OC Republicans Remember Sept. 11 to Mixed Response
At 5 a.m. Monday morning — Sept. 11 — seven members of the Oberlin College Republicans spent three hours erecting a memorial, “The Flag of Honor,” commemorating the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
While political commentary appeared absent from the memorial, which was comprised of 2,997 flags to mark the event’s victims, controversy spread throughout the student body over the presence of posters all over campus proclaiming “Never Forget,” a message many considered to be politically motivated and inappropriate.
Students conveyed their distaste through direct action: most of the posters were torn down. By the end of the day there were more bits and pieces stuck to masking tape on the bulletin boards where posters had once been than actual posters.
“As a New Yorker, I don’t need an inflammatory poster to remind me of what happened,” said Charlie Sohne, College senior and co-chair of the Oberlin College Democrats. “The posters turned a personal tragedy into political propaganda. Remembering is different than politicizing. [The Republicans] crossed that line with the posters.”
“The memorial itself was tasteful, but when you put into the same context as the posters it becomes a political message,” Sohne continued.
The posters expanded their theme of “Never Forget” beyond the events of 9/11. They featured images of various terrorist activity world-wide, spanning decades. In addition to images of the World Trade Center towers imploding, other images included a handcuffed journalist kneeling with a gun to his head, a burning US flag, attacks on the USS Cole and diplomats held hostage.
College sophomore Jessica Barber said, “They just seemed one sided. It is important to remember these things because they are terrible, but this is a little sensationalist. Not only US Embassies were bombed. Not only US reporters were killed. We are not the only victims.”
“[It] doesn’t seem like mourning so much as anger,” said Thatcher Newkirk, College senior. “They seemed like they were pointing a finger.”
Jonathan Bruno, College senior and chair of the OC Republicans, responded to these objections.
“I am baffled that these posters are being called ‘too political’ when there was no political message contained on them whatsoever,” said Bruno. “Every image on those posters is real. Nothing is gained by ignoring the true nature of the terrorism that threatens free peoples around the world today.”
He went on to say, “I felt the posters were free of political messages. They said, ‘Never Forget’ not ‘Never Forget and Vote Republican.’”
The memorial was better received. While the majority of the flags represented American victims, those flags encircled a cluster of international flags, representing the 246 foreign individuals who also lost their lives.
The 19 hijackers who died in the attacks were excluded from the memorial.
The memorial bore a makeshift plaque -- a plastic tarp raised simply by two wooden poles. It bore the message:
“This Flag is created from the names of those who perished in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Now and forever it will represent their immortality. We shall never forget them.”
It also included the names of victims. In front of the plaque were four additional American flags, which represented the four crash sites of the hijacked planes: each World Trade Center tower, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania.
When asked about the purpose of the memorial, Bruno said, “We wanted to make sure that people had a chance to reflect on those 3,000 innocent victims. Our motivation was not political. I hope that my peers remember how brutal the attacks really were. It was not a happy day. It was the worst kind of savagery.”
Although the memorial did not incite the same controversy as the posters, and most seemed to respect its intention, student reaction was still mixed. Some students reverently walked around memorial’s perimeter, while others gave it a mere fleeting glance before bypassing it on the way to class. Others were seen quietly grieving after viewing the memorial.
“They did a nice job of paying respects to those killed,” said Charlie Foldesh, a senior in the Conservatory. “When you see the flags, the magnitude of the event hits you.”
Joanna Lemle, native New Yorker and College sophomore, thought more could have been done. She said, “I appreciate what they are doing, but wish there was more.”
College junior Jay Barone rode his bike around the memorial, gave it the finger and screamed: “Get over it!”
“With the thousands of people dying daily, how are these 3,000 deaths from five years ago relevant?” he said later, explaining his actions. “We do nothing to help others, but we expect others to care about [us].”
Although both the memorial and poster were raised by the OC Republicans, nowhere was their authorship advertised. When asked about that omission, Bruno responded, “It was not our intention to focus on politics. Instead, our goal was to draw attention to the events of that day and to the sacrifice of the 3,000 innocent civilians who were murdered.”
He went on to state, “No other group on campus stepped up to commemorate September 11, and we couldn’t let the five-year anniversary be ignored.”
The memorial remained in Wilder Bowl until the party that erected it took it down later that evening.