There’s nothing wrong with the proposed National World War II Memorial that a change of location wouldn’t fix. At the moment the $100-million memorial is to be plunked down on the National Mall in Washington smack between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. The inspiring sightline between the two would thus be cluttered and impeded by a memorial that, however worthy, has a different resonance.
Certainly, the Second World War deserves a Mall memorial. The Civil War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War already have them. At least one more review by another federal agency is yet to come, but the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, which meets today to approve the memorial’s main design, cannot fairly ignore the impact of the memorial on that spot and its intangible attractions.
Although surrounded by museums and monuments, the Mall’s central axis is anchored by three features. To the east is the U.S. Capitol, the world’s greatest monument to democracy Then comes the Washington Monument, standing for independence. And to the west is the Lincoln Memorial, temple to union. In this way, the axis represents a sort of national backbone formed by the themes of our founding.
That may sound abstract, but even tired and jaded visitors pick up on it. From every point along the Mall’s center, people turn back and forth to admire Capitol, monument and memorial. This is done especially at the spot where the Word War II Memorial is to be built. And although the latest design reduces the physical intrusion of earlier proposals, it still interferes. At one end, a wall flanked by waterfalls will block a visitor’s view of the Lincoln Memorial. Around the perimeter, 56 funereal pillars and two 40-foot arches cramp and dampen the Mall’s vivifying central themes.
Among the water, arches, pillars, wreaths and a 9-foot wall with 4,120 stars, the memorial is simultaneously busy and gloomy, not sublime and inspiring. Yet even this design could be powerful if situated elsewhere on the Mall and freed from the need to minimize itself. In its current place, alas, the memorial is an irredeemable spoiler.
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