Last year, I went to Europe for the World War II D-Day anniversary. The beaches at Normandy were pristine, no sign of the horrific carnage that took place 70 years ago.
The best estimate is that 2,000 Americans lost their lives on Omaha Beach alone. The ceremony itself was somber and respectful, and those attending were from all over the world. Some brought their loved ones who survived, gritty veterans who recalled the horror of June 6, 1944, as though it were yesterday.
To see those remarkable men cry while recalling fallen buddies reminded everyone why those beaches and bluffs were sacred. The beauty of the Normandy coast had been defiled by the Nazis and their bunkers. The bluffs are still pockmarked with what our shelling brought to the landscape.
Those beaches were recovered with courage and blood. Men died right there taking back the earth and pushing back monsters who were swallowing up the world.
What if I told you there were now cocktail parties for politicians and the well-heeled on those once-bloody beaches? What if I told you France had decided to open a gift store, filled with tchotchkes, charms and T-shirts right on the sand where thousands were blown to bits by Nazi machine guns?
You would be outraged at this obscene scenario, as most decent human beings would be. Fortunately, this is not happening at these hallowed places. Instead, it’s happening in New York City, right where thousands of Americans were murdered by the enemy.
The World Trade Center area is sacred as the site where 2,753 people lost their lives, 200 of whom died after jumping from the buildings to escape a hell brought by Islamic savages. Now, it has been transformed into a scene of crass commercialism and partying.
This week, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum opened to the public. Under that building lay the remains of 1,115 unidentified victims of the attacks.
Yet on this site, where so many died and which also houses that tomb of unknowns, you can purchase a charm bracelet, a T-shirt for your dog, a key-chain or bookmark in the gift shop of the 9/11 museum. Because, after all, there’s no better way to commemorate a mass-murder burial ground than with a coffee mug.
During the D-Day tour last year, I also visited Dachau, the concentration camp in Germany. They, too, had a small area where you could purchase books, cards and historically relevant material. It was a simple and respectful room. And no, you couldn’t buy a charm bracelet or stuffed animals. Providing items to commemorate a place is one thing. Crassly exploiting a tragedy for profit is quite another.
Kurt Horning’s son Matthew died on 9/11. He said this to The Washington Post about the gift shop: “It’s crass commercialism on a literally sacred site . It’s a burial ground. We don’t think there should be those things offered on that spot. If you want to do it, do it someplace else — but not right there.”
In the article, one neighborhood observer mused, “There’s no way to decide one way or another what’s right and what’s wrong.” Yes, in fact, there is. It’s called using decency in deciding that respecting the dead eclipses the need to make a buck.
In another shocking display of crassness among those making the decisions at the museum, donors and organizers turned the site into a club for VIPs the night before the museum opened to the public. Alcohol flowed freely, as the rich and famous arrived in tuxedos to dine, drink and celebrate.
Have a party, sure. But on top of the tomb?
The party was paid for by publishing group Conde Nast and attended by former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, among others. The New York Daily News reported at least one employee at the site was unnerved by the event. “They were drinking, eating and laughing when this is pretty much a grave site. I don’t think alcohol should be allowed in there. It’s a sacred ground, and they desecrated it.”
Some people were turned away, however. First responders, to be exact. The article notes, “Among those denied entry was an NYPD officer who had come with his wife . Another group of firefighters was asked to leave early and left the site in tears.”
So here you have Mr. Bloomberg, the person who thinks New Yorkers are so insipid that they need government to tell them how large of a soda they can have or whether they should be “allowed” to own a gun, himself exhibiting such a lack of common sense and decency as to party on the graves of the murdered. Literally.
Every day, it becomes more clear who shouldn’t be allowed to make serious decisions about people’s lives. Ironically enough, it happens to be the same people who keep telling us we need to be controlled.
Editor's note: This op-ed originally appeared on the WashingtonTimes.com.