Civic Sermons in Stone

A memorial to those who served the country in World War II would be a welcome addition to the National Mall in Washington both for patient veterans of that war and for future generations.

Groundbreaking for the long-overdue monument is set for Veterans Day Nov. 11.

The new memorial would replace the Rainbow Pool, located at the far end of the reflecting pool that stretches from the Lincoln Memorial. The design includes 56 pillars (one for each state and territory that fought in the war) and two large rainbow-shaped pools surrounding a sunken plaza.

This memorial has been called everything from "a massive granite mistake" to "a fitting symbol for those who gave their lives in the preservation of freedom."

Contentious debate over both design and placement of memorials on and around the Mall has had a long history. The Washington Monument itself, for example, was disputed for some 40 years. Now it stands as a key symbol of the city.

Indeed, it is those controversies that put in place rigorous decision processes before a memorial to a war, group, or president is built. That includes a triumvirate oversight group and requisite time for debate.

In this instance, a civil suit filed at the eleventh hour by four groups, including the notable D.C. Preservation League and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, calls the execution of at least some of those processes into question. That it's important not to bypass the rules goes without saying.

Preserving the sweeping vistas on the Mall, included in the original plans for the city, has also been a bone of contention. With approval of the revised design for the WWII memorial, that appears to have been done.

Careful concern, too, is warranted regarding the sheer number of memorials placed on the Mall.

The axis that includes both the two-mile stretch from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, as well as the line of sight from the Jefferson and Washington Memorials to the White House, has a long history as a place for the nation to congregate.

Leaving space for that freedom of expression is paramount.

Memorials bring an immense number of tourist dollars to the District of Columbia. Others in and around the Mall are planned.

But when the desire for those dollars competes with aesthetics and the commemoration of history, something is decidedly amiss.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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