Ethics Quiz: The 9-11 Memorial Museum Restaurant

" So...who's hungry?"

” So…who’s hungry?”

I’m sure this will come as a shock to some, but there are ethics controversies that I do not have strong opinions on, because I think both sides have strong ethical arguments. The dispute over whether the planned restaurant at the recently opened memorial and museum on the site of the Twin Towers bombing is one of them.

Con is  stated succinctly by New York Post columnist Steve Cuozzo, who wrote, “A bar and grill by any name on top of burnt fire trucks and human ashes is just plain gross.” Also being criticized is a black-tie party held at the museum to celebrate the opening. Said a family member of a firefighter who died that day: “This is the final insult and desecration of these 9/11 remains.”

The Pro, or at least the “It’s no big deal” position, is laid out by Ann Althouse, who wrote:

“At some point the taking of offense itself becomes offensive. Maybe out of respect for the dead, no one who still walks the face of the earth should ever laugh or take pleasure in anything every again. More than 100 billion human beings have died, perhaps right where you are standing/sitting/reclining right now. How dare you ever do anything? Look out your window and visualize the ghosts of all the human beings who, over the course of history and prehistory, died within that view. Will you mourn for them… ceaselessly… until you are one of them?”

The ethics issue is obviously respect. What is enough, and what is disrespectful? The analysis involves finding the right analogy, perhaps. There is a gift shop and restaurant at the Gettysburg Battlefield Visitors Center, but not on the site of Pickett’s Charge. The Holocaust Museum has a gift shop and snack bar as part of the complex, but nobody was exterminated in Washington, D.C. There’s no gift shop or snack bar at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; you can’t buy a sandwich at the Alamo. Is the 9-11 restaurant like the one at the Pearl Harbor museum, or is it like having a fish and chips eatery over the SS Arizona? The Pennsylvania site where Flight 93 crashed is being treated as hallowed ground, while the section of the Pentagon where its victims perished on 9-11 is back to being a workplace.

Is this just the Ick Factor,  something that feels a little “off,” like watching musicals and comedies in Fords Theater with Lincoln’s empty, ghostly box looming over the stage, or something more?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today…

Is placing a restaurant over the 9-11 Museum, on the site where 3000 people were murdered, disrespectful?

Also making a persuasive argument is blogger Ace of Spades, who writes…

“That the living should go on living as living beings do is no affront to the dead. Life is not all drudgery and toil and solemnity and grave expressions…And life is sometimes buying a NYPD t-shirt for your brother who couldn’t make the trip, because you want to include him, if in a minor way, in your personal pilgrimage to the 9/11 site. Enough with all the unending, constant outrage about how everyone else in the world isn’t Doing Quite Enough Serious Work and Serious Solemnizing for the Dead. We show the dead respect by showing them respect — not by taking on the dourness of the dead ourselves.”

Ace’s commenters do a superb job covering every angle of the issue, and all points of view.

I’ll only say this.

I wouldn’t eat there.

_____________

 Sources  New York Post, Ace of Spades, Althouse

33 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The 9-11 Memorial Museum Restaurant

  1. Seems Ace’s commentary is designed more at the contrived controversy over the Gift Shop, not at the restaurant.

    “There is a gift shop and restaurant at the Gettysburg Battlefield Visitors Center, but not on the site of Pickett’s Charge.”

    Of course, because it’s the Visitor’s Center, if the VC were at the site of Pickett’s Charge, there’d be a restaurant there, and no problem, but the VC is near the town… the logical location for it.

    “The Holocaust Museum has a gift shop and snack bar as part of the complex, but nobody was exterminated in Washington, D.C.”

    That’s what undoes that analogy.

    “There’s no gift shop or snack bar at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier;”

    That is hallowed ground specifically consecrated for the purpose of remembering heroes and contemplating the sacrifice. Distractions of any nature should be deemed inappropriate and disrespectful.

    “you can’t buy a sandwich at the Alamo.”

    Similar to the Tomb of the Unknown… grounds specifically set aside for remembrance (although it wasn’t always so at the Alamo).

    “Is the 9-11 restaurant like the one at the Pearl Harbor museum, or is it like having a fish and chips eatery over the SS Arizona?”

    I think it leans more to the Arizona memorial… and as I consider it, I would think the event of such great national significance that any usage outside of that which invokes remembrance and contemplation to be inappropriate. Yet, a modest gift shop, in immediate proximity does not violate that rule…not given the scale and location of the site. It would seem proportional, and in the end, the gifts being sold ultimately aid in that memory.

