The question is not whether to build a monument everyone seems to agree it’s long overdue but rather where it will best fit into Washington’s meticulous architectural choreography.
Current plans place the memorial, an imposing (detractors say fascistic) design by Austrian architect Friedrich St. Florian, smack dab in the middle of the Mall, between the towering Washington Monument and the stately Lincoln memorial (site of Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" speech). Opponents call it an outrageous defacement of a national space, while defendants consider the prominent placement a fitting testimony to the monument’s importance.
The official website of the World War II Memorial Committee doesn’t emphasize the monument’s locale, focusing instead on its purpose. The memorial is "symbolic of the defining event of the 20th century in American history. It will inspire future generations of Americans, deepening their appreciation of what the World War II generation accomplished in securing freedom and democracy."
Not exactly, retorts one World War II veteran who is among those leading the campaign to Save the Mall. Cpl. John Graves calls the memorial, as it is currently designed, "a grandiose fiasco, designed to destroy the heart of our National Mall to memorialize those of us who served in World War II." He is joined by other veterans, one of whom announced in May he would give up his Purple Heart if plans went forward to build the currently proposed monument. Veterans and conservationists are joined by environmentalists, who fear building the memorial in the Mall could disrupt local ecosystems.
Unofortunately for the monument’s opponents, the race to halt its construction appears to have hit a brick wall. When the House of Representatives voted a second time to approve expedited construction work on the memorial, they were simply punctuating a previous vote; the previous week, the body agreed 400-15 to move the construction forward despite legal challenges filed by opposition groups. The Senate has also voted to speed up the building process, and President Bush has added his support for current plans.
And for those opponents not adequately intimidated by that show of political clout, and the federal court's latest ruling, there is yet another, even more awesome adversary: America’s current top celluloid war hero. Tom Hanks is one of the memorial’s earliest and most vocal backers.