Guest Host: Marc Fisher

The World Trade Centers in New York City. A field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And the Pentagon in Arlington, VA. Each is a place where the 9/11 terrorist attacks literally hit home. But 10 years later, some say NY has become the symbol of 9/11, not just because of the scale of the destruction, but perhaps also because of the unique meaning of ‘the Pentagon’ to ordinary Americans. Of course, the Washington region knows the Pentagon in a more personal way. We look at how public memory is formed and whether what we believe beforehand shapes what we choose to remember.

Guests

  • Steve Vogel Author, "The Pentagon: A History" (Random House)
  • James Young Director, Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies; University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Julie Beckman Co-Designer, Pentagon Memorial; Co-Founder, Kaseman-Beckman Advanced Strategies

Transcript

  • 13:06:40

    MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Mark Fisher sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, in the Washington area as in New York, nearly everyone has a personal memory of the September 11th attacks, memories of watching smoke rising from buildings or desperately trying to reach friends and family or perhaps losing friends, people close to us. But for most Americans who live farther away from where the attacks happened, the memories they carry are dominated by images of New York and the destruction of the World Trade Center. Perhaps that's as it should be.

  • 13:07:27

    MR. MARC FISHERBut is there a danger that the attack on Northern Virginia, an assault that blew a hole in one of the most powerful symbols in our country is becoming a historical footnote? Of course, the unfathomable human loss suffered in Manhattan that day is one strong reason why 9/11 has become so much a New York story. But how much of our collective memory of the Pentagon attack has been diminished by the nature of the building itself and the purpose that it serves in our country.

  • 13:07:53

    MR. MARC FISHERAnd what does the way we tell the 9/11 story say about Americans' attitudes toward the military and the civilians who work for the government. Joining us to explore where the Washington region and the Pentagon fit in the public memory of September 11th are Steve Vogel. He's the author of "The Pentagon: A History" and he's also a reporter at the Washington Post. James Young is director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He joins us by phone from New York.

  • 13:08:23

    MR. MARC FISHERAnd Julie Beckman is co-designer of the Pentagon Memorial for the September 11th attacks. She's an architect who worked on the design with her husband, Keith Kaseman. She joins us by phone from Philadelphia. And, James Young, let's start with you if we may. Welcome to the program. You have said recently in the piece that I wrote in the Washington Post about this issue that if you were a family member of a Pentagon victim, you might feel just a little bit deserted. Why is that?

  • 13:08:51

    MR. JAMES YOUNGWell, first, thanks for having me. I really do feel that way, not because there's some, you know, conspiracy, you know, from above or below, you're kind of making the Pentagon Memorial invisible, I think not at all. But I think for a lot of the reasons you pointed out, the victims and their families have been kind of absorbed into what is now being called, you know, the National September 11th Memorial and Museum.

  • 13:09:19

    MR. JAMES YOUNGIn fact, all the victims, including those at the Pentagon and Shanksville and on the planes, in addition to the victims of the February 26th, 1993 bombings in New York will be named and recited, you know, at this year's 10th anniversary commemoration in New York City. But you're right, just as far as, you know, profile goes, you know, the memorial and the rebuilding in New York have completely dominated, you know, headlines, you know, kind of preoccupied people both here and abroad and across the country.

  • 13:09:55

    MR. JAMES YOUNGWhile the memorial in D.C., as great as it is, almost, you know, succeeded too well. They repaired themselves. They got the memorial up and running, a great memorial, by the way. I really look forward to hearing the story of it actually, you know, from Julie because I think people need to know that story as well. So, in a way, I mean, your article has done a lot towards kind of expanding the, I think, the memorial agenda overall and it needs to relocate the Washington Memorial kind of in the memorial matrix of 9/11.

  • 13:10:36

    FISHERWell, thanks. And you've done a lot of work on this whole question of public memory and how we tell the story of these huge historical events, whether it's the Holocaust or 9/11. And you also served on the jury for the New York City Memorial, which will be the national memorial to 9/11. Can you talk a little about the way in which the Pentagon and its purpose, the function that it serves in our country may have changed the way we look at the attack there and perhaps diminished the role that the Pentagon attack plays in the story that we tell about 9/11.

