WASHINGTON -- Those of us who publicly opposed placing the World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington argued that doing so was a prescription for failure. If the memorial were to respect the sight lines, symmetries and elegance of the Mall, it would be too small to do justice to the grandeur of the Second World War. And if the memorial were large enough to reflect the majesty of its subject, it would overpower and ruin the delicate harmonies of the Mall.
The World War II Memorial has just opened, and it is indeed a failure. The good news is that the Mall survives. The bad news is that for all its attempted monumentality, the memorial is deeply inadequate -- a busy vacuity, hollow to the core.
The World War II Memorial is a parenthesis, quite literally so -- two semicircular assemblies of pillars cupping the Rainbow Pool on the invisible axis that connects the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument.
The pool, with its fountains, makes a nice space for tourists and toddlers to dip their feet on a hot summer's day. But as a remembrance of the most momentous event of the 20th century, it is a disaster.
Where does one start? The memorial's major feature -- 56 granite pillars 17 feet high, adorned with wreaths and marked with the names of the states and U.S. territories -- is a conception of staggering banality. One descends the main entry to the monument and the pillar to the left is marked American Samoa; on the right, the Virgin Islands.
What do the states have to do with World War II? What great chapter of that struggle was written by the Virgin Islands (or Kentucky, for that matter)?
The Civil War was very much a war of states. Its battles were defined by state militias that fought and died as units. But World War II was precisely the opposite. Its glory was its transcendence of geography -- and class and ethnicity. Its fighting units mixed young men from every corner of America. Your classic World War II movie features the now-cliched platoon of the Polish millworker from Chicago, the Jewish kid from Brooklyn, the Appalachian woodsman and the Iowa farm boy bonding and fighting and dying for each other as a band of brothers.
And yet it is these gigantic soulless pillars, each mutely and meaninglessly representing a state or territory, that define this memorial. What in God's name were they thinking? Did not one commission that passed on this project ask: ``Why states?''
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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