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There’s no real debate in Washington, and least not anymore, about whether a national war on terrorism memorial should be created to honor the Americans who served on activity duty in the armed forces following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But there is an open question about where to put the memorial.
The debate about whether to create this recognition was settled in 2017, when Congress passed and former President Donald Trump signed legislation authorizing the establishment of a National Global War on Terrorism Memorial on federal land in Washington, D.C. That action also settled the question of funding, specifying that federal funds would not be used to establish it. A nonprofit foundation is in charge of raising funds.
But four years later, there still is uncertainty over where exactly this needed tribute will be located.
A 2003 federal law prevents new memorials or monuments being built on an area called “the Reserve,” at the heart of Washington’s National Mall. A growing group of lawmakers, some of them veterans, have been pushing for a bill that would allow this war on terror memorial to be located among other war memorials. This is as it should be — to do otherwise would be to seemingly treat the memorial and those it recognizes as an afterthought.
Democratic Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District, who served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a cosponsor of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act authored by Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado and Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin. In June, Golden testified in support of that bill before the Senate national parks subcommittee, which Maine Sen. Angus King chairs.
“The memorial is intended to honor those who served and to provide them and their families with a place for reflection and healing,” Golden testified in June. “The question in front of us today is not whether we should construct a memorial, but when and where. I strongly believe the answer to be now, and on the Reserve within the National Mall.”
We agree. So too, apparently, does Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District, who is also a cosponsor of the bill. But not everyone agrees. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, for example, has argued that making an exception for this memorial could open the door to debate about other exceptions.
“I want the memorial to be built as quickly as possible,” Manchin said, according to the Hill. “I believe this precedent would reopen the fight to locate other memorials on the National Mall and create more controversy that will ultimately delay the construction of this memorial, which is much needed.”
Encouragingly, there is building bipartisan momentum behind Crow and Gallagher’s bill, and an effort to include it in the yearly defense authorization act. More than 175 members of the House of Representatives have cosponsored it. Hopefully more and more lawmakers realize that these servicemembers deserve a prominent place on the National Mall, among the memorials for other Americans who have sacrificed for their country in wars across the nation’s history.
We’re talking in part about America’s longest war, and a generation of servicemembers who all chose to serve something bigger than themselves. Do Manchin and others believe that the more than 7,000 Americans who have died in conflicts abroad since the 9/11 attacks don’t deserve a similar place on the National Mall along with those from previous wars?
Are the 13 servicemembers who died while helping to evacuate Americans and U.S. partners from Afghanistan any less heroic than those who died years before? The answer from Congress should be a resounding “No.” Recognizing their service on equal footing should outweigh concerns about precedent for where to site future memorial projects (exceptions have already been made, by the way).
We’re not here to mythologize or celebrate all U.S. actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. At times, these past two decades have shown some of the worst impulses and decision making of American government. But it has also shown some of the best of the American people: those willing stand up and serve their country in dangerous times. Who else should a spot on the National Mall be “reserved” for, if not for them?