National Mall Morphing Into a Monument of Monstrosity
Plans are also in the works for an African-American History Museum on the National Mall and a memorial to President Eisenhower. And it’s probably just a matter of time before conservatives in Congress again begin agitating for a Ronald Reagan Memorial. It’s likely that we’ll also get a memorial to Sept. 11, and/or to the victims of, and the war on, terrorism.
The National Mall, originally envisioned by Washington, D.C.’s planner and architect Pierre L’Enfant (that’s right, the man who built our nation’s capital was French!) as a serene place for public celebration and quiet contemplation, is quickly turning into a kind of kitchy amusement park for aggrieved parties and special interests.
Recent additions — the FDR Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the National Museum of the American Indian — have added more clutter, more traffic, and further obstructed the serene views L’Enfant intended.
Times change, of course. And it’s certainly understandable why Congress might want to add more recent events of significance to the roster of history and collective memory that lines the Mall. But we’re to the point now where some groups — some deserving, some not — have come to see a slice of real estate in America’s backyard as a symbol of how seriously we take their grievances, significance or contribution.
The mall in many ways presents a tidy symbol of what’s happened to the federal government over the last half-century, all the more appropriate given that it’s owned by the federal government, and lies between the Capitol in the White House.
Another analogy is to Halls of Fame. Once a mediocrity is allowed in, the bar is forever lowered with the argument that “If George Harrison (or Phil Rizzuto) is in, then by God _________ deserves to be in!”
But Balko is right. No one disputes that Washington, Jefferson, or Lincoln deserve monuments. There might be more debate over FDR but just barely. But Eisenhower? He was largely unremarkable as president. And we’ve already got a WWII Memorial where he can be honored.
I understand the rationale behind the Vietnam Memorial and it has undeniably been a success. It’s one of the biggest draws in town. Yet it’s creation led to a Korea Memorial. Which led to a WWII Memorial. Which led to a Women Veterans Memorial. Why not African American Veterans? Or the Navajo Code Talkers? Or U.S. Marines? Paratroopers? Arguably, all are more significant in national military affairs than women. Certainly, blacks and Indians have a stronger claim of mistreatment.