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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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O’Neill: 9/11 memorial museum is reaffirming

While I’m not a huge fan of “60 Minutes” – and its formulaic, redundant interview style – I typically check in to see what’s on tap and who has a book they’re promoting. I was recently rewarded with a Lesley Stahl piece on construction of the National September / 11 Memorial museum. It was illuminating – and reaffirming. It was illuminating because it addressed the key issues: the delays, the fundraising battles and the controversies over exhibits. It also gave us a timeline update. Next spring it should be open. It was reaffirming because it was a reminder that the museum, seven stories under the cascading Ground Zero pools that now occupy the footprints of the World Trade Center towers, has taken a stand for truth, however horrific, with proper allowances for sensitivity. I totally get that we don’t need to see people jumping to their deaths. And I get that images of Osama bin Laden and the jihadist mass murderers – and any reference to their grievances – can be an outrage to victims’ families and a sacrilege to any sense of a sacred place where nearly 3,000 innocent civilians perished. The museum, as we learned, will exercise discretion with separate alcoves and visitor warnings regarding the most sensitive exhibits. It will convey the horror without making it horribly unbearable.
And we were reminded that being among the largest and most ambitious memorial museums in the world is not what makes this project unique. It is that it is also an artifact. Despite often contentious input, the museum ultimately came down on the side of telling the 9/11 story, which is, after all, what museums do. It will, indeed, document. As Joseph Daniels, the chief executive of the memorial and museum foundation told The New York Times: “You don’t create a museum about the Holocaust and not say that it was the Nazis who did it. We have to transmit the truth without being absolutely crushed by it.” Another point: The memorial museum will be visited by millions of visitors each year, a large percentage of whom will be from overseas. It’s critically important that everyone who visits – from Americans who chronically are uninformed or misinformed about their own history to overseas visitors who see America through different filters – actually see, as well as hear, read and weep, for themselves. America’s searing 9/11 story cannot fall prey to revisionists and ideological liars. I look forward to the museum’s opening for another reason. Not long ago I visited the 1 WTC site and spent some time around the sunken granite pools that have been open for about a year and a half. They were designed as places to mourn and remember, and the (2,983) names of those who died there are inscribed on the perimeter walls. It’s a fitting, contemplation-inducing memorial. But the vibe, alas, was less than somber, possibly because it was the only part of Ground Zero re-building open for tours. No observation deck and no memorial museum yet. Thus, an outdoor tour for the only visitor venue meant long, chatting queues of camera-toting tourists. That resulted in people posing and juxtaposing. It was its own tourist dynamic – and not particularly reverential. That won’t happen with anyone properly prepped seven stories below, where museum officials will have curated memories out of terror and tragedy. I wouldn’t be saying this if I hadn’t said it before, because nobody has a right to 20-20 hindsight. Tim Tebow should have passed, ironic pun intended, on the National Football League. At the University of Florida, Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner. He was also an academic All-American. And while he looked like a stud, he was a clean-living exemplar. He was what any parent or coed would want, which is not a common parlay. He was that rare anointed one who would surely leverage name recognition into societal good. Serious societal good. As in foundations and public service. The sooner, the better. But where do you go from Gainesville with all that upside to do good? In this marketplace, it turns out, even if you’re unlike anyone else who’s ever played the game, you still head for the next level of football, the NFL. Even if you’re a consensus antiprototype NFL quarterback with the sort of mechanics, release and accuracy issues that even Jon Gruden can’t correct. So instead of bowing out on top with that monster Sugar Bowl game against Cincinnati, Tebow headed to the NFL with every hot-shot college player hoping to cash in. But instead of long-shot success, he turned all those talking-head doubters into sneering seers by failing on the field. He was recently released by the New York Jets, a team that is certifiably quarterback-challenged. The only place he didn’t fail was in early marketing. That’s because he put himself into an enterprise where players are shilled as show-biz commodities. He cheapened himself with an underwear ad. He trivialized his religious convictions by trademarking “Tebowing.” He quoted scripture as if the Almighty’s priorities included success during the “two-minute drill.” Tim Tebow was a special person with a special calling. He still is, although we really didn’t need to see this tarnished side. But the alternative still beckons.
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