  • 13:11:18

    YOUNGWell, as I suggested in our conversation while you're writing your piece, there's something almost intrinsic, you know, to the Pentagon's architectural profile. It's meant to be low and defensive in profile, something very difficult to attack, something very difficult to destroy. And as a result, in fact, it warded off a horrible attack, you know, by a single plane and, as we suggested, it might have taken five or six planes, in fact, you know, to have destroyed the Pentagon, you know, entirely.

  • 13:11:54

    YOUNGSo, it succeeded in what it was meant to do. But at the same time, by succeeding so well and, you know, having one part of it destroyed as opposed to all of it as what happened at Lower Manhattan, it seemed to be proportionally, you know, kind of less a disaster as disastrous as it was, you know, in Arlington. So there is something I think built into these sites, you know, whereas the World Trade Center, you know, was built high and vulnerable and kind of, you know, in everybody's faces.

  • 13:12:31

    YOUNGIt actually led toward a gigantic debate in everybody's faces around memory and how to commemorate. The victim pool downtown was huge, some, you know, 2,700 victims from 80 different countries. It's really kind of an international victim pool, completely heterogeneous and, you know, resulting in this huge clamor downtown over how to remember, whom to remember, why, you know, toward what ends?

  • 13:12:58

    YOUNGAnd at the Pentagon, in fact, the victim pool was also somewhat diverse as you make clear in your article, and yet there was a sense of really getting back to business and repairing itself and repairing itself so well. It's in a funny way kind of closed off, you can maybe short circuit it, you know, kind of a public memorial process.

  • 13:13:19

    FISHERAll right. James Young is director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts. You can join our conversation about 9/11 and how the New York and Washington stories are told about that day by calling 1-800-433-8850 or e-mail us at kojo@wamu.org. Steve Vogel, the author of "The Pentagon: A History," you have looked at the whole history of the Pentagon, but you really did a tremendous amount of recording about this rebuilding of the Pentagon and this desire to kind of erase that scare of 9/11 so quickly.

  • 13:14:00

    FISHERBut talk a little bit about the way in which Americans view the Pentagon, this idea that it is almost more of a fortress than a public landmark that people are personally connected to.

  • 13:14:13

    MR. STEVE VOGELWell, it's interesting, Marc, when you think about it. Since the moment the Pentagon opened really in 1942, it has never closed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And even when the plane struck on September 11th, the building never completely evacuated. The command centers were still operating in some ways. They had smoke coming in. They came close to having to have the whole thing shut down.

  • 13:14:44

    MR. STEVE VOGELBut I think it goes to the way Americans view the Pentagon. It is the national military command center. And had the Pentagon shut down that day, it would have been seen, I think, as a great success for the 9/11 terrorists, the conspirators who planned the attack. And that was one of the reasons they chose the Pentagon because from the moment it opened became this iconic symbol of American power projected on a global scale.

  • 13:15:15

    FISHERLet's bring Julie Beckman into the conversation, the co-designer of the Pentagon Memorial, which sits directly in front of the spot where the plane hit the building and is sort of sandwiched between the Pentagon and the highway. Obviously you had a design challenge in how to fit this into that unusual space. But you also had the challenge of dealing with the Pentagon as this symbol of American power, of continuity, a very different kind of story to tell than they had in New York, right?

  • 13:15:51

    MS. JULIE BECKMANYes, Marc, hi. Thank you for having me. Yeah, the design challenge was, believe it or not, the Pentagon as a -- it really was simply a backdrop for the site. The intent of, at least from our standpoint, the intent of integrating the Pentagon was not necessarily a priority of ours but rather how to create a place that, you know, begins to tell a story of what happened. Obviously there are many other logistic challenges that come with the Pentagon reservation, in general.

  • 13:16:32

    MS. JULIE BECKMANJust the vastness of its size, it's accessibility, its proximity to many different roadways and underneath a noisy flight path and so on. So there were a number of logistical and just site-specific challenges that we faced. But we actually used them to our advantage. You know, we were offered an approximately a two-acre site to conceive an idea and we -- as part of our design intent, we chose to take up the whole site as opposed to situating on object or one thing somewhere within those two acres.