    “The Pennsylvania site where Flight 93 crashed is being treated as hallowed ground, while the section of the Pentagon where its victims perished on 9-11 is back to being a workplace.”

    Location and symbolism here matter. The Pentagon is one of the undeniable symbols of American military power… to convert a section of it to memorial seems less useful to the national psyche (given the other memorials exist) than it does to rebuild that symbol to communicate its original might. The Pennsylvania Field? It serves extremely valid purpose as a symbol of resistance, much better than letting it go on being a field.

    “Is this just the Ick Factor, something that feels a little “off,” like watching musicals and comedies in Fords Theater with Lincoln’s empty, ghostly box looming over the stage, or something more?”

    I don’t think it is just Ick Factor… I think it is Ick Factor for the gift shop… which is simply selling portable memories of the event being remembered. Other functions on the site that don’t support the remembrance or contemplation of what occurred? Nope. Elsewhere.

    And Fords Theater still provided a service to the market… why shut it down?

    • Of course, it was shut down, for a long, long time. I think it works as a theater now, frankly, because most patrons are ignorant of or not very sensitive to the history. I hate watching shows there.

    • “Similar to the Tomb of the Unknown… grounds specifically set aside for remembrance (although it wasn’t always so at the Alamo).”

      Grounds specifically set aside for remembrance…. like a commemorative museum, perhaps? I’m not sure where I stand on the issue, but it kind of amazed me that you could somehow separate the Tomb of the Unknown soldier from the 9-11 museum so completely.

      • Considering I didn’t completely separate them, I can understand your confusion.

        What matters for considering any site on this topic:

        1) what is being remembered?
        2) what is the scale/scope of what is being remembered?
        3) what is time frame of what is being remembered?
        4) what values do we wish to communicate in this specific memorial?
        5) what cultural characteristics do we want to remember in this memorial?
        Among others.

        It isn’t a black and white topic. The plethora of considerations may each individually be black and white, but taken together… Nope.

  2. I thought I heard during a snippet of the news pertaining to the cocktail party that the museum is funded by donations, no tax dollars. If true perhaps that’s what motivates the retail of food, trinkets, etc.

  3. I agree 100% with Steve Cuozzo. You cannot buy a sandwich on the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial thank God. A lot more people lost their lives at 9/11. Anybody that would defend the right of the developers of this project obviously don’t care about the victims or the families of this terrorist act. People can buy their postcards or whatever outside of the Memorial Museum.

    • Actually an interesting question. Hummus is Middle Eastern food and eaten by many Jewish people as well as Arabic in Israel so I guess that would be ok. Bratwurst and hot dogs should be available too if the restaurant has to be built. As a point of fact, Muslims were killed in the attack from Jordan, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Not from Saudi Arabia or Iran however, hmmmm.

      • Well, you don’t expect me to ask uninteresting questions do you?

        Obviously food can’t be unethical. But since the issue is appropriateness, respect and offense, I can’t believe a menu at the 9-11 museum heavy on Middle-Eastern food wouldn’t be taken as an insult and an outrage. Or perhaps there would have to be a “trigger warning” on the menu?

          • Bratwurst usually contains pork. Those that are Muslins don’t have to eat it. They can have hummus or whatever. Anyway, a restaurant make some sense. People looking all over a museum and getting tired and hungry need to eat. Otherwise the restaurants around the Memorial Museum will jack up their prices and less people will go. The gift shop is a bad idea though. Maybe there should be an off site website where people can purchase videos and memorabilia.

    • But the restaurant isn’t ok. And because of that any follow question has the stigma.

      Which is why the perfectly acceptable answer of “no, foods associated with Muslims, specifically Arabic Muslims is disrespectful” doesn’t sound right… Because the misuse of a memorial already fouls up later calculations.

  4. Hmm, I wonder how big an area is supposed to be a restaurant free zone for respect? Rebuilt office or other use buildings with food areas probably already inhabit the destruction zone.

    It may just be too soon for a restaurant, but that could be revisited later if there is a financial or accessibility need.

  5. At a memorial: unethical. If it was not a memorial, but just the location, then it would be fine. The idea of a memorial doesn’t mesh with grabbing a bite to eat.

    I think the terrorism site cheese plate encapsulates the problems with the memorial’s management. They want it to be an attraction and something to celebrate instead of an actual memorial.

