World War II Memorial

  1. I admit that I haven't read much about the new memorial to WWII vets. Then I read the following column by Charles Krauthammer (sorry bukko - I know you don't like him - see his biography to follow).

    They deserve better
    Charles Krauthammer (archive)

    May 28, 2004

    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?''

    But that is just the beginning of the banality. The monument is strewn with quotations inscribed in stone, meant to inspire. You descend into the parenthesis from street level, and the first large stone panel to greet you on your right reads ``Women who stepped up were measured as citizens of the nation, not as women ... this was a people's war, and everyone was in it.''

    ``Stepped up''? ``Everyone was in it''? Is this the best we can do? Are we not embarrassed to put such pedestrian prose hard by the biblical cadences of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural carved in stone at the Lincoln Memorial just a few hundred yards down the Reflecting Pool?

    And then, alas, the ultimate banality. The centerpiece of the monument is a low curved wall, closing the top of the parenthesis, as it were, straddling the central axis of the Mall and adorned with 4,000 gold stars.

    The gold star, of course, was given to those who had lost a son in the war. Why 4,000 stars? To represent the more than 400,000 American dead: each star represents a hundred.

    Why a hundred? Did they die in units of a hundred? Did they fight as centurions? The number is entirely arbitrary, a way to get the stars to fit the wall.

    Four thousand stars are both too few and too many. Too few to represent the sheer mass, the unbearable weight of 400,000 dead. And too many -- and too abstract -- to represent the suffering of the mother of a single fallen hero.

    This wall has the feel of a bureaucratic compromise between commemorating every individual (as does the Vietnam Memorial) and representing loss as a whole (as do tombs of the unknown soldier). The solution -- take 400,000 and divide it by 100 -- is nothing but sheer imaginative laziness.

    I feel sorry for the old veterans who came with war bride and grandchildren to make their pilgrimage to the monument's opening this Memorial Day weekend. They deserve to be celebrated. They deserve their memorial. And they will no doubt celebrate this one because it is all that they have. They will lend it the dignity and power of their own experience. But once again, it is they who will have done the work. They should not have to. They deserve better, far better.

    2004 Washington Post Writers Group

    Bukko's quote:
    (What an appropriate name: "Kraut" and "Hammer." It's the most fitting handle since "Strangelove." He is the living incarnation of that fictional mad doctor. Krauthammer is an actual MD who's been in a wheelchair longterm due to disability. While I give him credit for making it through med school and into practice with this handicap, I fault him for being a bitter, splenetic man. He actually worked for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, but somewhere in the Reagan years he turned mean. When I've seen him on TV, he looks like he suffers from chronic pain. I think that's put some acid in his soul.)

    short bio -


    Charles Krauthammer, winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, writes a nationally syndicated editorial page column for The Washington Post Writers Group. Krauthammer, also winner of the 1984 National Magazine Award for essays, began writing the weekly column for The Washington Post in January 1985. It now appears in more than 100 newspapers.

    The Pulitzer came in his first full year of syndication. The award cited Krauthammer for his insightful columns on national issues. Meg Greenfield, editorial page editor of The Washington Post, called Krauthammer's column "independent and hard to peg politically. It's a very tough column. There's no 'trendy' in it. You never know what is going to happen next."

    An apt description of Krauthammer is "a columnist widely known as conservative but unorthodox to the core." But a column, notes Krauthammer, is not just political philosophy.

    "Much of it has to do with common sense. One of my many missions is putting up a first-line defense against the various enthusiasms of the age - everything from the nuclear freeze to identity politics to the 'recovered memory' movement - which tend to roll over the culture at regular intervals." Krauthammer was born in New York City and raised in Montreal. He was educated at McGill University, majoring in political science and economics, Oxford University (Commonwealth Scholar in Politics) and Harvard (M.D. in 1975). He practiced medicine for three years as a resident and then chief resident in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

    In 1978, he quit medical practice, came to Washington to direct planning in psychiatric research for the Carter administration, and began contributing articles to The New Republic. During the presidential campaign of 1980, he served as a speech writer to Vice President Walter Mondale. He joined The New Republic as a writer and editor in 1980. He also writes essays for Time and the Weekly Standard. In 1997, the Washingtonian magazine named him among the top 50 most influential journalists in the national press corps.

    Krauthammer lives in suburban Washington with his wife Robyn, an artist, and their son.
  2. 12 Comments

  3. by   Spidey's mom
    So anyway, had anyone else heard of the controversy and what do you think? Too little? Too late?

    The WWII generation is dying but I am grateful for my father-in-law, who tells his Navy stories over and over. I want my kids to remember the sacrifice in a way that a dry history book cannot tell.

    I've seen the Vietnam Memorial and was moved beyond mere words. My kids have seen it too.

    That quote that bukko posted . . . needs to be reposted.

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

    George Santayana
  4. by   Marie_LPN, RN
    I plan on going to the WWII Memorial soon.

    I went to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. Words cannot describe the effect it had on me. Thousands of people there, yet no one talked, and all you heard were the ocean sounds and the 'bullets'. The war veterans sitting beside the 'ocean' with their heads bowed. The most touching thing i saw was one of the veterans, not in very good physical shape, that was helped to his feet by two of his buddies, but when they stood him up, he started crying harder, and they got in a group hug, and walked away with their arms around each others shoulders.

