REMEMBERING WORLD WAR II
July 4, 1997
How Washington, DC plans to mark another key moment in American history--World War II.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Washington is a city of monuments, from the towering obelisk of the Washington Monument to the classical columns of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. There are statutes, plaques, and buildings all over town commemorating war heroes and victorious battles. On the mall, the great public space that almost defines the city, are two war memorials--the Vietnam Wall with its haunting list of the American dead and the platoon of American GI's just across the way, commemorating Korea. Close by but on the other side of the Potomac lies the only other major memorial to World War II, the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima. But these are Marines in a specific battle, and there is no general monument to the Second World War, the largest war Americans have fought in in the 20th century.
Now, that is about to change. In 1993, Congress authorized a World War II memorial on the mall. Then a seven-acre site was selected between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument at the base of the reflecting pool. President Clinton dedicated the site on Veteran's Day 1995 as the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. The contest for the design drew 400 entries. Judges whittled that down to six finalists. At a ceremony in January announcing the winner President Clinton spoke about the symbolic importance of the memorial.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: The World War II Memorial will commemorate one of the great defining passages in our nation's history. Fittingly, it will be flanked by the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, for if the Revolutionary War marks the birth of our republic and the Civil War, its greatest trial, then surely America's triumph in World War II will forever signal our coming of age.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The winning entry came from Friedrich St. Florian, an architect and former dean of the Rhode Island School of Design. St. Florian envisioned a center plaza 14 feet blow ground level. His design called for 50 Doric columns 40 feet high, one for each of the states, flanking the rainbow pool. Behind the columns would be stone walls topped with the grassy area covered with white roses. An exhibition area would be housed mostly underground. Early on, St. Florian described his vision.
FRIEDRICH ST. FLORIAN, Architect: The biggest challenge really was to reconcile the--to find a synthesis between the classical language of the surrounding monuments, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the White House, and at the same time make a monument that is of our time, that is contemporary.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The proposed memorial was immediately criticized for its large scale and for breaking up the open space that had been the chief characteristic of the mall. The governing commission agreed to make some modifications in the design. They claimed the current vista shown in this photograph will hardly be affected by the new monument as seen in this drawing from the same angle. The new design calls for lowering the height of the columns and the earth walls by several feet each. But this has not satisfied some critics, and debate over the monument continues.
JIM LEHRER: And Charles Krause taped such a debate earlier this week.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Joining us now is Sen. Bob Kerrey, Democrat of Nebraska, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who opposes the current plan for the World War II Memorial; and Bill Lacy, an architect who served as an adviser to the American Battle Monuments Commission. He's currently executive director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize and president of Purchase College State University of New York. Gentlemen, welcome. Senator, why do you object to the site on the mall that's been selected.
SEN. BOB KERREY, (D) Nebraska: Because there's something already there. I mean, this open space is very critical both to the Washington Monument and to the Lincoln Memorial. And it's a quiet place. It's a reflective place. And now we're going to build what will be one of--if not the largest monuments in the city, converting this Washington-Lincoln space into a World War II monument. I voted for the construction of this monument in the mall area and still for building a memorial to the Second World War, but I do not believe it should be built on this site, and I object strongly to the process that is being used to construct this memorial. The National Capitol Planning Commission made a decision not to do an environmental assessment. The original decision by the Battle Monuments Commission was made with, I believe, inadequate representations of the impact upon this area. There is an effort, I think, to accelerate this process which end of the day I think is going to result in a very unsatisfactory conclusion.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Lacy, first of all, you looked at a number of different sites. Why was this site selected?
BILL LACY, Battle Monuments Commission Adviser: This site was one of seven selected before I became the professional adviser, but I agree wholeheartedly with the selection of it, because the Senator and I agree on the fact that there is a need for a World War II national memorial. Where we disagree is the site. I believe this is the correct site. I believe it's a perfect site, and I believe it's a brilliant solution for this site.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What about the point that the environmental impact work has not been done and that there seems to be, according to the Senator, a rush to get this thing underway?
