Police Officer Moira Smith
I am a high school English teacher.  Next September, a new crop of ninth graders will enter my high school.  And on September 11, we will surely acknowledge the 12th anniversary of the attacks that changed New York forever.

Eventually, we will also acknowledge another important point -- that most of the students were about three years old on September 11, 2001. 

Meaning the attacks were not personal to them.  They are, literally, history.

And in the years since, young people have learned as much about the attacks from crackpot Internet conspiracy theorists as they have from family, friends and history books.

This is what occurred to me this week as governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie called on the federal government to save the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center site.

Specifically, the governors of New York and New Jersey called for the National Park Service to become a central player in funding and managing the museum and memorial site, which is currently open to the public but incomplete.

"As governors of the states with jurisdiction over the World Trade Center site, we believe that federal support through the National Park Service would ensure long term stability of the memorial and museum, ensure the best possible visitor experience by taking advantage of the Park Service's expertise," Cuomo and Christie said in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
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Some in Congress and the Senate support the funding.  Others think it is irresponsible to spend money the federal government doesn’t have unless deeper cuts are made elsewhere.

There is a tendency to see this just as yet another skirmish between local and national politicians, a cheap squabble which leaves you tempted to hate everyone involved.

But think back to my ninth graders and even younger students.  At best, they will soon equate 9/11 will other important historical events such as Watergate or Pearl Harbor.

And if you’ve ever heard an average ninth grader talk about “important historical events,” you should be concerned.  Very concerned.

The Irish American community, in particular, should make sure a thorough portrait of the events of that terrible day is presented at the memorial and museum. 

Think of the selfless heroism of New York police officer Moira Smith, or firefighter Sean Tallon.  The sheer number of uniformed rescue workers with Irish names who served that day remains staggering. 

Then there are the white collar workers who were the first in their families to go to college.  And the ironworkers who helped clear the site in the harrowing weeks after the attack. 

It is no exaggeration to say that you can tell the history of the Irish in New York through the events of 9/11.

Anyway, that is a small part of what subsequent generations of New Yorkers should walk away from the memorial and museum understanding.  And maybe they will.

But right now, that mission is in jeopardy. And money is only a small part of the problem.

There are also problems with what should and should not be included in the exhibits.  Some families, for example, were upset when it was announced that photos of the terrorists who flew the planes into the towers might be included in the museum.

Others – such as Tallon’s family – object to the sensitive topic of human remains at the site.

As The New York Times recently noted, “Many families are upset about a plan to place approximately 14,000 unidentified or unclaimed remains of those who died — typically bone fragments or dried bits of tissue — in the museum below ground. Seventeen family members have filed suit against the city as part of an effort to reopen the decision. They view it as degrading to set the remains in a museum below ground.”

Debates such as these are grueling. However, they are not only necessary, they are healthy. 

So long as everyone has a single goal in mind -- to vividly recall the events of that day and honor those who sacrificed.

If we don’t ultimately accomplish that mission, it will be yet another heartbreaking loss for future generations of New Yorkers.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at [email protected] or facebook.com/tomdeignan)