Their Last Battle: The Fight for the National World War II Mermorial

Overview

On Memorial Day weekend in 2004, the National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington will officially open to the public. What began as a casual conversation between a Congresswoman and one of her constituents in 1987 grew into a struggle that lasted more than four times longer than it took America to fight the war itself. Its rocky progress to completion is a compelling story about how America chooses to memorialize its past and how we view World War II.Nicolaus Mills recounts the development of the ...

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Overview

On Memorial Day weekend in 2004, the National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington will officially open to the public. What began as a casual conversation between a Congresswoman and one of her constituents in 1987 grew into a struggle that lasted more than four times longer than it took America to fight the war itself. Its rocky progress to completion is a compelling story about how America chooses to memorialize its past and how we view World War II.Nicolaus Mills recounts the development of the Washington Mall, from its time as swampland to Southern outrage over the Lincoln Memorial to Maya Lin's controversial Vietnam Veterans' Memorial. The World War II Memorial would prove just as controversial; it took the support of WW II vet Bob Dole and actor Tom Hanks to overrule the strong objections of interest groups, self-appointed art critics, and others.In Their Last Battle, a story vividly narrated through interviews with politicians and vets, architects and citizens, Mills discovers what a public monument can tell us about America and the values it honors.

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Editorial Reviews

Thomas Childers
Mills is good at isolating the central issues and key players in the drama, and he gives all sides to the various disputes a fair hearing, but his sympathies are clearly with the project's supporters. Indeed, following the twists and turns of the controversy, readers come to share the author's obvious frustration as the project staggered from one board meeting to the next agency review to the subsequent public hearing and back again, while time was running out for a generation of Americans who, in the darkest days of the 20th century, fought and won a war to protect the very values on which the United States was founded.
The Washington Post
Library Journal
First conceived by French-born architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant as a "public walk" designed to rival the grand vistas of Versailles and Paris, the National Mall has undergone many changes over the centuries. While it now enshrines much of America's most cherished patriotic and civic heritage, fierce debate over how the mall should look and what it should signify has attended the construction of nearly all its memorials. Against this historical backdrop, Mills (history, Sarah Lawrence Coll.; editor, The New Killing Fields) chronicles the political, cultural, and architectural struggles surrounding the 16-year battle to establish the latest addition to the mall, the National World War II Memorial, which opens to the public May 29. Mills traces the memorial's tangled legislative history and examines the heated clashes over the memorial's ultimate placement and design. Readers who have the patience to follow the tortuous path of the memorial through a labyrinthine bureaucratic process will be rewarded with a deeper appreciation for the architectural and artistic achievements underpinning this long-overdue memorial. Recommended for all collections.-Edward Metz, Combined Arms Research Lib., Ft. Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 theLandscape 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)Agent: Mildred Marmur/Mildred Marmur Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465045822
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 5/3/2004
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Kira Brunner is an editor of Radical Society magazine and lives in New York City. Nicolaus Mills is Professor of American Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.

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