  6. Some of the UK memorial sites, notably the memorial hall at Edinburgh Castle, won’t allow photography inside, since to do so is to viewed as disrespecting the fallen. On the other hand, the Imperial War Museum, which doesn’t house remains but DOES have many relics of the World Wars and at least at one time had a LARGE Holocaust exhibit, has a very high-end restaurant and expensive gift shop. (most UK museums restaurants are very high-end). This particular situation is a hybrid one, since it’s both a museum and a memorial. Given that throughout the City there are at least 3 FDNY shops/museums where you can buy FDNY/911 merchandise, I see nothing wrong with a museum, which has to sustain itself at least partially, wanting a piece of that lucrative pie. I also see nothing wrong with a place to eat on the premises, and perhaps discuss what you have just seen, as long as it isn’t in obvious sight line of a smashed fire truck or a mauled teddy bear that belonged to a dead child.

  7. I believe that the memorial is outside, with the etched names of those who perished, and water cascading into a hole left by one of the towers. To me, this is the site that reminds me of my visit to the Arizona. No one talked; we just watched and listened.
    The National September 11 Memorial Museum is where Realia is exhibited so visitors can learn and reflect. I remember feeling very emotional at the Pearl Harbor museum, listening to recordings in which actors read lines depicting a typical morning on the Arizona and re-enactments of the attack. I remember seeing the available cafe and gift shop and I believe we brought some drinks–we were at the memorial and museum for nearly four hours and Hawaii is hot in July.

    The thing about going to memorials and then visiting their corresponding museums is that you are often there for hours. People get thirsty, sometimes they get hungry. I don’t think giving people a place to unwind, have something to drink, and talk about their thoughts on what they’ve witnessed is a bad thing, nor is it in bad taste–and the same for a gift shop.

    While I don’t feel a cafe and gift shop alone are in bad taste, there are ways in which they can both become unwelcome sights in my eyes–but that’s the rub, of course, because bad taste is subjective. For me, a simple cafe, with prepared foods and hot and cold beverages (no alcohol) are fine. Low key and simple, those are musts. The gift shop is a bit more tricky, I think. What should it sell? Books on 9/11, but which books? T-shirts? Magnets? Mugs? Key chains? Again, what’s appropriate is a matter of taste. At the Titanic Museum in Dublin, half of the gift shop is full of Titanic film swag and another 1/4 is Dublin-specific. Perhaps because the tragedy is older, it seems less offensive to sell goods that have little or nothing to do with the ship and those who lost their lives.

    The September 11 gift shop should aim to remain low-key and offer memorabilia that enhances your experience or helps you remember it once you leave.

    • Great comment.

      My big beef with the Post essay was drawing a distinction with Gettysburg on the theory that so much time had past. Lives are lives, tragedy is tragedy, honor is honor and respect is respect—what does time have to do with it?

      • I’m in agreement with you there. There have been many times I’ve been very moved when visiting a memorial, even those for people who died long ago. We have a historic cemetery near us that I’ve visited many times. Some of the graves pre-date the Civil War. I always get choked up when I see a gravestone that indicates a life cut tragically short: childhood illness, war, etc. On occasion, gravestones will be toppled by vandals and it bothers me greatly–not because of the cost of the damage, but because of the lack of respect, both for those who died last year and those who died two centuries ago. While the time for mourning is finite, time for showing care and respect for those have died is not.

      • I would suggest that what time has to do with it is this:

        For an event that occurred a hundred years ago, there will be literally no one visiting who had a personal connection to that event. (e.g. Titanic survivors)

        For an event that occurred only a couple of decades ago, the visitors will include a significant number of people who were there, have personal memories, and will be affected by the experience on a much deeper, emotional level. (e.g. The Vietnam War Memorial, especially when it was first built)

        The purpose, then, of a memorial of the first type is to educate visitors about it. The purpose of of the second type is to allow visitors to relive it.

        –Dwayne

    • . The gift shop is a bit more tricky, I think. What should it sell? Books on 9/11, but which books? T-shirts? Magnets? Mugs? Key chains? Again, what’s appropriate is a matter of taste.
      ***********
      I was thinking it could be called “bookstore” rather than gift shop and it might be limited to selling books and perhaps certain photographs.
      While in Germany, we visited the Dom of Cologne and I was keen on having a historical photograph of the city at the end of WWII, with the city in rubble and the dom untouched. It’s a breath-taking sight.

      As far as the cafe goes, it does seem tacky but when you think of the amount of time spent there, even more so with kids and elders (who seem to suffer blood sugar mayhem more than the rest of us), it might be a good idea to have something. And a place to sit down.

      Oh…and I agree about the getting offended is getting offensive.
      If you are that delicate then stay home.

