A polite but nonetheless intense dispute in the nation’s capital concerns a large stone, a block of marble 16 feet long, 9 feet wide and 11 feet high. The marble is showing the effects of having sat unprotected in the open for 76 years.
It has two long, deep cracks that will eventually go all the way through the stone. The marble is eroding, too, microscopically but enough so that the weathering will be noticeable in another few years.
The dispute is whether to replace it or patch it as best as possible. The answer might be simple except that this block of marble is the monument over the Tomb of the Unknowns, guarded night and day, 24/7, by elite members of the Army’s Old Guard, on duty as Hurricane Isabel lashed through the Washington, D.C., area in 2003, and as Flight 77 rammed into the Pentagon just down the hill on 9/11. The changing of that guard has become a moving, must-see stop for Washington visitors.
There are pros and cons to what to do with the monument, a question that was supposed to be resolved in September. Repairing the marble would require a distracting process of grouting, regrouting and polishing, none of which would permanently stop the deterioration. Replacing the monument with an identical copy, done in identical marble, might seem the more logical course, but it doesn’t take into account the tremendous public sentiment and respect for that simple, weather-hallowed block of stone.
Two Democratic senators, Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Jim Webb of Virginia, have put the decision process on hold for six months, ostensibly while the Army weighs the options. But the delay will give public opposition to replacement time to build.
The cracks are serious — one cuts across the stylized figures of Victory through Valor attaining Peace — but not particularly disfiguring. And, to use an analogy frequently invoked, we did not throw out the Liberty Bell when it cracked. It’s probably ascribing too much to what is basically just a large rock, but in its own way this weathered, scarred block of marble has served our country well.
Perhaps some day if the monument becomes a hazard or even shatters it will need to be replaced, but that time isn’t here yet.