We have memorials for people after they die. We build memorials in tribute to the fallen. And then we visit those memorials around the world as tourists in a phenomenon known as “dark tourism.”
But why? Why do we visit places like Auschwitz or the Killing Fields or Pearl Harbor? Why do we pay to walk through museums dedicated to war and terrorist attacks? Do we, as humans, have some sort of morbid fascination with death and suffering?
Well, with the exception of maybe a few, I don’t think we do.
I think we have a curiosity, yes. A curiosity about what concentration camps were really like, or what it was like for victims of bombings and natural disasters. Most of us can’t fathom these sorts of things happening to us. And that curiosity is what draws us to sites like Chernobyl or post-Katrina New Orleans or Hiroshima. Or even Ground Zero.
And, in visiting these types of places, we are often moved more than we thought possible. Which is what keeps us coming back.
This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York City. Ten years ago, terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center twin towers, bringing them to the ground. And more than just glass and stone was shattered that day.
On Monday, the 9/11 Memorial will be open to the public, with the 9/11 Memorial Museum set to open in 2012. And millions will likely visit this memorial and museum within the next couple of years. Millions will want to see it; to experience it. But not because they are entertained.
An article about dark tourism on Matador Network says the following:
Rather than offer you a few hours of entertainment, it [dark tourism] ought to provoke and confront you in a profound way. It is a multi-dimensional experience that can have a deep impact on your life.
It’s this impact that draws us to dark tourism. It is this impact that leads us to the realization of the sad reality that exists around the world. And it is through this impact that we feel compassion for our fellow human beings.
It isn’t until we stroll through a national military cemetery that we realize just how many men and women have lost their lives in the name of freedom.
It isn’t until we drive through the deserted streets of a tornado-devastated city like Joplin, Missouri that we realize that the effects of a natural disaster extend far beyond the front pages of the newspapers.
It isn’t until we visit a place like Auschwitz or the Killing Fields that we realize how many innocent people have suffered at the hands of their fellow countrymen.
Visiting “dark” or somber sites is important. It helps us realize how lucky we are.
It’s a way to make sure we remember. A way to make sure that we never forget.
What’s your take? Do you think it’s important to be aware of the bad things happening around the world, along with the good? Have you ever found yourself playing the role of “dark” tourist?