Memorial Wars (Editorial, USA Today)

World War II could have been fought and won twice in the amount of time invested so far in building a national World War II memorial, and construction on the $160 million project hasn’t even started yet. Now Congress appears poised to end that absurdity by veering to the other extreme: imposing a ham-handed solution on what should be a solemn process.

Early last week, the House voted 400-15 to cut off further public debate about the memorial. The Senate is expected to adopt similar legislation with similar ease. The goal is to get the memorial built as soon as possible because 1,100 vets are dying every day.

That’s a sad note to be sure. But such unilateralism is what caused the current fight in the first place. The memorial’s most contentious aspect is its location: a 7.4-acre site smack dab between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. This is the trophy space on the Mall, serving as an expansive bridge between the great, meditative sweeps of lawn and water that link the Lincoln and Washington edifices. Other wars are honored elsewhere on the Mall so as not to disturb that awesome spot.

Until, that is, the World War II memorial. Planners were originally offered half a dozen other spaces on the Mall, including one barely 100 yards away. But memorial supporters judged them insufficiently grand, and in a flurry of last-minute switches, the memorial was relocated. Opposition has taken multiple forms since. Critics say the design is lackluster, that proper studies were not conducted, etc. But critics also say their cavils would largely vanish if the memorial moved a few hundred feet north.

Supporters, now in possession of glamorous real estate, are unwilling to give it up. With Congress’ help, they won’t have to.

Impatience and frustration are understandable, and a perfect compromise is unlikely. But by imposing its will rather than pressing for concessions that contain the project’s grandiosity, Congress ensures that the process will lack credibility and that the memorial will remain discordant and misplaced. How does that do any honor?

 

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