9/11 museum’s decision to scrap a 20th anniversary memorial is a disgrace


As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack looms, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is crying poverty for the second year in a row. This time, it says it can’t afford to mount special exhibitions planned to mark the two-decade milestone. 

In 2020, the twin-beam “Tribute in Light” was canceled only to win a last-minute reprieve after soon-to-be-ex Gov. Cuomo pitched in state resources. But no such bailout appears in the offing this time. 

In fact, this year, the museum is shamefully restricting the reading-of-the-names ceremony exclusively to the families of 9/11 victims. No hero firefighters, cops, first responders or emergency workers, who were always welcome until the pandemic eliminated last year’s event, will be allowed. 

It’s simply outrageous that the great museum — a “humanely crafted engine of catharsis,” as I wrote at its 2014 opening — plans to sit out the 20th anniversary with a diminished acknowledgement of America’s worst terrorist attack and more pleas to pay a visit with tickets starting at $28 each. 

No one can blame COVID this time. The ceremony takes place in the open air, where even the Delta virus can’t spread easily. All participants will wear masks. Many or even most will be vaccinated. 

Remember all the talk that if we didn’t rebuild after 9/11, the “terrorists would have won?” The museum has raised the white flag to the virus and there’s no turning back. 

What a wrongheaded, defeatist message for these times. New York City lost 33,000 citizens to COVID-19. The pandemic-stricken Big Apple needs every affirmation it can get of its inherent valor and resilience, qualities that saved us on 9/11 and in the fraught years that followed. 

People place flowers on the footprint of the site of the fallen World Trade Center during the 5th anniversary.
AFP via Getty Images

The museum is a masterpiece not only of design but of moral clarity. Its unflinching focus trains our attention on a singular terror: an unprovoked sneak attack that instantly killed 2,996 innocent human beings, sickened countless others, destroyed 14 million square feet of Manhattan, and ravaged the Big Apple economy. 

Long after, we watched the skies in fear of another attack, a different brand of dread than the fear of the virus but every bit as terrible and even more immediate. 

Today, many younger and newly arrived New Yorkers have little idea what 9/11 meant. To treat the 20th anniversary as business as usual threatens to consign the memory to just another unpleasant hiccup of history such as the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles or the 1967 power blackout. 

Mourners tie ribbons at the base of the last pillar to stand at Ground Zero during a ceremony for the 15th anniversary.
Mourners tie ribbons at the base of the last pillar to stand at Ground Zero during a ceremony for the 15th anniversary.
Getty Images

To be fair, the museum alone is not to blame for this failure. The 20th anniversary date has been no secret — for twenty years. And yet Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio planned nothing to make the 2021 commemoration special. The attack’s toll has been lost in their hearts and minds to the politics and phony “science” of the current crisis. 

Despite the museum’s very real budget crunch, the catastrophe’s 20th anniversary should not be allowed to become a shadow of its past commemorations. 

Our finest minds in politics, philanthropy and the arts have less than a month to come up with something fresh. They need to get down to work — now.

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