November 25, 2001
4:16 AM   Subscribe

The US’ World War II Monument is expected to open in 2004. The 7.4 acre monument has been roundly criticized as both “seriously flawed” and “off-key”. Apart from these critiques, I wonder if the US memoralizes too many wars and not enough peace.
posted by raaka (25 comments total)
I personally am in favor of the WWII memorial, both in design and placement (around the rainbow pool.) when you look at the conceptual drawings, it definately seems a fitting memorial to the greatest armed struggle in history. The people who are criticizing it may have a few valid points in regard to design, but definately not in placement. All of those complaints seem to stem from the idea that WWII isn't something that should be remembered along with George Washinton and the rest. As far as I'm concerned, those people can take up speaking German and go live in Afghanistan [erm... slight disparity, but they deserve all the trouble it would cause.] Thousands of American soldiers (not to mention millions of russian soldiers and millions of Jews) died in that war, the last war I can think of that was justifiable. But I digress.

I wonder if the US memoralizes too many wars and not enough peace.

First, there has never been peace. Since the founding of the first tribal groups to the modern day, some large groups of people have been killing large groups of other people (usually over religion and land) without any worldwide rest. Thus, there has been nothing to memorialise.

Next, why memorialise peace? A memorial suggests an end. You can't seriously put up a memorial to some kind of ongoing peace (especially if it's just our nation at peace,) and it's just downright morbid to put up a memorial to some historic peace ("Yes, Bobby... That there's the memorial to the great peace of 2014-2015. Too bad everything's all warlike and crappy now.")

Finally, what could a peace memorial memorialise? Battles, wars, and treaties are events. They are specific times when people came together (whether violently or not) and did something. What can a peace memorial accomplish? "Lookee here, Jed. Says on this monumenty-thing that nothin' happened for a good solid 20 years, then folks started shootin' each other agin'." See? Just silly. And as for some "hopeful" peace memorial (like the peace garden,) that'd just be hippy-ish.

Oh... FP.
posted by phalkin at 5:01 AM on November 25, 2001

The "war memorials" don't memorialize war. They memorialize the people who died in the war. (Go visit the Viet Nam memorial sometime.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:41 AM on November 25, 2001

Dear Phalkin: WWII, the last war that was justified? can you list all those that followed that were not, including what is now taking place in Afghanistan against the terror base that attacked the US mainland? WWI and Two may be the world wars that so moved us, but others had various causes, reaons, that made them different. I am not here defending all wars we have been involved in but merely wondering why you exclude all since WWII.
posted by Postroad at 6:56 AM on November 25, 2001

what SDB said.
posted by bwg at 7:37 AM on November 25, 2001

I'm thankful for phalkins and SDBs' comment. a peace memorial is.... ahhh. I do not like the memorial being compared to Speers work. But i do like that raaka used varied sources for his support links.
posted by clavdivs at 7:57 AM on November 25, 2001

thank god we won. for the experience of NOT living under Hitler and his fellow monsters, i am and always will be deeply grateful for the efforts and sacrifices they made.

the memorial seems fine to me.

in my home in the english lake district there is a remembrance sunday service on top of Great Gable, a mountain that was bought by the fell and rock club and given to the national trust to commemorate their members that died in the first world war.

an poignant account of the service, from a climber after an accident on mt McKinley, gives an idea of the experience
posted by quarsan at 8:11 AM on November 25, 2001

It looks pretty bad, in my opinion. Anything that occasions agreement between the Times and the National Review must have something especially off about it. If Muschamp is right when he says "It puts sentiment in the place where knowledge ought to be," that's pretty damning.

And it's cultural politics that's made it go awry. The argument seems to have gone (putting it crudely in the interests of saving space): WWII was the "best" war, so its monument has to have the "best" location (the Mall) even if that's inappropriate and obtrusive; the impact on the vistas of the Mall has to be minimized, so we have to recess the monument into the ground; that plus the use of a pastiche of the formal vocabulary of WWII-era government architecture leads to a glum, Thebes-like experience: memorial as excavated cenotaph. Not very inspiring or uplifting.

My mom is a WWII vet who spent years working for the memorial for women in the armed forces. WWII was the defining experience of her life. She was very excited about the idea of a WWII memorial, but she looks kind of sick when she talks about this one--she doesn't feel that it honors anyone. Just one data point.
posted by rodii at 8:36 AM on November 25, 2001

I actually think that Steven has a point -- and touches on one of the problems with the memorial as designed. This memorial is to the war and the victory and the peak of the American Century; it's American triumphalism at its worst, with a dollop of Speer for good measure. I'm also uncomfortable with the idea of a war memorial smack dab in the middle of America's meeting place for the people, the Mall. Surely the next demonstration there that edges even slightly liberal will have VFW types carping about "desecration of sacred ground" and the like, creating a chilling effect for future gatherings. The loss of green space to a tiled depression creates a visual break that will cut the Mall in half and change its character as a public space forever.