  8. I think the size of the site factors into this. The original World Trade Center site is several acres in size, and when originally constructed, was mostly an open platform above a parking garage. To have a modest cafeteria on part of the site does not seem unethical, as long as it discreetly located away from the Memorial ponds. The gift shop is more difficult; it would have to be more of bookstore that refrains from cheesy items. It should have at least as much decorum as the bookstore in the basement of the Lincoln Memorial (http://www.nps.gov/linc/supportyourpark/bookstore.htm, http://www.eparks.com/store/home/3052/Lincoln-Memorial/).

    Gettysburg is a good template. The original visitors center was originally located on the battlefields, but they built a larger one offsite that includes an interpretive museum, and a cafeteria/gift shop. The battlefields have virtually no provisions, except a few water fountains near an amphitheater. The National Park Service has been gradually buying adjacent land to remove encroaching development. The World Trade Center memorial should similarly be a relatively isolated place of reflection, with only basic services available on site.

    • No…I think that’s a given. Isn’t it? A sensible gift shop is a form of commemoration, one step removed, unless it sells bin Laden masks and models of the airplanes.

      • I’ve seen several comments here that seem to say (in short) “a sensibly placed restaurant seems fine, but it gets iffy with a gift shop”

        (Of course I may be misreading… Its been a whirlwind week and my usual unassailably sharp intellect has been frazzled slightly)

        • I’ve seen several comments here that seem to say (in short) “a sensibly placed restaurant seems fine, but it gets iffy with a gift shop”
          *************
          The gift shop is a problem if it is selling crap and t-shirts.
          No snow globes, bumper stickers, plastic mugs, toy fire trucks and suchlike.
          Leave it at books, professional photographs (in good taste)…

          • No mugs?

            What better reminder than every other morning or so that our nation was attacked but bounced back than a friggin mug?

            No toy trucks?

            Why would you deny a child a chance to recreate the actions of heroes? Should we ban GI Joes from war memorial gift shops?

            The gift shop will be selling *reminders* of what occurred that people may be continually reminded when not at the site…

            I think most people’s Ick Factor on this is due to well hammered lessons against making money.

            Money’s involved! How cheap and greedy!

            I would agree that gifts ought to be tasteful, but I don’t think my ban list is nearly as long as yours.

          • I see nothing wrong with selling “duty shirts” which are a common part of the daily uniform of the working fireman, bearing the number 343 or slogans like “all gave some, some gave all.” Each of the stations that lost men has a nickname and a story, so I see no problem with selling apparel that commemorates them either. Plastic mugs are kind of cheesy, but porcelain mugs with the FDNY logo or the photo of the firemen raising the flag over the ruins should not be a problem.

            Toy fire trucks are kind of cheesy also, but I see no problem with allowing kids to reenact heroic actions. I would also see no problem if the place swung a deal with the Franklin Mint or Corgi or someplace like that and offered collectible fire trucks, so that you could have a quality Seagrave pumper or ladder truck on your desk both as a conversation piece and a reminder of what’s really important.

            Snow globes I agree on – one of the most useless things around.

    • Am I the only person who sees the gift shop as less troublesome than the restaurant?
      *********
      No.
      The cafe bugs me.
      But I think something is needed.
      Esp. if there are going to be kids visiting.
      (I’m still trying to overcome the horror that ensued when my visiting nephew got a little too hungry…)
      Maybe it could be a rest area where if you’re desperate you can get a snack and a drink out of a machine.
      Sit down, get recharged, finish your tour and then go out for dinner – elsewhere.

      • Because nothing says respect like eating Snickers and drinking Coke and defiling the site with wrappers and cans. At least with a cafe the trash is more controllable.

  9. There is a basic restaurant at Auschwitz. I remember it being off on an edge of the site, which is vast, in the middle of nowhere, and takes at least a day to walk around. In that case, I don’t see a problem with people having a place to respectfully recharge before the second half of their tour.

    I don’t see a problem either with a similar set-up at the 9/11 memorial, which as someone up-thread pointed out, covers several acres. What throws a wrench in the works is the restaurant’s being high end and almost a destination in itself. That’s where the criticism in the article seems to largely come in, and I see the point.

    On the other hand, is building a quintessentially NYC restaurant on the site in its own way a sign of remembrance for the attacks? I’m not sure I’d argue that myself, but it’s conceivable that someone could.

    I could be onboard with an edge of site gift shop in theory, but don’t trust us not to handle it tastefully (as the Gettysburg giftshop, with 150 years of history to draw products from, does.)

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