War memorial plan provokes a row all out of proportion

They're planning a spanking new Second World War monument here. But as with almost every memorial in Washington, the project has sparked a conflict scarcely less fearsome than the one it is meant to commemorate.

This week, Bob Dole, the defeated 1996 Republican presidential candidate who was almost killed by a German shell in 1945, formally launched a campaign to raise the $100m (pounds 61m) required for a suitable tribute to the war in which "America saved the world."

Few here would disagree with that sentiment, nor with the proposed design - a plaza enclosed by a 50-foot high colonnade and an embankment planted with white roses. The problem is the chosen site, on the Washington Mall right in the middle of one of the city's - and the country's - greatest vistas, stretching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial.

"Just like Cinderella's stepsisters whose feet were too big for the glass slipper, World War Two is simply too big for this site," Senator Bob Kerry of Nebraska, decorated Vietnam war hero and arch-foe of the proposed site, declared in a letter to the country's Battle Monuments Commission. The editor of Architecture magazine went even further: The plan, Deborah Dietsch wrote, "dishonours" the ideals represented by the Mall. But such disputes are as predictable as the imminent flowering of the cherry trees along the Potomac River.

First there was the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, re-opening painful divisions between those who insisted it was too self-effacing, and those who believed that that war needed no memorial at all. But if Vietnam, others argued, then why not Korea? And so, a Korean War memorial was duly built. Ah, but no women were featured in Vietnam 1, it was objected. Thus the adjoining new Vietnam Womens' Memorial.

Then a squabble erupted over the shrine to Franklin Roosevelt under construction close by. In the interests of historical accuracy, should not one of America's greatest presidents be portrayed in a wheelchair and with the familiar cigarette holder jutting from his mouth? (The answers, after much debate involving the disabled and the anti-smoking lobbies: Yes, and No).

And even the Holocaust Museum, with which no-one can surely quarrel, provoked a dispute. If butchered European Jewry should be so remembered, then why not an equal museum chronicling the uprootings and extermination of the American Indian?

But Mr Dole should not be discouraged. If controversy is certain, so is the outcome. The monuments get built in the end, and everybody loves them.

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