Thursday’s meeting of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has been moved from a small conference room to an Interior Department auditorium, one measure of a growing tumult over the proposed World War II memorial. The commission could give the final thumbs-up to the design for the long-planned monument, but it shouldn’t. It ought to go back to the drawing board, as opponents of the plan urge. The design before the panel–stone pillars, bronze wreaths and triumphal arches ringing a pool, is sterile at best, lacking a sense of the personal heroism and sacrifice that lifted America’s servicemen and servicewomen and their families during that long, grinding conflict.
Contrast the remote, classical elements of this design with the very human emotions that other monuments evoke. The hands that reach out to touch names etched into the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Or schoolchildren, grown quiet as they wander past sculptures depicting ordinary people during the Great Depression in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
The ring of classical columns planned for the World War II memorial, including four sculpted eagles holding victory laurels in their beaks, seems better suited to the Napoleonic Age than our own.
Even more troublesome is the memorial’s proposed site, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument: Another poor choice–and, as Times Art Critic Christopher Knight details in today’s Calendar, one made apparently with little public input. The Mall’s long expanse of lawn is hallowed political ground, the place where Americans gather to express themselves on virtually any issue. The memorial, with arches taller than a four-story building, would at a minimum obscure the sweeping view from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument and, beyond, the Capitol–and would probably truncate and disfigure this important space.
The design and site selection process for the World War II memorial has already moved far along, and no doubt years might pass, as supporters of the design contend, before there could be agreement on a new plan. But an uninspired design on an irreplaceable site would poorly honor the millions who served in the Second World War, Americans who deserve better.
Tags: WWII Memorial