  • 13:17:20

    MS. JULIE BECKMANBut rather spread the memorial across what was available, which helped the kind of magnitude of what happened. And we also took advantage of the proximity to the roadways and the flight path as an opportunity to reach out to that audience as well as, you know, visitors on foot. And so, as you drive by the site or fly over it, you have a pretty, you know, beautiful prime view of the memorial. So we, you know, we tried to take advantage of these -- what might be considered, you know, some site-specific challenges.

  • 13:18:00

    FISHERYou know, when you visit there, there is this overwhelming sense of openness and of quiet and reflection. And the benches and the way that they're spaced out, the stones and the small pools of water, each of them with their own sort of burbling sounds that contrast very sharply with those roaring airplanes going overhead at such a low altitude every minute or so. So, obviously, you were kind of conducting a conversation with the building and the surroundings. Is the memorial that you designed one that you think can only exist at the Pentagon or could it just as easily have been a design that worked at Shanksville or in New York?

  • 13:18:51

    BECKMANWell, that's a good question. I do think it would be considered more site specific than necessarily being able to pick it up and put it anywhere. Primarily, the trajectory the plane took into the building is one of the most striking features of the memorial. The age lines that cross the site are oriented parallel to that trajectory. And so, upon entering the park, one is immediately put into a context of what happened that day whether they realize it or not.

  • 13:19:32

    BECKMANWalking up and down the aisles, they are following that trajectory, you know, subconsciously almost. So, I think that, you know, the tactility of the memorial was very intentional. We wanted this memorial to have an emphasis on life, while it also served as a place for remembrance and contemplation. And so, the fact that you can hear your footsteps when you walk on the gravel, the fact that you can hear the, you know, the water moving, the fact that you can see the lacy shadows coming through the trees, that was all meant to remind visitors that are there that they are in fact, you know, still here and have this opportunity to reflect back upon what happened that day.

  • 13:20:24

    FISHERAnd, Steve Vogel, one of the things that you don't have, when you visit the Pentagon Memorial, is a view of what's missing, a view of the damage. In New York, there's still a hole, I mean, there is an empty space where the World Trade Center stood. The Pentagon, however, went about repairing the scars of the 9/11 attacks, immediately. Tell us a little bit about that race to repair the building. Why did they feel that it was so essential to erase the scar and how did that contribute to the way we now think about the attack in Washington versus that in New York?

  • 13:20:59

    VOGELWell, it's really interesting because it emerged from the workers themselves, the construction guys who were already on site working on the renovation of the building that had been going on for a new of years. And, so, you had these guys who'd been fixing up the building, the section they had just finished was the section that was hit by the aircraft. And that incidentally ended up saving a lot of lives because a lot of people hadn't moved in, it was vacant space.

  • 13:21:29

    VOGELBut you had a huge gaping scar in the building. It's easy to underestimate how big a hole that was in the building because of the scale of the building. You're talking about a side of the building that ran a fifth of a mile long, each side of the building. So it looked like a tiny dent in the building but it was actually a massive, you know, 400,000 square feet area, the size of a shopping center that was utterly devastated.

  • 13:21:58

    VOGELThe scale of destruction in there truly frightening and had New York not been happening on the same day, it would've been the largest terrorist attack in the history of the country. The workers, more or less, rallied to try to erase that scar as a response to the terror attacks. And within a month, they had set a goal of restoring the building to the way it was prior to the attack. And, you know, the Phoenix Project, came along to fit that goal of essentially bringing the building back.

  • 13:22:41

    VOGELAnd it wasn't a for show type of demonstration where they just fixed the wall and the inside was not ready to go. They had a large portion of the offices there, on the outer ring, ready to go. And it almost worked too well, as you suggest, because within a year you had a finished building. And while you wouldn't forget what had happened, it was easy to not recollect the terribleness of it.

  • 13:23:12

    FISHERSteve Vogel is the author of "The Pentagon: A History." We'll talk with him and James Young and Julie Beckman about why it is that the New York story has seemed so much more compelling and in these days before the 10th anniversary, we hear so much more and see so many more images of the New York attack then that of -- at the Pentagon. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.

  • 13:25:22

    FISHERWelcome back, I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi and we are talking about 9/11 and the, almost, the comparative pain felt and the way between New York and Washington in the 9/11 tragedy. What -- the ways in which that story is being passed on, not only to our children but to future generations.

