Today, as we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks over the Rainbow Pool on the National Mall, we should pause in a moment of silence for this lovely and serene site. That is because unless the public intervenes, next year construction will begin on the National World War II Memorial, and this open space and its great vistas will be lost forever.
The design for the war memorial calls for a sunken stone plaza that will fill the width of the Mall from tree line to tree line. Pedestrians descending into this space from 17th Street NW will find their paths blocked. From the inside of the memorial, 56 17-foot pillars ringing the plaza will block all vistas of the Mall. Visitors will be cut off from their surroundings by these pillars along with high walls and two triumphal arches towering nearly as high as a five-story building, all centered around a sarcophagus. The walls mean that the memorial will be unbearably hot in the summer and that security will be a concern, especially at night.
This memorial design goes against the qualities of openness and natural beauty that make the Mall a national treasure. In approving the design last month, the National Capital Planning Commission abandoned its own recommendation from last year that the designer open a western access and better integrate the memorial into the park-like setting of the Mall.
What are people supposed to take away from this memorial? Triumphal arches, stone pillars, tombs, wreaths, eagles and eternal flames are well represented at Arlington National Cemetery, but they will be out of place on the Mall. Architect Friedrich St. Florian says that his design eventually will include even more symbols, but this is not the way to add meaning to a memorial.
Further, the design is disturbingly reminiscent of the imagery adopted by the Third Reich to symbolize Germany's claim to imperial and world domination. Testimony at a National Capital Planning Commission hearing even included a drawing made by Adolf Hitler of a four-sided triumphal arch that is uncomfortably similar to that found in the World War II Memorial design.
The current design for the National World War II Memorial serves no one -- not veterans, not the American people, not future generations for whom we hold the Mall in trust. Ours is a time of prosperity, of relative peace and of global interconnectedness. We must not address the future with a memorial design that breaks the spirit of the Mall. Our memories of World War II should be enshrined within a vision that will inspire those who see it in the centuries to come.
-- Judy Scott Feldman
is a trustee of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.