A Scourge of War Not Worthy of This Battlefield (The Washington Post)

By Marc Fisher, The Washington Post

The disappearing of the Mall’s most spectacular vista has begun. Over the weekend, wrapping themselves in the bunting of Veterans Day, the perpetrators of the World War II Memorial erected a vast white canvas wall across the Mall, blocking passage between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial and eliminating the Rainbow Pool from view. This latest assault in the battle to mar the Mall was only temporary– part of a vast Hollywood set built for the World War II Memorial’s “groundbreaking” ceremonies.In fact, no ground was broken because there is still no construction permit for the granite atrocity that President Clinton, Bob Dole, Tom Hanks and some misguided veterans support.

But Clinton was eager to start the memorial before he leaves office, and advocates for the massive mausoleum designed by Austrian architect Friedrich St. Florian want desperately to create facts on the ground before the American people realize their beloved Mall is about to be permanently defaced.

So they imported fresh-faced kids from Nebraska to wave brand-new flags ordered up by the Burson Marsteller public relations firm, and they brought in row upon row of uniformed veterans who want only to do what’s right for the memory of their fallen comrades, and they used the U.S. Army Band to give the show a patriotic gloss. But the veterans who’ve really thought through what their legacy ought to be didn’t need to dress up or wave flags. They turned out a day earlier and a couple of hundred yards away, in Constitution Gardens, the lovely spot on the side of the Mall where the World War II Memorial was originally supposed to be built, before J. Carter Brown and the official tastemakers decreed that only the center of the Mall would do.

Standing against a bracing wind, these veterans asked their countrymen to remember them, not with an expanse of expensive stone that would ruin the pastoral Mall and sever the connection between the Lincoln and the Washington, but with a more intelligent memorial in Constitution Gardens. There, the proposed cliche{prime}s of arches and pillars could be replaced by a structure that teaches future Americans about the need for sacrifice and purpose. Proponents of the triumphal memorial that would inspire no one put on a gaudy show Saturday. “Everything but the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” said Cpl. John Graves, co-chairman of World War II Veterans to Save the Mall. Graves needs no empty pile of stone as his legacy; his nation has already repaid his service. “I get a $175.10 check every month, and I got a really good college education from the GI Bill.”

Veteran Charles Cassell, a Washington architect, wants the Mall to remain “what it was supposed to be–one large, open, beautiful, green concourse, an expanse which people use and admire.”

“I’m not arrogant enough to think any one of us has the same right to be memorialized on this Mall as Abraham Lincoln or George Washington,” said John Floberg, who volunteered for the Navy before Pearl Harbor and later served as assistant secretary of the Navy under President Truman.

Another architect and WWII vet, Joe Passoneau, said the greatest war should be recalled in a museum that tells the stirring story. “That is the only way this extraordinary conflict can stay in the memory of the people that follow us,” he said, and he wept–for fallen friends, for memory so fleeting and for politicians who prefer a dull but safe design to the challenge of teaching our children about one of our finest hours.

Opponents of the proposed memorial face a difficult path. Final approval of the St. Florian design could come from the National Capital Planning Commission next month. The National Coalition to Save the Mall will then seek a court order halting work on the site.

The proposed memorial has powerful politicians on its side, as well as Hollywood money and celebrities. The opposition has only the people who love the Mall and seek to honor the veterans with a memorial truly worthy of their fight.