By Jonathan David Morris
I like a good 9/11 memorial.
I guess that statement looks weirder in print than it sounded in my head. But I think you know what I’m getting at. Many towns in the New York City area—in fact, many towns across the country—have put up memorials over the last few years, either in honor of locals who lost their lives on 9/11 or simply in honor of 9/11 overall. I enjoy these memorials, inasmuch as you can possibly “enjoy” such a thing. To this day, I can read the placard of a 9/11 victim, see a single word like “mother” or “father,” and start to get choked up.
It’s interesting to see the different approaches people take to building these things. I’ve seen a beautiful pair of marble Twin Tower replicas, for instance, surrounded by a tasteful rock garden. I’ve seen two flags flying side by side, like the towers once stood. I’ve even seen WTC replicas built on people’s lawns and in front of fire houses (some, rudimentary models built with wood from Home Depot; others, with office lights, blinking antennas, and all the attention to detail you’d usually find on a model railroad).
In New York right now, there’s a bit of a controversy over plans to build a museum called the International Freedom Center at Ground Zero. Plans call for the IFC to function as a “narrative of hope,” where memories of 9/11 will be on display alongside historical information on genocide, slavery, and other human rights abuses. This has the families of some 9/11 victims outraged. A 9/11 memorial, they say, should be just that: a 9/11 memorial. None of this other stuff.
In May, the Ground Zero rebuilding plans also came under attack from Donald Trump. Trump’s issue was not with the Freedom Center, but rather the proposed Freedom Tower—a 1,776-foot structure that’ll take the WTC’s place as the signature figure on New York City’s skyline. “It is the worst pile of crap architecture I have ever seen in my life,” Trump said of the Freedom Tower. His alternative? Rebuild the original Twin Towers—only a hundred feet taller. As Trump puts it: “If something happened to the Statue of Liberty, you wouldn’t rebuild it as something other than the Statue of Liberty.”
He has a point.
Last week, the House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment banning “physical desecration” of the American flag. If the amendment passes the Senate, it will then take just 38 states to change the Constitution and murder the First Amendment.
“The voice of the American people has been heard and heeded,” according to Thomas Cadmus of the American Legion. “Poll after poll indicates that between 75 percent to 80 percent of the public support legal protection for Old Glory.”
Rep. Randy Cunningham appeals to an even higher authority than the American people—namely, the people whose lives were affected by September 11th. “Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center,” he says. “Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment.”
Mr. Cunningham’s logic is impeccable. What’s he suggesting here? That the deaths of 3,000 people count extra in a country of 300 million? Democratically speaking, that makes no sense. And even if we apply Mr. Cadmus’s estimation that 75 percent of Americans support the amendment, we’re still looking at something that goes against the individualistic spirit of the Constitution.
This government was founded by men who would’ve thought nothing of burning the British flag—or even the American flag, if America pissed them off some. The First Amendment protects political speech precisely because it must be protected for freedom to survive. Mr. Cadmus doesn’t get that. In his mind, banning flag desecration somehow means the “voice of the people” has been heard. But what people, I ask you? The voice of the many over the few?
Most Americans would never burn an American flag—even if they hate America. You don’t need an amendment to stop more than 75 percent of Americans from doing something they were never going to do. Yet it’s the constitutionally-protected right to burn the flag—for those few who’d do it—that makes the flag so special. This right conveys a certain respect for every person and every opinion—even the unpopular ones. That’s freedom. And that’s what America’s supposed to be about.
If each 9/11 victim’s life was precious (and it was), then we have no business using their deaths to revoke the rights of living individuals. Either every person counts, or no person does. You can’t have it both ways.
Randy Cunningham’s appeal to the Twin Towers represents the other side of “remembering 9/11”—the side that seeks to assign it a meaning that detracts from what actually occurred. People will debate why 9/11 happened for years to come. Some will say we were attacked because terrorists hate freedom. Others will say terrorists simply hate our foreign policy. There’s a place for such disagreements, and that place is called debate. You want to remember what happened on 9/11? Take a look at the people who died. Take a look at the friends and families and pets they left behind. Remember the pain you felt. And the shock. And the awe. Remember the grief and the heartache—the madness that a lack of respect for human life can cause.
I don’t care who you are, where you live, or what geopolitical cause is bugging you. Every soul on Earth has a story. Every person is somebody’s mother or father, or loved one, or kid. You want to remember what happened on 9/11? Show me footage. Show me pictures of victims in happier times. I don’t need a “narrative.” I don’t need an amendment. My heart will fill in the blanks. Any heart would.
Jonathan David Morris is a political writer -- and sometimes satirist -- based in Pennsylvania. A strong believer in small government, JDM often takes aim at oppressive taxes, entitlements, and laws, writing about incompetence at the highest levels of culture and government. Catch his weekly ramblings at readjdm.com.