New Monument Proposed on the Mall to Honor Veterans of the Global War on Terror

By Gordon Binder

Americans of all persuasions rightly and understandably seek to honor the courageous men and women who have served our country, defended our shores, and carried out the directives of Congress and the President in actions overseas.

The result usually is a monument or memorial. There are thousands of tributes around the country, including many here in the nation’s capital.  The Vietnam Memorial, completed in 1982, offers one of the most moving memorials to our fallen heroes and inspired a wave of new memorials on the National Mall.  The memorial to those who served in the Korean conflict was dedicated in 1995, the World War II veterans in 2004   A memorial to WWI veterans is under way, expected to be open to the public in late 2018.

There is now a proposal for a memorial to honor veterans who served in the Global War on Terror, GWOT for short.  (This in-artful acronym should serve as a reminder to anyone proposing a memorial to check the acronym before finalizing the name!)

Though by law and tradition, military action is supposed to have been concluded for at least 10 years, the President signed legislation this past August granting the go-ahead for the memorial even while fighting continues.

Clockwise: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the District of Columbia War Memorial. (Courtesy Library of Congress and Department of Defense)
Where do we put another memorial?

Few would question the impetus to honor the memory of thousands of men and women who gave their lives or were wounded in the conflicts that followed the horrific attacks of 9/11.  Indeed, the impulse to commemorate falls entirely within our traditions. The proponents of GWOT are to be saluted for seeking to honor those who fought and those who gave their lives or were injured.

But is such a memorial premature, given we are still engaged in our country’s longest running conflict with no end in sight?  And where would it go? Where should it go?

More proposals for monuments and museums already are percolating, reflecting the realization that our country’s history and the important events that shape it continue to unfold.  Future generations, too, will want to commemorate what’s sacred and momentous in their time.  Where will those monuments go?  How will they relate to the current constellation of buildings and memorials?  Who will decide?  Under what guidelines?  We need a fair open process that enables all the American stories worthy of honoring to find their place on or near the Mall while the many other activities retain their footing.

This is why the Coalition has been a continuing champion for a new comprehensive plan for the National Mall that brings together architects and visionary thinkers, and agencies with jurisdiction, to consider how the Mall can grow to accommodate new memorials and museums that tell our unfolding American story. This forward-looking plan needs to recognize that the Mall serves many purposes beyond honoring our history and Americans who have given their lives —  recreation, open space, functioning as so-called green infrastructure to absorb rainfall, venues for major events like the Folk Life Festival, the site for demonstrations, protests, and celebrations, even marriages.

The challenge is far greater than siting a single memorial, no matter how worthy it may be. The last National Mall plan dates to 1902; it urgently needs updating so we can properly locate new memorials over the next several decades.

Learn more about what a new visionary Mall plan can accomplish on the Coalition website and let your Congressional representatives know that our country needs a visionary plan in order to protect the historical Mall while also ensuring the future vitality of the Mall, the Stage for American Democracy.

• Gordon Binder is a Senior Fellow at World Wildlife Fund.


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