Memories. Why do we remember? How do we remember? What is the significance of taking a traumatic experience-in particular-and traslating it into an external memory? Memorial sites associated with some sort of grave tragedy are some of the most widely utilized forms of external commemoration in our world, today. From the Pearl Harbor museum to roadside memorials, we are able to clearly see our human need to transform sites associated with tragedy into something of great significance to either a group of individuals or-on a grander scale-to entire population, but why is this necessary? Why is it important for us to remember tragic events and externalize these memories in the form of memorial sites?
September 11th, 2001. America’s greatest personal tragedy since the WWII attack on Pearl Harbor. A day on which hundreds of lives were lost due to senseless acts of violence…acts that would launch America into a war that would last for well over a decade. It was a day in which we all were forced to bear witness to an unspeakable acts of terrorism as we watched the Twin Towers embodying our World Trade Center were destroyed. In addition to the thousands of lives lost on that fateful day, our strength as a nation was was called into question. So, why do we choose to remember an event bathed in such tragedy through sites such as the National September 11th Memorial?
According to ideas presented in an article by Billie Pivnick, “The memorial at the site of the former World Trade Center is meant to be seen as a means of helping us–as a nation–commemorate, honor, educate, and mourn the events that took place as well as the lives lost on that day.” It is his understanding that the act of memorializing involves shared memory and collective grieving. From this point of view, we might be able to infer that the active rituals that accompany memorial activity–particularly the construction of memorial sites such as the 9/11 Memorial Museum–is meant to help those directly affected by tragedy come together in an effort to cope with the loss and the fear that stems from such emotional trauma as well as to commemorate and mourn the lives of all who were lost on that fateful day.
An interesting characteristic of National September 11 Memorial site is that it spans around half of the 16 acre lot on which the World Trade Center originally stood. Because of its geographical location along with the sheer magnitude of the tragedy that which is being memorialized, this particular memorial site holds a certain degree of significance to Americans across the country as it is representative of our ability to externalize our recollection of such a tragic event. According to the Mission Statement section found on the official 9/11 memorial website, the explicit purpose of the construction of the memorial and museum is to, “Remember and honor the thousands of innocent men, women, and children murdered by terrorists in the horrific attacks of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001. Respect this place made sacred through tragic loss. And to recognize the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others, and the compassion of all who supported us in our darkest hours.” In doing so, this site has in turn become a symbol of our resilience and strength as a nation.
As a general concensous, I believe it’s fair to say that through the externalization of memories through memorial sites–traumatic memories in particular–we as individuals as well as a population (in more catastrophic cases) are able to come together and mourn the lives of those lost to tragic events.