Comments: Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance Proposal

By Judy Scott Feldman, PhD, Chair, National Mall Coalition

(Submitted to the National Park Service by the National Mall Coalition, October 28, 2019)

I am writing on behalf of the National Mall Coalition, a nonprofit citizens group based in Washington DC, whose mission it is to help ensure the vitality, beauty, and continued active role of the National Mall in the capital and in American life, to comment on plans to construct a “Wall of Remembrance” at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. The Coalition appreciates having been invited to the October 15 meeting at the offices of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). We understand that this was the first meeting held to undertake review of the Wall of Remembrance project under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the ACHP’s regulations (36 CFR Part 800). It focused on defining the project’s area of potential effects (APE) and defining what its effects might be.

Although the ACHP regulations call for APE definition to be undertaken very early in the planning process, in this case planning is very far advanced. Multiple options for the wall as authorized by Congress have been analyzed, and a preferred alternative has been selected. This means that the APE and the project’s effects have thus far been developed without input from the public or from such experts as the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Officer; this is troubling.

That said, the preferred alternative – a low wall bearing inscribed names, built into a meter-high circular berm around the Pool of Remembrance, does appear to be a responsible, relatively low-impact way of responding to the project’s congressional authorization.

Our major concern is not with the direct effects of this particular memorial modification project, or even with its indirect effects, but with the ongoing pattern of cumulative effects of which it is a part. As you know, under both Section 106 of the NHPA and the National Environmental Policy Act, NPS is responsible for considering cumulative effects, defined by the Council on Environmental Quality as the impact on the environment that results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions.”

The environment of the National Mall is complicated; it includes the Mall’s physical characteristics – its buildings and spacings, its vistas and plantings and water features – and a host of sociocultural, psychological, attributes. Importantly, it is where we gather as a nation and as a local community for activities ranging from presidential inaugurations and Independence Day celebrations to kite flying and games of tag football. It is also a place where we can experience and contemplate aspects of our history. We need to be careful about the incremental impacts of actions we take to modify the Mall in the service of particular interests, however worthy those interests may be.

In recent years we have seen the steady militarization of the Mall, beginning with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, continuing with the World War II and Korean War Veterans Memorials, and we are now considering memorials to our recent and ongoing military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. In many cases the memorials are not just built; they grow. A wall acquires names inscribed on it; then flags are added; then statues.

In this case, the Korean Veterans Memorial’s commemorative meaning is also altered. Today the Memorial reflects the valor and sacrifices of American troops in a joint action with United Nations allies. By adding a funerary component  similar to the Vietnam Memorial, the character of the Korean War Veterans Memorial will be fundamentally altered. However justified this change may be, it is clearly an adverse effect under the regulations implementing Section 106 of the NHPA.

Wars are important parts of our history, and the sacrifices of our military men and women deserve to be memorialized, but if we continue the incremental commitment of space on the Mall to more and more military memorials, and specifically funerary monuments to those who died in service to the country, we run the risk of crowding out other important aspects of its cultural, experiential environment. Where, for example, do we acknowledge on the Mall the work and legacy of great American scientists, authors, poets, philosophers, artists, as is the case in other world capitals?

While the contribution to this pattern of cumulative effect made by the Korean War Wall of Remembrance is a small one, we urge the National Park Service to give this issue serious consideration both in its review of individual project proposals under the NHPA and other authorities, and in its general planning and management of the National Mall.


Tags: , ,