* The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial. Designed by college student Maya Lin, it was unveiled in Washington, D.C. on Veterans' Day 25 years ago. It's a black granite thingy-a long, plain wall that lines a big hole dug 10 feet into the ground. It lists the names of the war's 58,000 fallen Americans and . . . nothing else.
* The Flight 93 National Memorial. The National Park Service has decided to erect the "Bowl of Embrace," in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 crashed to earth on September 11, 2001. Here's the plan: For their heroism in overpowering four Islamic hijackers and foiling their attempt to destroy the White House or the Capitol, the passengers are to be honored with . . . an empty field. It's little comfort that the field is surrounded by a stand of red maple trees planted in an arc that eerily resembles the crescent of Islam. The design's original name: "The Crescent of Embrace."
* The National September 11 Memorial. On the spot where New York's mighty World Trade Center stood, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.'s anointed designer, Michael Arad, decrees that there be . . . an American eagle? How about a statue of the three firemen raising the American flag over the rubble? Heck no. Just two huge, square, "reflecting" pools. Maybe you can gaze at your navel through them. In a complex slated to cost $1 billion, this urban swamp is called "Reflecting Absence."
Absence, indeed. What these modern war memorials have in common with each other is nothing. They portray nothingness. They have no people in them, never mind men carrying guns or swords, statues of Winged Victory, or even doves of peace. Just death and names -- grief without glory.
Much as the academics love this kind of talk and this kind of architecture, something in the public spirit reviles before it. We all die, so to offer voids to the memory of our heroes, and to list deaths without comment about what they did in life is an assertion of meaninglessness, of pointlessness. It is to say, "You sacrificed for others -- but that's not worthy of mention, because now you're just as dead as anyone else."
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