I absolutely, fully, unreservedly back a World War Two Memorial. I just think this one is badly conceived, badly located, and badly designed.

Alas, I think it's inevitable at this moment.
posted by dhartung at 8:40 AM on November 25, 2001

SDB already got the point across, but here's supporting evidence: the greatest monument to peace I can think of. The famous bit is link #4.
posted by vbfg at 9:15 AM on November 25, 2001

The entire concept of a memorial to World War II is misplaced. With 20 years behind us, many people forget that the moving Vietnam memorial was constructed because the country, as a whole, did not value the service of Vietnam veterans. Hawks blamed them for losing the war; doves blamed them for fighting the war. It was only in the 1980s that the country started to rehabilitate the image of the Vietnam veteran, realizing the sacrifice these young people made regardless of the outcome or the motives of those who sent them.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was a controversial subject because a lot of people didn't want to remember Vietnam or its veterans. When it finally got approved and the winning design was unveiled, there was so much protest that they had to add a "conventional" statue to the memorial plans to make the big "V" in the ground palatable to traditionalists. And then it opened, with its powerful display of those who lost their lives forever remembered, and nothing has been the same since.

The Vietnam memorial so changed the way we remember those who sacrificed that veterans of other wars want one, too -- but it's not necessary. We never treated World War II veterans the way Vietnam veterans were treated. They were never forgotten, never despised, never blamed for the consequences of war (like dropping atomic bombs). They were rightly and deservedly honored for their service in a cause that the US people overwhelmingly supported, then and now, a cause history has proven to be just.

Yes, those veterans are dying (at something like a rate of 1100 per day, supporters remind us), and within a decade or two that generation will have left us. But whether they build anything on the Mall or not, there is no chance they will be forgotten, much less vilified or societally blamed for the ugly nature of war.

The Vietnam veterans deserved the thanks of a country that World War II veterans got, but instead they got a memorial that reminds us that no matter our feelings of the Vietnam War, it wasn't their fault though it was their sacrifice. The place in history of World War II veterans is assured, and despoiling the Mall so World War II is seen as "better" than Vietnam is whining unworthy of "the greatest generation."
posted by mdeatherage at 9:21 AM on November 25, 2001

This monument reminds me very much of both the Nuremberg racetrack and the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) where Franco is buried in Spain. I'm not saying that this makes the monument itself fascist in any way, but I don't think it's a good idea to build something honoring WWII that invokes the architecture of fascism. As I recall, US veterans groups are none too thrilled about the design of the memorial either.
posted by MrBaliHai at 9:27 AM on November 25, 2001

I thought for a while that one of the reasons why there was no WWII monument is because we knew exactly why we fought in it, and most people thought it was justified. With many of the other war memorials, there's an attempt to explain exactly what we were doing, but they never explain it fully enough (see the book "Lies Across America")... I'm fine with the WWII monument, though.
posted by drezdn at 9:43 AM on November 25, 2001

I am in favor of a WWII memorial, but, as many have already pointed out, the design, size, and placement of this one is tragic.

The Vietnam Memorial, probably the best of its kind in the world, encourages solemn contemplation not only of the Vietnam War, but of War itself. The proposed WWII monstrosity, aside from the curious fact that it wouldn't have looked out of place in Hitler's Berlin, will serve more as a place for armchair warriors and flag-wavers to indulge in patriotic kitsch.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:04 AM on November 25, 2001

If not for all the people who died in WWII, at minimum all of Europe would be under fascist control--maybe parts of the east coast of the US as well. There are good arguments about how we should memorialize the dead, but the poster's implication that we should consider not building a memorial is just asinine.
posted by khisel at 11:04 AM on November 25, 2001

The Vietname Memorial, it is so widely praised for it's design and has become such a powerful image that it's often forgotten that it was controversial at first. It was argued that the color and placement of the memorial brought up a feeling of shame instead of pride. It was called a "black scar in the earth". Pat Buchannan called the selection comittee a bunch of commies.

