the terrorists believe in. Terrorists don’t value life, even their own. They give their lives so that others may die, while the rescuers who died that day gave theirs so that others should live.
Terrorists are intolerant of any belief system that doesn’t conform to their own. The 9/11 museum makes exactly the opposite point: that every individual, regardless of creed, is precious, and that any life lost is a loss to us all. The value of human life is the centerpiece of our value system, and the museum is symbolic of that core belief.
The museum honors those we lost and also informs extremists that their terrorism will not bring New Yorkers to their knees.