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Featured Artifact – 9/11 Steel

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The mission of The National WWII Museum is to tell the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world — why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today — so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.

As part of an ongoing exploration of “what it means today,” in September of 2011, the Museum unveiled an artifact that at first glance is not directly connected to the war our nation fought seven decades ago – a massive, 10-foot, 10,000-pound steel beam from an exterior column in the World Trade Center. The steel, on display outside the Museum’s Solomon Victory Theater, was donated by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Examining the many comparisons and contradictions made between the 9/11/01 attacks and the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, it’s obvious that this artifact is more than just a memorial to all who were lost – it’s a touch point for reflection. How were these two terrible events in our nation’s history alike? How were they different? These are questions that not only force us to examine these events, but also look back on who we were as a country and as human beings.

Both incidents were surprise attacks on a United States that had not declared war. Both elicited public reactions of collective shock, anger and fear that were spontaneous and national in scope. And in both cases, it can be argued that ultimately the attackers did not succeed in their goal to undermine Americans’ will or democratic institutions.

However, while Pearl Harbor was almost exclusively a military target, the focus of terrorists’ attacks in 2001 included a financial center and civilians as well as the Pentagon. Additionally, the enemy in 1941 was a major nation, easy to identify, while it was more difficult to pinpoint in 2001.

It is our hope that this display continues the conversation for generations to come. And today especially, the anniversary of  9/11, we extend our deepest condolences to all who were, and continue to be, affected by this tragedy.

See photos from the 9/11/11 artifact dedication.

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