Tuesday, November 30, 2004

FL 93 and the War on Terror Memorial

Hugh Hewitt is promoting the notion of putting a war on terror memorial at the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. With all due respect to Hugh, this is a terrible idea.

I've been to Shanksville a couple times and written about the current memorial which lives on that field. If you haven't had the chance to take the long drive up to Shanksville, here's what you see:

After spending an hour or so snaking up and over hills on Route 30, eventually you come to the little Buckstown Road, and from there to Skyline Road, a paved, single-lane way which comes out of the hills and slopes up and out to the fields. Off to your right you can see the hulking, rusting remains of earth-movers, left over from mining which finished years ago.

Then there's a break, and you see little paved parking lots on either side of the road, and off to your left, a 60-foot length of chain-link fence, a couple flagpoles, and a giant wooden cross.

You see, Shanksville already has a memorial. It wasn't planned by the government. It came out of nowhere, as people began making pilgrimages to the Flight 93 crash site entirely on their own. And when they came, they left things: Rosaries, hats, pictures, messages, jackets, shoes, pins--anything they could think of. The townspeople put up the fence so that these mementos would have a place to congregate. And in the three years since September 11, the Flight 93 memorial has grown. There's a large marble plaque which was sent up from a grateful man in Guatemala. The giant cross, which stands next to the Pennsylvania and American flags, was installed. And people from all over America--and the world--who have visited have left messages on every singe surface available: flagpoles, guardrails, and even the port-a-johns.

As it exists now, the Flight 93 memorial is a shrine. Because it has been created, spontaneously, by the people, it has a religious character to it which makes it as powerful a monument as there is in our country. (And while the overwhelming majority of the religious sentiment is Christian, I can't think of a religion which isn't in some way represented.)

There are a host of reasons why a memorial to the war on terror shouldn't be situated in Shanksville, but the best is that it would necessitate the sweeping away of the monument people have already built there--and with the government behind it, the new memorial could not possibly have the same religious character. Shanksville is, literally, hallowed ground. It should stay that way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You captured perfectly my own reaction to Hugh Hewitt's suggestion. I would only add this: Mr. Hewitt wants to memorialize military men and women killed in the our present war (I assume that's his intent since he wants military families to design the monument). I'm all for that but doing so at Shanksville would make no sense -- the Americans who died on that flight were civilians and their sacrifice is therefore unique. So the existing memorial -- unplanned and earnest -- is fitting. Yes let's have a proper military memorial but let us have it somewhere else.