A Memorial to Bludgeon Tactics (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)

How badly have federal agencies bungled planning for a World War II memorial? So badly that the project’s strong-arm backers in Congress are now trying to gag public comment and evade federal law in order to snuff out the growing furor over its location and aesthetics.A memorial to honor the men and women whose heroics and sacrifice helped defeat fascism has been in the works for almost eight years. But the design selected is so pretentious and impersonal that it has been derided as neofascist and “wedding cake imperial.” To make matters worse, in 1995 the Commission of Fine Arts, one of several agencies that have mangled this matter, abruptly and without public comment moved the seven-acre project from a site near other war monuments to the National Mall. That this decision would seem on its face to violate federal laws designed to prevent the cluttering of the nation’s capital is apparently of no consequence.

Now destined for one end of the Reflecting Pool, which begins at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, the four-story granite arches, 56 pillars and sunken pool would forever destroy the sweep of lawn that has become America’s gathering place. Opposition to the project includes veterans, civil rights leaders and a who’s who of historic, design and environmental groups. But an unmoved National Capital Planning Commission gave the final go-ahead last September.

Opponents filed suit in October to block construction, and last month the Justice Department stepped in, questioning the validity of the commission’s final vote because the chairman’s term had expired. Although the panel insists that its chairman retained voting authority until a new chair was named, it will meet Thursday to try to find a way to ratify its earlier vote. That portion of the meeting, like so many others, will be closed to the public whose interests the commission purports to represent.

With new members and a new chairman, the panel should reverse its September decision and send the project back to the drawing board. But if it does that, the old design may move forward anyway. Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) has introduced a bill directing the agencies responsible to proceed with construction “without regard” to any federal historic preservation or environmental laws. Hutchinson’s outrageous bill is just the latest attempt to ram this project through, the public and the law be damned.

Recognition for World War II veterans is long overdue, but this memorial’s design and location on the mall do them no honor.

To Take Action: Contact the National Capital Planning Commission at (202) 482-7200, by fax at (202) 482-7272 or at info@ncpc.gov

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times