The National Mall in Washington, D.C., is a wonderful, inspirational place because of the simplicity of its design, the events it commemorates and the political protests that have coursed along it. Now the National Capital Planning Commission has approved a plan for a World War II memorial that would cut across the central axis of the Mall, interrupting the line of sight that creates such an expansive feel. World War II veter-ans deserve a memorial on the Mall, like Vietnam and Korean veterans. But this may not be the right one.
The Mall’s huge open space with its long vistas has a powerful, emotional impact on wideeyed tourist, and hard-bitten Washington natives. Maj. Pierre L’Enfant designed it that way, and the folks on Capitol Hill haven’t messed it up in the ensuing two centuries.
The visual sweep and the simplicity of the Mall perfectly memorializes the nation’s two greatest events, two greatest leaders and two most important values: Washington and Lincoln, revolution and civil war, freedom and equality
As Lincoln sits facing the Capitol, he has seen great events. Marian Anderson’s 1939 recital from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” during the March on Washington. Dozens of protests toward Capitol Hill to seek a redress of grievances.
World War II was an event of comparable importance to the Revolution and the Civil War. Democracy triumphed over Dictatorship, and the United States moved to the center of the world stage.
Still, the site of the monument and its design seem to undermine some of the characteristics that make the Mall special. A large granite plaza, as long a football field, will be built on the Rain-how Pool which is the green space at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool.
The monument would have 56 17-foot pillars and two 41-foot-high arches on each side, com-memorating the European and Pacific theaters. In response to criticism that the memorial will break the line of sight along the axis of the Mall, the monument would be sunken six-feet below the ground. Still, some architects have criticized the design as Napoleanic or even suggestive of Albert Speer, Hitlers architect.
The monument has influential backers, Bob Dole and Tom Hanks among them. And it has final approval. Unfortunately, all of this has happened without the rest of the nation paying much attention. President Bill Clinton should hold up construction until the people just tuning in have a chance to say what they think about this addition to the national town square
Tags: WWII Memorial