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Commentary: Memo To The Future

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The latest debate over the future of Ground Zero revolves around plans for The International Freedom Center, a museum devoted to the idea, the history and the current state of Freedom. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer says what’s at stake is the freedom to think.

LEHRER: Memo to the future: If I am ever killed in a terrorist attack, I want my memorial to contain as much context as possible about the circumstances of my death. In fact, I think I’ll call my lawyer and add that line to my living will.

Now-- fantasizing about how I want to be remembered after getting offed by terrorists is not my idea of weekend recreation, but the attempt to kill the Freedom Center left me no choice.

The opponents of the museum, including some of the victims’ families, say the memorial at Ground Zero should only be about 9/11 itself and the people who died there. And they insist that it contain nothing critical of the United States. But on my weekday call-in show, Freedom Center Director Tom Bernstein said his idea doesn’t replace but complements, the 9/11 memorial.

BERNSTEIN: And this would complement the memorial and the memorial museum… to reaffirm our belief in a free and open society… and help provide hope for humanity

LEHRER: Do you feel like you’re a symbol in the culture wars?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, and it’s disturbing. We all want to honor the victims. The great risk here… is that politics will make us fail on that promise

LEHRER: Full disclosure: Tom Bernstein is on the WNYC Board of Trustees, and I have known him for years.

Ironically, it was the left that first expressed skepticism about a Museum of Freedom, fearing it would echo the simplistic way they believe President Bush uses the word, and would whitewash American history. But now it’s more the right, exemplified by Congressman Peter King of Nassau County who said flatly to the New York Times this week that 9/11 needs no context.

Will the Freedom Center be built? Ultimately, this decision rests with one man: Governor Pataki. He approved the Freedom Center in the first place, through his Lower Manhattan development Corporation, but is now thinking of running for president, with a need to build his credentials as a cultural conservative. Will he stand by his decision? That’s up to him.

But as for me, this is what it’s come to in today’s world. Not only do I have to worry about getting blown up by religious fanatics, and keeping my Go Bag by the door, I have to wonder if my death will be used to make people think less about the world, rather than more. So memo to the future: If I am ever killed in a terrorist attack, I want my memorial to contain as much context as possible about the circumstances of my death. With you as my witness, just in case.

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