Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

9/11 memorial out of place at Peace Garden

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The International Peace Garden lies in the Turtle Mountains between Manitoba and North Dakota. Its long central garden parallels the border, with one half in Canada, and one half in the United States. Approaching the Peace Garden from north or south, one can drive unimpeded into the garden grounds. Returning to either country, however, requires re-entering through customs at the border crossings. This suggests the International Peace Garden sits outside any national boundaries, and is thus devoid of political and national conflict.

I recently visited the International Peace Garden, some 40 years after my last visit. I expected a pleasant, beautiful, calming place where I could think of peace and goodwill.

My expectations were quickly dashed upon seeing a gruesome memorial to 9/11 within the International Peace Garden. The memorial is centred around a mass of 10 damaged, twisted girders salvaged from the World Trade Center rubble. I was appalled to see something so incongruously out of place in a space dedicated to peace. The sight of these girders is hardly calming.

To be fair, the Carillon Bell Tower at the Peace Garden is dedicated to war veterans, perhaps suggesting a precedent for other memorials on the grounds. It was erected by the North Dakota Veterans Organization in 1976 as a bicentennial project. Also, an attempt has been made by the Peace Garden to make something positive out of its 9/11 memorial. The headline on a placard at the display reads, "Let Peace Prevail." The winning entry of a student design competition for the area around the girders offered a message of "recall, reflect, remember, understand, forgive, and grow." This compassionate entry is the theme for the display areas around the girders. But neither these elements, nor anything else about the memorial, are likely to change our emotional reaction to 9/11.

September 11 and its aftermath represent religious zealotry, terrorism, revenge, destruction, political strife, military and civilian casualties, hatred and war. And yes, heroism, service, bravery and loss as well. One peace-like word, co-operation, applies to the western world's response to 9/11. Then again, this co-operation led most prominently to waging a war. At a Sept. 10, 2003, ceremony at the Peace Garden remembering the terrorist attacks, Kent Conrad, U.S. Senator from North Dakota, said, "It was a day that roused a mighty nation to anger, and to action."

I have no untoward contempt for memorials to human tragedies, wars and other catastrophes. In Berlin, I visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust memorial). I cried. I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. I cried there, too. I visited Wounded Knee, in South Dakota, the site of an 1890 massacre of Native Americans by U.S. Cavalry. I cried again. These memorials are either in their original locations or in spaces dedicated to and evoking their purpose. The same is true of every other memorial I have visited or can think of. Removed from its immediate context, the Peace Garden's 9/11 memorial poignantly accomplishes its mission.

The articles of incorporation for the International Peace Garden, which was dedicated in 1932, state the purpose as "a memorial to the peace that has existed between the United States of America and the Dominion of Canada." The inscription on the stone cairn at the entrance to the garden pledges eternal peace between Canada and the United States: "As long as man shall live we shall not take up arms against each other."

In June, 2002, then-Manitoba premier Gary Doer said, "The International Peace Garden is a magnificent and unique site, and I can think of no place more appropriate or fitting for a memorial of this kind." Perhaps he should first have examined the garden's purpose.

What 9/11 has to do with peace is beyond me. Visitors to the International Peace Garden should not have to be reminded of terrorism, hatred and war. This memorial does not belong there.

James G. Skakoon was born and raised in North Dakota. He now lives in St. Paul.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2012 A10

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