I think it's odd that the two articles would criticize the WWII memorial without acknowledging that the Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial design went through similar controversy, except the WWII memorial is accused of being too Right and the Vietnam was accused of being too Left.
posted by bobo123 at 11:16 AM on November 25, 2001

will serve more as a place for armchair warriors and flag-wavers to indulge in patriotic kitsch

... in other words, it is entirely too American?
posted by kindall at 11:47 AM on November 25, 2001

As long as I'm not paying for it, I don't mind the memorial's location or theme. But as far as my tax money goes, it would be better spent helping the 70% of Washington, DC residents that live in filth and poverty, starting just a few blocks from the proposed memorial.

Nothing irks me more than seeing Pennsylvania Avenue paved for the nth time, while major commuter arteries going through the ghettos are ignored and foot-deep potholes go unfilled.

In short, that money is better spent elswhere. This city doesn't need more pretty looking concrete & statues.
posted by Witold at 12:16 PM on November 25, 2001

70% of Washington, DC residents that live in filth and poverty

I live near and work in DC - didn't know that the poverty rate was 70%. Got a source for that number?
posted by Irontom at 7:06 AM on November 26, 2001

"dollop of Speer for good measure" prove it. how is it like speer. i think your wrong and have NO basis to create an argument. alot of your words are just what people wpuld say prove it. dont just ignore it and go on obvious facts. support your totally wrong claim. Speer? give me a break. why not some bauhaus dessau- do-you-know-what-that was?
posted by clavdivs at 7:32 AM on November 26, 2001

Irontom: I don't have a source, and the number is probably somewhat lower if you use increadibly low government income standards to qualify people as living under the poverty line and consider nothing else. I think the point still holds, however: three quadrands of the city are ghetto, but resources are being pumped into the one rich quadrant.
posted by Witold at 8:14 AM on November 26, 2001

The money being spent on the WW2 Memorial could be better spent elsewhere, to fix the problems of today rather than to praise the acts of the past. Had they done this twenty or thirty years ago, when there were more surviving veterans still alive to appreciate it, it would have made more sense. This is far too little, far too late.

It's not a statue, but the movie Saving Private Ryan did more to memorialize and honor those who sacrificed so that we may thrive, than any construct of stone and metal could ever hope to achieve. This WW2 Memorial idea is wasted, belated effort, and should not happen.

That said, it WILL happen, and will ultimately be just another tourist trap. And people will go. And people will appreciate it in their own way. So be it. I don't have to like it. I'm powerless to stop it. So pardon me while I simply not care.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:04 AM on November 26, 2001

They should instead dedicate an entire wing of the Smithsonian to WWII.

As has been pointed out here, WWII does not need a Viet Nam style memorial. Instead we should remember the history, the times, the men, the cause, the country at that time. An interactive DB of all the men who fought in the war with terminals spaced throughout the hall would be remarkable for the millions of family members of WWII vets.

WWII was something beyond just a war, it was a turning point in history in so many ways. A museum would be much better suited to preserving its legacy than a bombastic memorial.
posted by cell divide at 9:13 AM on November 26, 2001

What troubles me, I think, is both the concept and the location, and it kind of touches upon dhartung's concern. There's no distinct WWII memorial as such in the UK, nor in France, nor Germany; the dead are remembered through the Great War cenotaphs in towns and villages, in an acknowledgement that their sacrifice touched every corner, and was a thing of people, not states. (In contrast, as mdeatherage notes, the Vietnam Memorial in DC is a testament to the way in which its veterans weren't honoured in the same way.) So, the war is remembered in the broken shell of the old Coventry cathedral standing alongside the new church, or by the cemetaries in Normandy, or the Hiroshima peace park: ground hallowed by the events they memorialise, rather than by the mythologising instincts of the Greatest Generation. The DC memorial will sustain the ongoing "conceptualisation" of the war, a process that distances people from its realities rather than marking them. (The good-versus-evil "they fought for our freedoms" bullshit that I never, ever hear from those who actually served.) In that sense, I suspect that I have the same misgivings about the WW2 memorial as I do towards the DC Holocaust Museum: it'll be utterly out of place.
posted by holgate at 6:30 PM on November 26, 2001

"dollop of Speer for good measure" still trying to find a link, the Speer-american arcitecture link. aint there and you are wrong. your comparison was shamful. tell that to a bunch of veterans and they would kick your ass. I think your head needs to be knocked down a few pegs. and im your huckleberry...fukin speer. what do you know about speer, read spandau diaries. His big, "i knew adolph well" memoir...i hope you dont respond, just to show how wrong you are...and yes i am angry....i thought some good commentary would come from your site and posts, guess not.
posted by clavdivs at 8:28 AM on November 27, 2001

sorry for the anger and "shoving" but i feel strongly about this issue and have taken time to study Speer and his no-nothing career.
posted by clavdivs at 11:29 AM on November 29, 2001

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