WERE THE NATIONAL Park Service free to do as it wishes, it's quite possible that memorials on the Mall would be encased in bulletproof, blast-proof, thermoplastic synthetic resin designed to ensure that the public and the nation's landmarks would never meet. What other conclusion can be drawn? In a sad parody of the paranoia that has encased Capitol Hill in bollards, jersey barriers and checkpoints, the Park Service now wants to permanently close a parking lot at the Jefferson Memorial and erect more anti-vehicle barriers east of the Lincoln Memorial. This latest proposal comes on top of an earlier Park Service decision to erect a 34-inch high wall on the northern, southern and western sides of the Lincoln Memorial. Having successfully closed the parking lot at the Washington Monument, Park Service officials are now apparently emboldened to place even more of the nation's best known democratic symbols off-limits to local residents and visitors to the nation's capital. That is, if the public and their representatives in Congress let them.
The National Park Service should not be allowed to pursue its misguided plans. Every additional step taken toward more permanent road closures and concrete and steel fortifications is another blow against public access and a terrible concession to terrorists who would have us abandon our open society and resort to underground bunkers. Besides, there are limits to what the Park Service's costly anti-vehicle security measures will buy. As Mall preservationists have noted, the multimillion-dollar proposals would not prevent individuals wearing backpack bombs from blowing the monuments and themselves to bits. Throwing money at the problem and hunkering down is not the way to respond. New York City, which bore the brunt of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, did not panic and close off Manhattan. Federal officials in Washington should demonstrate equal courage and self-confidence.
The National Park Service is legitimately concerned with keeping the nation's monuments secure. But measures that ultimately reduce public access and visits to the memorials are self-defeating. Of what value are the shrines if they are sealed off or made more difficult for the public to reach? Openness and public access are hallmarks of American freedom, even at the risk of enemies' seeking to exploit that which we hold dear. As Judy Scott Feldman, founder of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, told The Post's Spencer Hsu: "The beauty of these great monuments and what they mean to us as symbols of our open society requires us to put public access number one. Otherwise, the monuments will die."