  • 13:25:44

    FISHERAnd we are talking with Julie Beckman, co-designer of the Pentagon Memorial at -- for the September 11th attacks. James Young at the University of Massachusetts and Steve Vogel, a reporter at the Washington Post. Let's go to Lee in Washington. Lee, it's your turn.

  • 13:26:03

    LEEHi, how you doing? I'm a longtime listener, first time caller. I've been working in the news media in Washington for about 15 years now. And, I think, you guys are missing the simple reason why the focus is in New York. And that is that news media is centered in New York. All the producers live in New York and they're more apt to discuss stories that affect them directly.

  • 13:26:28

    FISHERWell, it certainly is a point that we saw in the coverage of the storms and earthquake, this summer. A heavy New York centric approach in much of the way this story was covered, that the whole story of the hurricane seemed to be -- hurricane Irene, seemed to be when and whether it would damage New York City when, in fact, the great damage was done in places well removed from that media center.

  • 13:26:54

    FISHERBut, James Young, there is -- in this whole question of comparing the ways that we tell these stories and the weight that we give to one story over another, it can seem very petty and even ugly and I know that you've done a lot of work on this issue involving memory and public memory of the holocaust where other groups that suffered during the holocaust, sometimes challenged the version that's told about Europe's murdered Jews. Could you talk a little bit about this question of comparative pain and the importance to the victims and their families of having their story told.

  • 13:27:40

    YOUNGSure. And, also, I want to say, I think, your caller Lee has a -- is making a good point. That in addition to kind of cultural, political, even architectural reasons, kind of the mass media, you know, in New York really do dominate. That's the central greatest concentration of them. So that there is a preoccupation there with the, you know, kind of New York centered stories, so it's true.

  • 13:28:09

    YOUNGBut I think all of those things, you know, all of those things matter in different degrees. Especially before memorials are actually built, there's a sense of, what I would call, competing, even conflicting memories kind of building into a central site. So that any memorial that wants to centralize many competing and conflicting memories, you know, runs the risk of creating a hierarchy of victimization.

  • 13:28:43

    YOUNGAnd I know during the debates in Berlin around Germany's national memorial to Europe's murdered Jews, there was quite a bit of early resistance to the idea of one, you know, central memorial to Europe's murdered Jews worrying, you know, for people who are worried that only, you know, the Jewish victims of the Nazi regime, you know, would be remembered. When in fact, what happened and what I kind of hoped would happen, in so encouraged the process to continue, you have to start somewhere.

  • 13:29:14

    YOUNGAnd I've found that as probably the, you know, largest groups singled out by the Nazi's, you know, you know, for kind of the most purely, you know, ideological reasons, it was really okay to begin by remembering the Jewish victims, knowing that other victim groups such as the victims of euthanasia programs, you know, even pre-war euthanasia programs, the political prisoners, homosexual victims, even Jehovah's Witnesses and others would, in fact, be remembered over time.

  • 13:29:49

    YOUNGBut once you begin that memorial matrix by planting one seed, others will take hold nearby. You know, creating kind of an overall matrix. And I'd like to kind of -- I would love for both Americans and kind of the international community to recognize that same kind of memorial matrix here in the states. The one that would include what the memorials in New York, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville.

  • 13:30:19

    YOUNGAnd even, perhaps, include all the local memorials, you know, built out in the Boroughs here in New York or even the kind of -- the traveling memorials, the bits of steel and iron, you know, that have been exported, you know, from the New York site to create seeds around the country. And that this is, you know, kind of a memorial writ large and kind of a composite memorial. But that takes a little bit of a shift of a, you know, world view. And, I think, that's something maybe we need to work on.

  • 13:30:49

    FISHERJulie Beckman, co-designer of the Pentagon Memorial, when -- one of the differences between the way the New York story is told and the way the Pentagon story is told is that there seems to be, at least in the documentaries, in the movies and the books that have come out about 9/11, there's a heavy concentration on the individual stories of pain and sorrow of the World Trade Center victims whereas the Pentagon story tends to be told, almost, more institutionally with less of a focus on the individuals.

