These monuments are no different than many others Americans erected during our first hundred years. Do you notice what they have in common? They commemorate not our losses but our victories. For most of our nation's history, Americans have chosen to freeze in monumental stone our triumphs. Victories, not defeats, were what we chose to remember.
Even the exceptions prove the rule. In San Antonio last week I visited the Alamo, whose 4-foot-thick walls housed first a Catholic mission church and later the fort where Texans fought bravely for their country. They lost, but they were warriors in an ultimately victorious war, not mere crime victims. They died, but not in vain.
When did this change? Was it Vietnam? Was it the Holocaust? What mysterious inner urgings prompted, for example, Bostonians surrounded by glittering monuments to American victories recently to add to their fair city a memorial to the victims of the Irish famine? A few days ago, I passed a bronze statute of a fireman sitting on a Manhattan corner, a gift from an American town. Did they ask the artists to capture the fireman in his moment of bravery, of heroism? No, they chose to depict his grief, on one knee, tears falling.
Why do we get off on grief? When did we learn to enshrine suffering?
Of course it is a perverse testament to the glory of America: For most of human history, loss and grief were the norm. So abundant is American life that it is the moments of loss that stand out. We forget: If all the tortured dead, all the victims of history, were memorialized, there would be no ground upon which the living could walk and breathe and live.
With sadness, I hear Gov. Pataki announce that the footprints of the twin towers the terrorists toppled should be protected forever. The abyss they made will forever replace the towers America built. Rudy Giuliani competes by announcing that not just these two acres but at least nine acres should be left vacant forever, so that we shall never forget the terror they wrought on New York City that fine September morning. Giuliani said, "I think the idea is it has to be the commitment of a vast, huge part of the site."
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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