DALLAS, June 22, 2013 – A towering piece of twisted steel is enough to make anyone stop in his or her tracks.
Visitor after visitor slowly reach out to put a hand on the steel, removed from the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. It provides a moment for reflection.
Located at the new George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the steel serves as the centerpiece of an exhibit about that awful day and the days that followed. The exhibit features videos, photographs and the bullhorn Bush used on Sept. 14, 2001, when he stood atop the rubble to address workers, the nation and the world.
“I think our 9/11 exhibit alone is completely original,” said John Orrell, public affairs and marketing director for the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. “Nowhere else in the world do we have the bullhorn from when President Bush was standing on that pile of rubble. There’s nowhere else you can ever see that. Nowhere else can you see the gun Saddam Hussein had on him when he was captured. We have a voting booth from Florida. We have hanging chads.”
While the new 9/11 exhibit may be the most touching for many, it is but one section of the 14,000-square-foot museum that opened to the public last month. In addition to the 9/11 exhibit, the museum features a full scale replica of the Oval Office, information about life in The White House, President Bush’s two dogs, a collection of autographed baseballs and an exhibit – complete with hanging chads – about the 2000 election in which Bush defeated then Vice President Al Gore.
“We try to focus on everything in his administration. There are a few things that people would consider to be … hot button, controversial,” Orrell said.
“But, it was still a part of the historic record of the presidency,” Orrell said. “That’s our job here at the National Archives – to cover and focus on the historic aspect of the presidency.”
While Bush opponents love to criticize him when he was president, the Decision Point exhibit gives supporters and detractors alike the opportunity to step into his shoes and make a decision about a key event that happened during his presidency. A small group enters the theater and using touch screens, the group collectively chooses from a list of four topics: Hurricane Katrina, the surge in Iraq, the financial crisis and whether or not to go into Iraq.
“You’ll go through and you have a list of advisors all the way from the CIA to the White House to the Pentagon giving you perspective from both sides,” Orrell said. “And then you have to make a decision, acting like you’re the president. This is your chance to be in the president’s shoes and get the facts and information just like the president would and then come to a decision on your own.
“I think it’s just a really neat chance for folks to see that being the president isn’t just standing up in front of folks and waving and shaking hands,” Orrell added. “There’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of personal reflection and I think you really get to experience that in this program.”
The Decision Points exercise may not be enough to change the opinions of Bush’s detractors, but that isn’t the goal of the museum. When it comes to takeaways, Orrell just wants visitors to be more educated about the history and events of Bush’s presidency.
“We’re not trying to affect anybody’s opinions. We’re not trying change anybody’s minds,” Orrell said. “We’re just here to educate. We’re here to show the historical record and to educate – and that’s all I want. I just want everybody to feel like they’ve learned something new – whether or not they agree with it or disagree with it. I just want them to feel like they’ve learned something new.”
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