    Grampa was a medic in WWII. I can't imagine all the horros he saw back then. He never would talk about those days.
  5. by   pickledpepperRN
    Dod not hear of the contriversy.

    They interviewed several WWII vets who chocked. One man began with facts and dates, then barely was able to say, "It is the ones that didn't come back that this is for. I have enjoyed my life."

    Seems fitting for Memorial day. More than 1,000 WWII vets die every day. The youngest of them is 76.
  6. by   Spidey's mom
    Quote from spacenurse
    Dod not hear of the contriversy.

    They interviewed several WWII vets who chocked. One man began with facts and dates, then barely was able to say, "It is the ones that didn't come back that this is for. I have enjoyed my life."

    Seems fitting for Memorial day. More than 1,000 WWII vets die every day. The youngest of them is 76.
    thanks for those stats spacenurse . . .

    My father-in-law turned 80 recently. There have been times when recounting stories to our children that he cries too. That is a good thing for my kids, especially my boys, to see.

    He keeps in touch with all his Navy buddies. Actually he is on his way to his JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL reunion in Sacramento this weekend. He is a great guy.

  7. by   LeesieBug
    We went to D.C. a few weeks ago and saw the memorial (without water filling the pool and fountains). I thought it was nice, for the most part. However, the other memorials, Vietnam and Korean, are much more moving and seem to have more thought and emotion put into their design.

    I have to admit that I did not "get" the pillars with the state names, just as the writer of the article did not. Wasn't real sure what that was supposed to be about, but I also did not get one of the pamphlets that were available to provide info on the design.

    Here's a picture that shows one of the ends, with some of the state pillars.
    Last edit by LeesieBug on May 28, '04
  8. by   pickledpepperRN
    Quote from stevielynn
    thanks for those stats spacenurse . . .

    My father-in-law turned 80 recently. There have been times when recounting stories to our children that he cries too. That is a good thing for my kids, especially my boys, to see.

    He keeps in touch with all his Navy buddies. Actually he is on his way to his JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL reunion in Sacramento this weekend. He is a great guy.

    You and your children are fortunate to know him.

    Since my Dad dies I have attended his Air Force reunion. They served in the states because my Dads brother was killed in Europe in WWII. He was 26 years old. Wish I had known him.
  9. by   suzy253
    I do plan to visit the WWII memorial. My dad served in Pearl Harbor and closely escaped death. I wish I still had him around to ask him what he went through. He was disabled with diabetes at an early age and passed away at age 56 in 1971. I miss him terribly. I wish I knew then when he was alive to find out more about his experiences and life in general but I was young and he was so miserable with the effects of his disease. I didn't know better and am now kicking myself in the ***.
  10. by   dianah
    I haven't given the Memorial an intense study or my feelings any scrutiny since seeing pictures of it. I do recall a fever of controversy with the design, choosing of design and execution of such, of the Vietnam Memorial (which I find very moving, BTW, even though I've only seen pictures of it). I was similarly affected by stepping onto the Pearl Harbor Memorial and seeing small bouquets of wildflowers left beside the names inscribed there. As I read of this new controversy and debate surrounding the WWII Memorial, I can't help but think: You can't please all of the people all of the time. Some are just glad to be remembered at all, and if the Memorial accomplishes that, it has served its purpose.
    I am honored, BTW, to work as a nurse serving our vets at a VA hospital. One of the phrases on the vans used for transport is, "All gave some; some gave all." I salute them.
  11. by   SharonH, RN
    I'm sorry, could somebody walk me through this? What's the big controversy? The memorial is BORING? Is that it?
  12. by   donmurray
    I agree, Mr Krauthammer's column seems like a load of carp, did they not use his design, or something?
  13. by   movealong
    I'd like to visit it sometime. I have some overwhelming feelings just seeing it on TV, or in photos.

    My dad was a Ranger in WWII. He never really talked much about the war when he was alive. I think he was part of liberating force for one of the death camps. He said they really didn't know what to expect, but they were instructed to "follow the smell". He said one could smell it from 3/4 mile away. ( I don't remember exactly). We have some photos of the camp as well. Pretty ugly stuff.

    My uncle was a pilot who didn't return, I never knew him.

    How many nurses here have every cared for any concentration camps survivors? I have had 3 as patients in my lifetime, their numbers tattoed on their arms.
  14. by   prmenrs
    I thought it was beautiful, what I could see on TV (I watched the dedication.) My father fought in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. My Grandfather fought in WW I and WWII. My uncle lost a leg in WWII, his father was killed on a sub in WWI(actually a Brittish sub sunk off of Wales by 'friendly fire'--he was the US observer that night). The chaplain who married my grandparents was killed on the Arizona. Lots of connections, none of them living.

    We (my son and I) saw The Vietnam Memorial, the Women in Vietnam Memorial, and the Korean Memorial ( that one was very cool) when we were in DC 2 years ago. They were building something, but I never asked what, it was undoubtedly the WWII memorial. We also saw the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and Gettysburg, PA.

    I love all these memorials even tho they always make me cry.