Sunday, May 5, 2013

The 9/11 Museum Should be Free to All

This morning I read with not a small degree of dismay that the non-profit corporation and foundation responsible for constructing and operating the new museum at the site of the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan is now planning to charge up to a $25 per person mandatory entrance fee when the museum open to the public next year (although the exact amount of the fee is yet to be determined).  Apparently I am not the only one who feels this way.

Karen Matthews of the Associated Press reports via the Huffington Post that the Foundation claims it is facing sizeable operating costs in the neighborhood of $60 million annually, due in large part to the security that will be required to protect the site from future terrorist attacks. “This is something that is going to be important and is going to be worth the expenditure,” according to Joseph Daniels, the president of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum since October 2006, adding that there would be student and senior discounts while rejecting the idea of optional donations as unfeasible.  

There was a great deal of debate and hair-pulling concerning the final design and ultimate mission of the Memorial and Museum, as well the proposed construction and operation budget funded by private and public funds.  Cost concerns surfaced early in the process with the public disclosure that both would cost an estimated $672 million.  Furthermore, it would take a total of at least $973 million to fully develop the memorial setting which would be owned, operated and finance by the Foundation.  A subsequent  estimate put the cost $494 million and the budget was cut to $530 million, with an additional $80 million grant from New York State for the construction of the museum pavilion.  Even with this reduced budget, over $700 million has been raised to date, with more than half coming from private donations from hundreds of thousands of donors in all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries.  The remainder consists of federal grants through the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC).  The first capital fund-raising goal of US$350 million was raised by April 2008 to be used to build the memorial and museum and to create an operating endowment for the museum after which Thomas S. Johnson, chairman of the Foundation's executive committee announced the decision not to actively pursue new fund-raising efforts until there was “complete clarity” concerning the design and the costs of the project.

Construction for the memorial began in August 2006, and despite delays, the Foundation was still confident that the memorial would be completed by the tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2011.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also the Foundation’s chairperson, received a low interest $15 million dollar loan to cover budget shortfalls, and there has also been federal and state funding along with monies from the Port Authority.  If you visit the Foundation’s website - - there is ample opportunity for you and other private individuals, corporation and foundations to make tax deductible donations, and in doing so recognizing that “the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is only possible because of your support.”   Well, that is not completely true is it?
The late Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) proposed Senate Bill 1537 (the National September 11 Memorial and Museum Act of 2011) which would have transferred the site of the memorial and museum to the Secretary of the Interior so that it could be administered by the National Park Service while providing an additional $20 million in US taxpayers’ money to be applied toward the annual operating budget of the memorial and museum (this is approximately one third of the proposed annual operating budget).  The bill was introduced on September 9, 2011 and sent to committee.  House Resolution 2882 was introduced by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY8) on September 12, 2011 and was co-sponsored by three other representatives from New York State as it was sent to committee.  On October 19, 2011, William D. Shaddox of the National Park Service testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and raised concerns regarding the ability of the National Park Service to provide the funds required by the legislation.  Shaddox testified that there was no precedent for the Park Service to hold title to a property over which it does not also have operational and administrative control as required by the bill.  Both the Senate bill and the House Resolution died in committee and were never enacted.  What a shame.

Almost a month ago I visited the Shanksville, Pennsylvania memorial to the heroic passengers of United Flight 93 who foiled the attempt by terrorist hijackers to fly a fourth commercial airliner into a target in Washington, DC on the morning of September 11, 2001 [ ].  This memorial is operated by the National Park Service and is open daily to the public free of charge.  The Pentagon Memorial to the 184 who died that morning - the passengers on American Flight 77 and the men and women at the Pentagon - was dedicated on September 11, 2008 and is also administered by the National Park Service and opened to the public free of charge every day of the week.

One wonders why the federal government through appropriate Congressional legislation has not found it fitting to financially support a memorial to ALL victims of the 9/11 attacks and not just those who perished at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.  Throughout our nation’s history, Congress has stepped forward to authorize operating funds – in partnership with private donors – for memorials and museums of national significance.  Congress has authorized funding for numerous Civil War battlefields, for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and for numerous museums and other historical sites.  Why not support of memorial museum in New York City to recognize and honor the victims of the largest foreign attack on American soil?   It seem like a no-brainer to me.

The museum’s mission statement claims that it exists to bear “solemn witness” to the terrorist attacks and to honor the nearly 3,000 victims of these attacks as well as those who risked their lives to save others.  “The Museum attests to the triumph of human dignity over human depravity and affirms an unwavering commitment to the fundamental value of human life.”  Furthermore, Alice M. Greenwood, the museum’s director, tells us that “the Museum will explore the very real impact of terrorism in the lives of very real people, and their families, friends, colleagues and communities.”   If this is the case, why should these same families and friends be expected to pay such an exorbitant entry fee?  Why should anyone, whether they be American or not?  “As custodian of memory,” she goes on to say, “the Museum will take on the mantle of moral authority that will define its continuing and evolving role. This Museum will do nothing less than underscore the absolute illegitimacy of indiscriminate murder.”  I would certainly hope so at $25 a head! 

If there is as much money in the coffers as one is led to believe, it seem to me a rather specious argument to suggest that there is not enough to fund an endowment to cover the operating and security budgets for the new memorial and museum.  How odd that we can visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum and learn about Nazi criminal intentions and actions toward innocent victims and to memorialize and honor in some small way the memory of Nazi victims, yet we are expected to pay top dollar to memorialize and honor our own victims of wanton violence and murder.

Frankly, I think it is offensive to the memory of those who died at Ground Zero, those passengers in the two planes, the workers at the World Trade Center, and those dedicated first responders who gave their lives so that the lucky might return home to their family and friends.  It is an insult to these same families and friends who must soon pay to honor their loved ones.

If the Foundation is truly the custodian of memory cloaked in the mantle of moral authority, it will find a way to make the museum and the surrounding memorial open and free to all who now live daily with the threat of global terrorism that is inalterably changing the fabric of our daily lives.  

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