Veterans of the war on terrorism say they deserve a monument in downtown Washington to recognize their sacrifices, but they are hindered by a rule that says a conflict must be long finished in order to build a memorial, leading some to wonder how to commemorate a “never-ending war.”
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America wants a location by the end of 2015 for a monument to those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the major battlefields of the war on terrorism.
The fighting has wound down as the war stretches into its 12th year, but veterans are struggling to define an end date.
“One of the things that’s very difficult is, because these aren’t technically declared wars, they’re operations of the global war on terror, it’s difficult to fit the statutes,” said Lauren Augustine, a member of the veterans organization’s legislative team. “We’ve been in the wars for over a decade, but it’s particularly difficult to have that closing date.”
Under the Commemorative Works Act of 1997, a war memorial can’t be authorized until at least 10 years after it officially ends, said Lucy Kempf, an urban planner with the National Capital Planning Commission.
“Usually a time lapse between an event or an individual’s death is needed, just to give some historic perspective,” she said.
The end dates of other wars were easy to determine. They were when the United States signed documents to end the country’s involvement.
All U.S. combat troops are out of Iraq and likely will be out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, so there is an easy way to mark a concrete end date to those operations, said Terry Anderson, a military history professor at Texas A&M University.
But the global war on terrorism was declared by a 2001 authorization for the use of military force that goes far broader than a single country. Indeed, it deems the shadowy, transnational al Qaeda the enemy. That makes it almost impossible to determine whether and when the conflict will end.
“This shift happened because we’ve never fought an enemy like Osama bin Laden types, we’ve never fought an enemy like that before,” Mr. Anderson said.
Mr. Anderson said the war will not end as long as terrorists disagree with the Western way of life because no one can negotiate with or change the minds of extremists.
“As long as there are radical Islamists who will kill themselves to kill others, we never will have a peace treaty with the [global war on terrorism],” he said. “It is the never-ending war.”
Such a lack of conclusion likely will became a factor in future U.S. conflicts as well, he said.
“I don’t think any country would ever want to start an atomic war,” Mr. Anderson said. “Therefore, I think this unfortunate type of warfare, this terrorism warfare, is probably the type of thing we will be seeing in the future.”
To build a memorial in Washington, Congress has to enact federal authorization, then a panel has to find an appropriate place and design, Ms. Kempf said. How long the construction process takes can vary because of the time and money required to raise public funds, she said.
IAVA is eager to start the process by finding a congressional sponsor.
Finding a place for the memorial may be tricky. The IAVA has said it wants to secure a spot on the Mall, but the Commemorative Works Act prohibits new memorials or monuments there, Ms. Kempf said. Other areas of the District and places in Arlington are open to construction.
Ms. Augustine, however, said a memorial on the Mall is important to remind Americans of the sacrifices made by this generation of veterans.
“When we’re thinking about the legacy and the service of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s so important to start thinking about that today to ensure their services are honored on the National Mall alongside many of the other wars and that our country never forgets,” she said.