  • 13:31:21

    FISHERAnd I know that you have the names of each victim on the benches that are the centerpiece of your memorial. But did you have to grapple with this question of how prominent to make the individual stories, names of the victims?

  • 13:31:41

    BECKMANActually, well we went through the same process of reading about the individuals, you know, their lives and, you know, where they were at the time that this happened and what they did as careers and families and so on. And so, I think, across the board, you know, one of the driving aspects of our design was to -- how to create both individual memorials as well as a memorial of the collective or a larger memorial for the hole of the community and country.

  • 13:32:23

    BECKMANAnd so -- but we worked very hard to really put the onus on the visitor for having an opportunity to interpret their memories and their recollections and in, you know, many years to come, just interpret the events of September 11th. So we thought to create a contemplative, peaceful, beautiful place that is -- that there is one dedicated to each of the 184 individuals who were lost. But -- and simply tell certain aspects of the story whether they were in the building at the time or whether they were onboard flight 77 at the time.

  • 13:33:13

    BECKMANAnd also seek a way for their memory to be as timeless as possible. And so by organizing them by their ages, you really get a sense of, you know, this 37 year old woman was on the plane and this 37 year old man, who, you know, they might've had birthday's quite close to each other, was in the building and they're forever remembered here, at this place. And so we were looking for ways to simply give some clues as to what happened and allow the visitors to really chart their own journey through the memorial and through their own memories.

  • 13:33:55

    FISHERLet's go to Peter in the District. Peter, it's your turn. Peter, you're on the air. Are you still there, Peter? Okay, we'll come back to Peter. Let's go to Gary in Washington, Gary?

  • 13:34:11

    GARYHi, I think, the difference between the situation in New York and the situation here at the Pentagon is that in New York it's a narrative of failure and loss whereas at the Pentagon, we see -- we have a building that was built by the government, that was well built to withstand an attack and that was quickly repaired. So -- and it was -- and all this was done by the government. So it can be seen as a narrative of resiliency.

  • 13:34:41

    GARYAnd we live in a time when the narrative is that, government doesn't do anything well. So here we have government that did something well and continues to do things well. And that's not a narrative that I think people want to hear. We can also see that Shanksville, that that can be seen as a narrative of success because an attack was averted. And I don't think that's what people want to hear. I think they want to wallow in self pity and victimization.

  • 13:35:11

    FISHERInteresting point, Steve Vogel, obviously the Pentagon, as you say, had to keep moving, keep going, keep operating throughout the period after the attack. But there is, in this perhaps less emotional story that's told about the 9/11 attack in Northern Virginia. It -- does -- do you think that has something to do with our attitude toward government?

  • 13:35:36

    FISHERThat these were perhaps faceless bureaucrats who died there? Or even that they were, in a sense, combatants because they work for the department of defense whereas the New York victims were seen as pure innocents, not involved at all in this kind of conflict?

  • 13:35:51

    VOGELI know there's a lot of anger among some of the Pentagon 9/11 families about that very issue. And they felt that right from the start. I can remember speaking to the wife of an Army officer who was killed in the attack. And she felt as if the attitude of the country was, well, you know, he got what he expected, what you expect for an Army officer and that's the way it goes. And the fact that these were, a lot of them, most of them, government workers in the building, I think, it's pretty shocking when you think of but there is an attitude that somehow makes them less of a victim.

  • 13:36:33

    VOGELAnd, you know, Gary's point that this was a case of where the government did something right is very interesting because, you know, contracting -- government contractors, construction projects are notorious for, you know, being botched, cost overruns and the Pentagon was high on the list of guilty parties. The, you know, the renovation program had been going disastrously for some time and it had recently straightened itself out. And you had the Pentagon reconstruction being, you know, one of the great reconstruction projects in American history and a lot of people probably have ignored that.

  • 13:37:16

    FISHERAnd it's interesting, you talk in the book about the history of the American attitude toward the military and our unease with people in uniform. And even before 9/11, before even the Pentagon was created, you mentioned that it was Army policy for officers to wear civilian clothes in downtown Washington so they wouldn’t alarm the public.

