Memorial Mistake (Editorial, Roll Call)

We enthusiastically, even reverently, support the construction of a World War II memorial on the National Mall, and we share the outrage of veterans and others that this monument-packed city lacks a site honoring those who served in perhaps the most consequential conflict of the 20th century. In defeating Adolf Hitler and imperial Japan, America’s “greatest generation” saved mankind from potential slavery. Homage is long overdue.That said – and meant – we urge the Senate and President Bush not to join the House in rushing through legislation that will short-circuit all further proceedings to challenge the future location of the memorial and eliminate adequate oversight of the project as it proceeds.

We confess, our bottom line is we think the planned memorial design is undistinguished, certainly not aesthetically commensurate with the valor of those who won the war. Compared with the Vietnam or Korean War memorials, it’s the architectural equivalent of the D.C. Convention Center or the Rayburn Building. We realize that the memorial probably won’t be redesigned, but we urgently hope that it can be relocated – turned parallel to the Reflecting Pool so that it does not interrupt the grand vista from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial.

On Tuesday, in a patriotic, anti-bureaucratic frenzy, the House rushed through, 400-15, a bill to get construction started without further review, nullifying a lawsuit against the project and the National Capital Planning Commission’s reconsideration of the design. Armed Services Chairman Bob Stump (R-Ariz.) complained that it has taken twice as long to build it as to win World War II. Others have observed that if it’s completed on time in 2004, only 4 million of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are likely to be alive to appreciate it.

We are certainly not advocating delay for delay’s sake, but for the sake of improving the memorial and respecting the integrity of the Mall. Moreover, as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) argued, the legislation would block the planning commission’s ability to oversee construction and ensure, for instance, that ground water is pumped out as the memorial is constructed so that it does not undermine the wooden foundations of the Washington Monument.

Norton said, “We can assure a memorial on the present timetable or sooner without passing this radically destructive bill that will do irrevocable harm to the World War II Memorial itself by eliminating indispensable oversight.” We hope that the Senate heeds that argument.