BILL LACY: I'm not aware of any rush. The environmental assessment procedure that the Senator referred to has been delayed only because we're waiting for a design. You can't do an environmental assessment until you have a design approved or a design concept. We don't have that yet. It's going before the National Capitol Planning Commission and the Fine Arts Commission this month.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Senator--
SEN. BOB KERREY: We decided to move ahead without an environmental assessment, and though the design isn't done, certainly there is preliminary evaluation that can be done to determine what's the impact upon traffic, what's the impact on the hydrological conditions of the site, what's the impact as a consequence of some of the restrictions that are going to be imposed because of need to move the President in and out of the area, and other things that traditionally have been done in this particular location. I say again for Americans that are familiar with this mall there's something already there. The fact that I've got an empty space doesn't mean that the space is empty. You know, that would be like saying I'm going to build something on somebody's front yard because it's empty. This space is a critical empty space between the Lincoln and Washington. It is not an ideal site for this rather large and very, very important memorial.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Lacy, why did the Monument Commission and a number of other commissions decide that site was appropriate?
BILL LACY: Because they felt that World War II and what it represents in national history and in world history deserved a prominent site. That site is empty. It's rather nondescript and no-man's-land at the present time. It's a long walk--
SEN. BOB KERREY: That's not true.
BILL LACY: It's a long walk between the Washington and the Lincoln Monuments Memorial, and there is something there. There's a rainbow pool there. And it figures prominently in this design by Friedrich St. Florian.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Senator.
SEN. BOB KERREY: To describe the empty space between Lincoln and Washington as no-man's-land is inaccurate. It is a quiet, reflective space used now for that purpose. And though the reflecting pool will still be there, it is going to be lowered, and it is going to be situated in-between two very large structures. No evaluation of traffic has been made. No environmental impact analysis has been made. Indeed, the Battle Monuments Commission made their decision based upon renderings that showed a view looking from the top of the monument towards the West and from an off-angle shot back to the East. And no winter time, no spring, no evaluation of what this thing is going to look like in various seasons, no analysis done of what's there now and what we're going to lose as a consequence of building this structure there.
BILL LACY: Senator, I believe that an environmental assessment procedure was begun last fall, and it was stopped while they waited for a design to be selected. That design has now been selected. And once it goes before the review committees this month, they will continue with that impact assessment.
SEN. BOB KERREY: But one of the--I appreciate that--
CHARLES KRAUSE: I just want to ask you, if we could, Mr. Lacy made another point, and it's an important one I think, that those who support putting the memorial there say that they want it there because it is a central and defining moment in American history and it belongs there between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Why is that? Why do you think that is not the case?
SEN. BOB KERREY: Well, you know, if they're going to try to find "the" most prominent place, then let's tear down the Washington Monument. That's a good high piece of ground. Let's move it. I mean, the requirement isn't to find "the" most prominent place and build this monument there. The requirement is to find a place that is both prominent and suitable, and when you come in and tear something that's already there down, which I believe we are. We're going to change this place from what it is today to a place that will hold a very large and very important memorial. I mean, almost any place in Washington is going to be prominent. Now, the other locations that were looked at were also prominent locations. What will determine whether or not this is a fitting memorial is the design, as well as the location. St. Florian has designed a wonderful monument. I think it's a terrific-looking memorial, but to put it in this location I just believe strongly is a very big mistake and that we'll regret it.
CHARLES KRAUSE: A final question, Senator. Do you think that this kind of controversy--there was controversy about the Vietnam Memorial--is it inevitable that these kinds of public monuments will generate this kind of controversy?
SEN. BOB KERREY: I believe it absolutely is inevitable. You know, I find both the Battle Monuments Commission people and everybody I've dealt with thus far to be very courteous and respectful. And, again, I want to underscore, I mean, I favor building a monument and a memorial to the Second World War, which I think it's inevitable that you're going to have some controversy. There's no controversy or disagreement about the need and the importance of building a memorial on the monument to the Second World War.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And, Mr. Lacy, do you think that the Senator's objections notwithstanding that this memorial will be built by the year 2000, when it is scheduled to be completed?
BILL LACY: I can't possibly answer that because, as I say, it's a work in progress. It'll go through many, many changes, and I think this debate is very helpful. And I think that, in fact, competitions, as I say, don't produce finished designs. What they've done without a client and now, in effect, this Senator has become part of that clientele that's going to be served and has a voice, and so I'm looking forward to the debate. I hope it's finished by the year 2000, and I hope it does what it's supposed to do in terms of commemorating an important event for a lot of 18 year olds that saved the world.
SEN. BOB KERREY: The problem with that date is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and it makes it much more difficult to select an alternative site.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Gentlemen, I think you both very much for joining us.
JIM LEHRER: Yesterday, the head of the American Legion said giving up the mall site would give our World War II veterans a second-class memorial in a third rate location.