The Halifax explosion of December 1917 levelled hundreds of acres, killed thousands of people,injured thousands more,and the city rebuilt the destroyed areas with a significant but not overwhelming memorial monument.
After Pearl Harbor was attacked,one of the dozen ships sunk with loss of life was turned into a memorial,while most of the others were refloated,as was the hull of the General Slocum,the East River steamer whose 1904 sinking killed over a thousand New Yorkers,including hundreds of children.
And New York,at the scene of the worst loss of firefighters prior to 2001, mad do with a plaque at the entrance to a new,much larger building on the same site.
Those who rate the effectiveness of a memorial by its sheer scale may call these precedents insensitive,but flattening Manhattan below Chambers Street apart from tombstones could never bring back child to parent, parent to child,sibling to sibling,spouse to spouse.We gain nothing by being recorded in history as more easily scarred and more irreparably harmed than people before us...indeed,such a symbolic message might inspire future attacks.
A memorial at the World Trade Center site should concern itself primarily with those who died there,only secondarily with those who died at the Pentagon and Shanksville...without this it loses its own sense of place and in a sense seeks to usurp the identity of the other sites. Its lists of names should respect the identities of the fallen by indicating who was there for what purpose.It should be centered on a museum where visitors can learn everything about the victims that their families care to share.Sections of hte museum can be set aside for immediate family members for as long as there are immediate family members.
It needs to be built with the understanding that it will draw less attention in future times,as has consistently happened with past memorials.New York's Titanic memorial and Grant's Tomb have become backwaters,though all learn of President Grant and the Titanic.The Pearl Harbor anniversary ceremony drew only 150 people last month. It must not become something future generations will view as an eyesore,a continuation of the terrorists' dead hand crippling the Financial District.
And lastly,it can not serve as a gratification of the murderers' desire to see an icon of American pride and world trade fall and never rise again.Only if it stands in the protective,reassuring shadow of new towers at least as tall as the old,dedicated to the purposes to which and for which the victims gave their lives,does it stand in the needed historical and urban context.Nothing else can send the message that it was the terrorists who died in vain in the end,that however much they conquered that day they did not,in the greater world,prevail.