  • 13:37:39

    VOGELThat's right, that was one of the things that both Roosevelt -- President Roosevelt and the Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, were worried that if people saw all the men in uniform who were actually in the Army, if they knew how many were around, there would be a reaction against that. So a lot of Army officers, prior to Pearl Harbor, were running around in civilian clothes. And somehow worked even though they might've looked and acted a little bit differently from civilians. When you -- they -- one of the targets that they were trying to fool most was Congress. And it succeeded to some extent.

  • 13:38:22

    FISHERLet's go back, I think, Peter is back on the line in Washington. Peter, you're on the air. Peter? I guess we're still having trouble with Peter. Okay, let's go back to James Young. And, James Young, the director of the institute for holocaust, genocide and memory studies at the University of Massachusetts. You have -- you sat on the jury that selected the design for the New York memorial. When -- what are you looking for in a memorial design competition? What makes for an effective meaningful memorial?

  • 13:38:58

    YOUNGWell, we went in without too many kind of prescribed notions. I think it was a jury of 13, you know, composed of architects, you know, a couple of academics like me and Vartan Gregorian and then, of course, Maya Lin was on the jury as well.

  • 13:39:17

    FISHERShe's the designer of the Vietnam wall.

  • 13:39:19

    YOUNGAnd who designed, yeah, the Vietnam veterans monument and some -- so we probably went in with a kind of contemporary approach that yelled less is going to be more. We tend to have kind of a minimalist esthetic, I think, that we share. But we were also driven, in some ways, you know, by family of the victims and their memorial mission and mandate.

  • 13:39:43

    YOUNGAnd this is actually a question I have for Julie. I'm very curious to how much input the families had, how loud their voices may have been or whether they, you know, were part of the process as a group? And here, I know, in New York, we had the -- we actually had a September 11th memorial mission statement from the families, and if it's okay, I'd like to read it to you because we ended up having to take this into account as we -- as we moved on. We were told that this memorial could be summed up thus. "May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons which we affirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire and end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance."

  • 13:40:35

    YOUNGThat's their -- the families September 11 memorial mission statement. And so we were kind of handed this and then asked to approach the 5,201 designs to see if we could find something, you know, close to articulating this, or at least creating a space, you know, where the spirit of this mission statement, you know, might, you know, might remain.

  • 13:40:56

    YOUNGI'm wondering in Washington's case, Julie, did you have a kind of a similar mandate or mission, or a singular voice from the families that you had to take into account?

  • 13:41:08

    BECKMANOh, yes we did. There -- well, we similarly had a very poignant and provocative mission statement. Unfortunately I don't have it in front of me, but I do recall the one statement that hit home, at least to Keith and I the most was they said they wanted to create a place that makes people think, but doesn't tell them what to think or how to feel.

  • 13:41:37

    BECKMANAnd I think that we -- that resonated very much with us because we felt that, you know, the events and experiences of September 11 were so vast and varied across, you know, millions of people from those who lost family members, those who ran for their lives, those who didn't learn about it for several hours, you know, and it goes on and on. And so we felt that it was almost impossible to summarize, you know, a way to remember September 11 in one image.

  • 13:42:14

    BECKMANAnd so that -- the fact that that was their ultimate goal, you know, really told us, you know, this is something that we should, you know, be a part of. There's going to be a conversation about how to remember, and this is an opportunity for us to participate in it, even if it's just for a couple of seconds and -- but we did have a -- there was a family steering committee at the time -- actually the concept of a memorial came from the families themselves.

  • 13:42:47

    BECKMANThey are the ones that, you know, this was as the reconstruction was happening, they were realizing that, you know, as we discussed earlier, that the -- the scar was going to be erased and quickly, and you might not -- not only will you not maybe remember what side of the building was hit but, you know, future generations won't remember that anything happened there. And so that was a huge concern of theirs, and therefore they wanted a memorial to make sure that that, you know, that the memory of their loved ones lives on.

  • 13:43:22

    FISHERWhen we come back, we will talk a little bit more about this question of whether Washington -- or how much Washington and the Pentagon should fit into the collective public memory of the 9/11 attacks, as well as your thoughts about the Pentagon memorial, whether you visited it and what your impressions were, and your personal connection to the Pentagon from visits, tours, work, that sort of thing, all at 1-800-433-8850. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Marc Fisher sitting in for Kojo. We'll be back in a moment. Stay with us.

