A richly detailed account of the ideas, politics, architecture, engineering, and construction of the controversial war memorial now rising on the Washington Mall.
Mills (American Studies/Sarah Lawrence; The New Killing Fields, 2002, etc.) sheds his leftist skin in this balanced, definitive account of the journey from idea to building in the era of multiple constituencies, multiple governmental agencies, and multiple egos in need of perpetual massage. Like Brokaw, Ambrose, and others who have written about those who won WWII, the author is eager to confer upon them the title of our “greatest generation”; he believes, as well, that the WWII Memorial is a fitting tribute. Mills begins with a glance backward at the laying of the cornerstone for the Bunker Hill Monument in 1825 and then dives right into today’s troubled waters. He credits the late Roger Durbin, a WWII veteran, for animating Ohio Congresswoman Mary Kaptur to begin in 1987 the process of bringing another memorial to the Mall. He tells, as well, about the controversies surrounding the construction of the other principal structures in the area. In 1922, he reminds us, organizers of the dedication ceremony for the Lincoln Memorial saw fit to rope off one area for “colored” members of the audience. Mills’s prose occasionally plods. For some Gertrude Stein–ish reason he almost always refers to the structure by its full name, and sometimes his sentences sink with the weight of the detail (“Insisting that in favoring placement of the World War II Memorial at the Rainbow Pool, it had indeed paid attention to its own Cultural Landscape Report, the National Park Service answered Catherine Slater’s September 5 letter by quoting back the Landscape Report’s published guidelines”). Nonetheless, his work teaches us that all of the monuments, which now seem so permanent and appropriate, were once nothing more than ideas that annoyed myriads of people.
Solid if dutifully written. (2 8-page photo inserts, not seen)