A memorial to those who fought and won World War II, preserving freedom and shaping the world we now live in, is long overdue. As their generation passes and the generation of their children ages, it is far past time to sculpt the gratitude of the heart into monuments of stone.That debt of honor, though, has been tainted by well-meaning, but misguided, citizens. In a show of political muscle that stifled the spirit of democracy and debate for which Americans fought in that war, supporters of the controversial monument rammed a measure through Congress that stills protest and shields the design and siting of the memorial from judicial review.
Signed by President Bush on Memorial Day, the monument’s own little law calls for quick construction of plazas, columns and four-story triumphal arches on what has, until now, been a grand and grassy sweep of the National Mall. The memorial will embrace the Rainbow Pool, at the eastern end of the rectangular Reflecting Pool that stretches from the Lincoln Memorial at one end of the Mall to the Washington Monument at its midpoint.
Sited near the imposing obelisk dedicated to the nation’s first president, the planned World War II Memorial seeks at once to be grand and unimposing – an impossibility reflected in the continuing arguments between backers who insist it deserves prominence on the main centerline of the two-mile Mall and opponents whose concerns have triggered changes to make the structure as “transparent” as possible. Now, Congress has outflanked the critics’ final stand – a lawsuit on environmental and historic preservation grounds – by authorizing construction “without regard” to such laws.
Unfortunately, Congress’ self-proclaimed “triumph of common sense over bureaucracy” is a far cry from the rule of law that 400,000 Americans died for in the global war. It contravenes another law passed and signed 16 years ago in an effort to keep new monuments from overruning the Mall, often called “America’s front yard” and the scene of landmark demonstrations, protests and gatherings through the years. Sadly, it passed the House by a 400-15 vote, with Rep. John LaFalce among the courageous few voting nay. An effort to gain a temporary restraining order against the measure failed last week.
No monument design will please everyone. Critics have vilified this one, which has evolved through eight years of planning, as “wedding cake imperial” more suited to another age or – the ultimate insult – reminiscent of Albert Speers’ Nazi style of the prewar years. But the memorial simply echoes the neo-classical architecture of Washington. It blends, and only time will tell if it inspires.
Designers have made strong efforts, too, to ensure the $160 million, privately funded memorial is open enough to preserve sight lines to other monuments. But its relocation from a previously preferred nearby site to center stage on the Mall in 1995, done without much of the opportunity for public comment that marked other stages of the process, remains troubling. While the Mall has seen a number of new monuments in recent years – including the once-controversial but now revered Vietnam “Wall” – there has been nothing on this scale since the Lincoln Memorial.
America’s defense of freedom throughout the world does indeed deserve a major monument, but not one that bisects the Mall.
Tags: WWII Memorial