  • 13:45:51

    FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, and we are talking about 9/11, and particularly about the way in which the story of the Pentagon attack is fitting into the larger narrative of what happened on that day. You can join us at 1-800-433-8850. And James Young of the University of Massachusetts, could you tell us a little bit about what you think the level of sympathy for victims of a tragedy, what impact that has on the event's place in history in the long run?

  • 13:46:25

    FISHERWe think about the differences in level of sympathy comparing say the victims of the earthquake in Haiti last year was in a completely different league from that that we heard for flood victims in Pakistan. There are always these differences. Do they have a long-term impact?

  • 13:46:43

    YOUNGWell, I think they do. I think you've actually hit on something that I think is a little bit hard to talk about. Where kind of outsiders or -- or bystanders can identify with the victims and, you know, kind of, you know, even -- even say to themselves there but for the grace of God, you know, go I . That level of identification and sympathy actually bonds them I think to the memory of events, and in some ways amplifies that memory in a way.

  • 13:47:23

    YOUNGAnd if they don't identify, they identify a little bit less, maybe as in the case of kind of this generalization and unfortunate stereotyping of the victims of the Pentagon as mostly military, you know, personnel somehow who, you know, were there doing their jobs and, you know, were part of kind of a, you know, were in a way combatants, you know. And it's really unfortunate, but I do believe there's a -- there is a generalization at large nationally then there is a little bit less sympathy, and in some ways a little bit less focus on what went on at the Pentagon.

  • 13:48:02

    YOUNGAnd I think your article, and even a show like this in transparency can -- I think it can correct that, and these memorials should be self-correcting in a way. The more transparent and the public air time they get, you know, kind of the broader their appeal really should be. So I'd like to see that, you know, these memorials and their meanings can evolve over time as kind of a new appreciation for the victims and who they really were, what they were doing there, you know, comes more fully into view.

  • 13:48:36

    FISHERLet's go to Martha in Rockville. Martha, it's your turn.

  • 13:48:40

    MARTHAHi. Yes. I was -- just wanted to share what had always been my assumption about why the Pentagon didn't get as much attention. I mean, there's the obvious factors that it just simply wasn't as spectacular to look at, and, you know, I hate to say it, but that makes good air time and storytelling.

  • 13:49:00

    FISHERAbsolutely.

  • 13:49:02

    MARTHABut also, I always assumed that it was a function of the military culture, because just as in that they needed to get that building repaired and up and running just as soon as humanly possible, they -- there was a feeling -- I always assumed -- my grandfather was a colonel and worked there after World War II, and that there was a -- that the military has to appear strong and like, you know, we were covered and we're ready to go again.

  • 13:49:40

    MARTHABut also there's a certain privacy about military people and military things, and I just assumed -- I was kind of surprised they got that great big chunk of land so close to the Pentagon to build the monument on, which I understand was paid for privately. But see, yeah, that always kind of -- I just always wrote the whole thing off to military culture.

  • 13:50:05

    FISHERThat's a great point, and Steve Vogel, as a reporter, you probably had that experience of finding the military, I don't know, were they more reticent about telling the individual stories of the victims than -- than we saw in New York? Was there a cultural difference there in a way/

  • 13:50:24

    VOGELFirst, let me say just real quickly that the land where the memorial was built was not -- it was already part of the Pentagon reservations. They didn't have to purchase that. But in terms of reticence, I would say that before the smoke had cleared, most of the military officers at the Pentagon had the assumption that we were a nation at war, and we were on a war footing. And -- that to some extent dictated the response to the tragedy.

  • 13:50:57

    VOGELIn terms of the reticence, I don't fully agree. I think a lot of the families were very willing to share their stories, fellow officers, these were their brother and sisters of service members enlisted, civilians who were killed, and there were plenty of people who were willing to tell their story. The question was more how many people were listening, because of the scale of the tragedy in New York. There was less attention being paid down here. So it's a little bit of both I'd say.

  • 13:51:36

    FISHERJulie Beckman, one of the things I've noticed at the Pentagon memorial, is the tremendous pride that a lot of people in uniform have. I saw on several occasions while visiting, I saw officers bringing younger members of the services to the memorial and showing them around. So there does to seem to be a kind of sense of ownership there. But could you talk a little bit about the way in which the design has been received by the military? Are they -- how did you find them as far as their openness to the emotions involved in this whole tragedy?

