October 14, 2008 – A plan to etch the words and images of 9/11 on a monument to Soldiers who fell in Iraq has ignited a debate about whether the publicly funded memorial links the war in Iraq to the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The $300,000 war memorial officially broke ground Oct. 5 at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial Park in Albuquerque. Supporters hope to complete the project by May 30.
But at least one city councilor and some veterans want more public discussion about the cityfunded monument, and in particular, its depiction of the terrorist attacks in the context of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“We want to make sure that we don’t revise history before history is even written,” Councilor Rey Garduo said. “In no way am I questioning whether we should honor our fallen heroes. But in no way should we connect Iraq and terrorism.”
The proposed memorial features a ring of laser-etched granite blocks depicting the 9/11 attacks and other images, including maps and photos of the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., and of the hijacked plane that went down in Somerset County, Pa. It also features five empty dress uniforms cast in bronze hanging in lockers that form a ring around a central pillar.
The design does not require formal city approval, but councilors can bring up the project for discussion if they have concerns, said Brad Winter, council president.
Others question the wisdom of building a monument to wars that continue to be fought both militarily and in the national debate.
“We’re having an argument even amongst ourselves about whether it is appropriate to do a monument during the time in which an event is occurring because you don’t have perspective,” said Lou Hoffman, a member of the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial design committee.
But the memorial has passionate supporters among city councilors and New Mexico veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“The conflict in which we are engaged in is officially referred to as the war on terror,” said David Schneider, an Iraq War veteran and member of the New Mexico War on Terror Committee, composed of veterans who proposed the monument and obtained city and state money to build it.
The 9/11 attacks are linked to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan both in history and in the minds of Soldiers fighting the wars, said Schneider, who served in 2007 as a U.S. Marine captain in Iraq.
“The fact is that both campaigns are wrapped up in the war on terror, which originated with the attacks on 9/11,” he said. “Chronologically, (the wars) started with the attacks on 9/11.”
President Bush’s 2002 resolution to go to war with Iraq gave as reasons the threat of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s hostility toward the United States. It also said Iraq harbored terrorists, particularly members of al Qaida, which was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Critics say there never was any proof linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks.
City councilors have appropriated $278,000 for the memorial, and state lawmakers approved $22,000 more. Supporters plan to raise additional private money.
Charles Powell, president of the Albuquerque chapter of Veterans for Peace, an anti-war group, said the memorial falsely links the 9/ 11 attacks with the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“To connect the war in Iraq with 9/11 is clearly a political thing,” said Powell. “We don’t feel that it’s really an honor to put up a memorial to the brave men and women who died in Iraq to put on that memorial a false connection with 9/11.”
Steve Borbas, a member of the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial design committee who is troubled by the use of 9/11 imagery, said his committee saw a draft of the proposed monument in September but had no input into the design.
“I think it was a done deal when we heard about it,” he said, adding that the committee has only advisory authority.
The criticism led planners to abandon the original name, the Memorial Honoring New Mexico’s Fallen in the Wars on Terror, said Councilor Don Harris. It was changed to the Memorial Honoring New Mexico’s Fallen in the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Harris and Councilor Trudy Jones contributed about $150,000 to the project from their own council districts’ discretionary funds.
“I think there’s a lot of valid argument that perhaps invading Iraq was not the appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks,” Harris said. “I think it’s difficult to argue, however, that Iraq was not a response to the 9/11 attacks at least in President Bush’s mind and members of Congress who authorized funding for the war.”