On Remembering Building 12

In my opinion, tearing down Building 12 of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is a mistake. A significant mistake.

Image result for building 12 parkland
Students are evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday after a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people.
MIKE STOCKER / SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL VIA AP caption

In my essay, “Remembering the Unforgettable” (2017), I discussed patterns of genocide memorials. No, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting is not a genocide, but there are some similarities. A horrific act of violence against innocent people that survivors and politicians want to remember. The key question is, however, what is it that survivors and politicians want to remember? The event or the victims. Is the goal to remember the victims so their lives are not forgotten, or with the goal of preventing more school shootings?

If the goal is to remember the victims so their lives are not forgotten, then go ahead and tear down Building 12.

However, if the goal is to remember the event, or dare we hope to memorialize to prevent more school shootings, then tearing down Building 12 is a mistake.

According to the Miami Herald, State Senator Bill Galvano said the horror was palpable: “Everything was strewn across the halls from people running and dodging and there were significant blood splatters on the wall…Like someone took a milk jug and exploded it.” It is precisely THAT horror that ought to be preserved.

Columbine was not torn down but renovated, whereas West Nickle Mines School was completely torn down. I’m not sure the status of Virginia Tech, or Sandy Hook. But I do know that the reality of the concentrations camps is a testament to history; a physical buttress against those who would deny the Holocaust. Yes, the Allies destroyed Hitler’s home, Berghof, at the base of Mount Kehlstein. That was an intentional decision to prevent the Berghof from becoming a shrine to former Nazis. And yes, Russians, in particular, destroyed some concentration camps in the East, but today those camps are being rebuilt as physical reminders of the violence.

Destroying Building 12 erases the violence and replaces the authenticity of space with a hermetically sterile outdoor memorial. A large stone, a plague, a garden. A flagpole and memories of the 17 who died. We have those memorials already.

Keep Building 12. Remember the event that happened, not just those who died. Keep the bullets in the walls; the desks and papers strewn across the rooms. With consultation with the deceased families, keep the blood stains on the walls and floors.

There are genocide memorials across the world. The memorials in off-site locations like the United States often need creativity and sculptures to capture what is unavoidable at memorials utilizing authentic space like Treblinka II, The Pit in Minsk, the Choeung Ek killing fields, the S-21 Prison, the Nyarubuye and Nyamata churches in Rwanda.

Authentic space is real. It is a living memorial to both the victims and the horror. Let us remember the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by making Building 12 into a museum for the living to learn, not an antiseptic memorial built atop the ruins of a blighted Building 12.

Don’t hide what happened. Remember. So then maybe we can all shout out, “Never Again!”

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