  • 13:52:15

    BECKMANWe found them to be incredibly open, you know. They -- your article does mention the design process and the kind of -- the quickness of kind of locking in the design intent. But I do -- I think that they have been incredibly welcoming to having, you know, visitors on there, you know, quite close to the building. I know that has always been a security issue, but that, you know, they -- I think they feel that this was, you know, this was an attack on their workplace and in many cases kind of a second home, you know.

  • 13:53:01

    BECKMANThis is where they spend many hours a day and I think they often feel that this is place for them to go and remember their colleagues, you know, as many of them were lost. And I think that in general, the -- at least as far as, you know, we've heard, and from comments from the general public that the memorial is well received and, you know, aside from it being challenging to access and park and that type of stuff, you know, it seems to be a place that people enjoy visiting.

  • 13:53:39

    FISHERLet's go to Jeannie in Washington. Jeannie, it's your turn. Jeannie, are you there?

  • 13:53:46

    JEANNIEHello?

  • 13:53:47

    FISHERYes, go ahead.

  • 13:53:49

    JEANNIEI think one of the reasons that New York got more attention is that it was an ongoing story for a longer time. With the Pentagon, the plane hit, there was the damage to the building, but the -- it did not take too long before people were accounted for, the structure was -- you knew what was damaged, what wasn't.

  • 13:54:14

    JEANNIEIn New York, besides the length of time it took for the buildings to collapse, there were too many days where people were still trying to figure out what was still there, what wasn't, and so many more people trying to locate people. It was just a more confined area here in Washington. It affected fewer people, and while it affected us quite a lot, it didn't affect the nation -- people -- many more people know people who have been in New York than know people who actually hang around the Pentagon.

  • 13:54:52

    FISHERSure. Sure. Well, and certainly the view across the country of the Pentagon is a narrower one as we discussed earlier that it -- we either see people as being part of the government, or part of the military if they're involved with the Pentagon. Julie Beckman, I want to ask you in the short time we have remaining, there is some talk from -- at the Pentagon of creating some sort of interpretive center that would lend more of a traditional narrative to the story at the memorial, rather than the more abstract approach which the memorial now takes. Is that something that you've talked about and would support, or does that detract from the theme and message of the memorial as you designed it?

  • 13:55:36

    BECKMANWell, we of course want to, you know, enable the education of what happened on 9/11, you know, from much time to come. We have always considered the memorial to be more on the abstract side as you say, and again, enabling the visitors to have their own interpretation. So, you know, we're certainly going to kind of keep our eyes on what's going on and our ears on things and nothing has been proposed yet, but we know that the Pentagon Memorial Fund has a very strong endeavor to make sure that education is something that persists, and also on the theme of today's talk, and to make sure that the memories of those who died here at the Pentagon are, you know, are locked in history, you know, forever.

  • 13:56:31

    FISHERAnd James Young, what have we learned from the history of memorials? Do those that have this abstract approach tend to tell a story beyond the generation that's affected by the event, or is it the more traditional narratives told by older memorials that tell a more lasting story.

  • 13:56:52

    YOUNGGenerally, I think the more abstract and minimalist memorials of today, you know, like Julie's memorial or like Michael Arad and Peter Walker's memorial in New York. I think that they build into themselves the capacity for evolution, the capacity for new generations to come and find their own meanings, yet they're a little bit underdetermined in that way, which is a good thing.

  • 13:57:20

    YOUNGAt the same time, they may, over time, demand that kind of interpretive center or historical context so that the next generation, you know, can come and kind of be reminded of the moment in time when these memorials were created and why it was so important at the time, you know, to create a memorial, and what the historical -- what we knew then, you know, in that moment, and how what we knew then may itself evolve over time.

  • 13:57:51

    YOUNGBoth in Berlin and in New York it became crucial for the abstract surface memorial to be undergirded by very hard historical narrative explaining what happened on these days.

  • 13:58:05

    FISHERWe're gonna have to leave it there. James Young is director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts. Steve Vogel is author of "The Pentagon: A History," and Julie Beckman is co-designer of the Pentagon Memorial for the September 11 attacks. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks so much for listening.

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