Honor WII Vets, but Not on Mall (Editorial by The Atlanta Constitution)

Anyone with an ounce of curiosity and a passing familiarity with the controversy over the World War II memorial proposed for the National Mall in Washington ought to be troubled by two questions:

  • Why has it taken so long to erect a permanent tribute in our nation’s capital to commemorate the valor of U.S. veterans of that epic struggle?
  • Why are the principal advocates of that memorial so hellbent on sticking it smack-dab in the middle of the Mall?

Time is running out on the veterans of the Second World War; they are dying off at roughly the rate of a thousand a day. Before the last of them departs, they deserve a lasting expression of our nation’s gratitude just as we have honored veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.That urgency, however, is not a compelling reason to plunge ahead with the $100 million granite plaza to be plunked midway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Indeed, the National Capitol Planning Commission, which meets Thursday to discuss the project and would be the last regulatory body to sign off on it, ought to stop the process dead in its tracks.

The Mall is a national treasure with its two-mile sweep of turf, trees and sunken pools between two of America’s best-recognized structures. To intrude upon that space, even to memorialize American heroes of the world’s fiercest war, is to separate the Mall’s aesthetic wholeness and interpose the 20th century between symbols of the 18th (George Washington) and 19th (Abraham Lincoln).

And it’s not as if the proposed plaza is such a grand addition to the Mall. It would require the destruction of a longtime Mall feature, the Rainbow Pool, a work by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., the architect who carried out his father’s design for Atlanta’s Druid Hills.

Moreover, the plaza itself is but a scaled-down version of an original design that would have obstructed sight lines across the Mall. Also, in deference to sight-line concerns, the plaza will be sunken, which is likely to be a source of recurring seepage problems since the water table location is only 7 feet below the surface. Finally, the plaza ha a subdued, abstract look more in keeping with the equivocal outcomes of the Vietnam and Korean wars than the unquestioned triumph World War II.

To preserver our capital’s beauty and to erect a memorial truly worthy of World War II servicemen and women, the Washington powers that be need to find a different site and choose a more inspiring design.