The first memorial commemorating World War I in Washington, D.C., was dedicated Friday morning in a ceremony that included a military flyover, The New York Times reports.
The memorial, titled ''A Soldier's Journey,'' was designed by classicist sculptor Sabin Howard and architect Joseph Weishaar, among others, and is located in Pershing Park, which is named for John J. Pershing, who served as General of the Armies during World War I.
The sculpture shows the story of a single American soldier during the war via a series of vignettes that rely on more than 30 figures, which are also meant to mirror the country's evolution from isolationist to a major world leader.
Howard and Weishaar were selected to design the memorial after winning a design competition in 2016.
''I was doing very myopic, classical male figurative sculpture derived from Hellenistic art,'' Howard told the Times. ''Neither one of us was ready. It is just insanity. You are entering into this process that could take away 15 years of your life.''
He added, ''My client said, 'You have to make something that dramatizes World War I in a way in which visitors will want to go home and learn more about it.'''
Edwin L. Fountain, vice chairman of the World War I Centennial Commission, added that ''Our objective was to build a memorial that would stand shoulder to shoulder with other monuments and elevate World War I in the American consciousness, at the same time recognizing that unlike those memorials, this has to be a memorial and an urban park.''
The project, which included designing the memorial, restoring the park, and constructing the memorial, will cost a total of $42 million.
Critics of the memorial claim that it fails to connect the historic park with the structure of the memorial.
''The real question is: Did the memorial leverage the power of place in which it now resides?'' said Charles A. Birnbaum, the president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation. ''Did it succeed in integrating itself in a place in a federal city that is unique in having to serve tourists and residents?''
Birnbaum led a push to have Pershing Park added to the National Register of Historic Places, a move that prevented the planners from moving forward with their initial idea.
Others note historical inaccuracies in the memorial, such as the depiction of Black, Latino and Native American soldiers serving alongside white soldiers despite those units typically being segregated.
''You had segregation in the Army,'' Howard said in an interview, noting that he changed the Black soldiers' helmets to reflect this. ''However, on the battlefield, there is no distinction.''
He added that even though the depiction of Black soldiers in the memorial is historically inaccurate, ''they needed to be treated as equal stature.''
Some critics, including one landscape architect who participated in the early stages of the project's planning, question the need for more memorials that depict death and violence in the capital.
''There are stories that have been marginalized that could have been celebrated and sobering stories of the reality of the war experience that could more effectively honor sacrifice,'' said Phoebe Lickwar, founding principal of FORGE Landscape Architecture. ''Instead, we're presented with a trite narrative and a glorification of battle.''
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