With all the firestorm surrounding the White House's bid to preserve the natural resources in the ocean waters around the CNMI's northern islands, a separate Bush administration plan for the waters of the Pacific has gone overlooked, one that would designate a host of key historical sites linked to World War II as a national monument.
On Wednesday, White House officials held a brief closed-door conference at American Memorial Park on the plan, which according to one source could include the park and a site in Guam in the designation. The proposal, set forth in a memo from President Bush in May, aims to preserve historical places and artifacts that played a crucial role in America's military campaign in the Pacific, such as those at Hawaii's Peal Harbor and Ford Island, under the Antiquities Act of 1906-the same legal mechanism the White House might use to establish a marine monument near the CNMI.
James Connaughton, the White House Council on Environmental Quality chief, toured American Memorial Park and historic sites elsewhere on the island Wednesday and said the White House's plan will help educate the public on the war in the Pacific and pay tribute to the sacrifices of those who fought in it.
“This is my first time to travel to Saipan and to see firsthand this memorial and the lasting legacy of what occurred here during the war,” said Connaughton. “It was deeply moving.”
Meeting with Connaughton, among others, was Tom Shaw, president of the Arizona Memorial Museum Association, an organization that funds educational work at several war era sites in the Pacific through gift shops and other activities. The White House's proposal, Shaw said, could open the door to new funding opportunities for American Memorial Park and War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam, which officials are considering for inclusion in the war monument. Designating the parks as part of the monument, he added, would change little if anything about how they currently operate but any added funding could, for example, improve maintenance.
“It could make the parks a lot better,” he said, noting that the plan could lead to a wider array of educational opportunities for visitors at Pearl Harbor and other Pacific war sites to learn about the full scope of the conflict. “This is a huge opportunity to teach people about the war in the Pacific.”
Among other sites under consideration under the monument plan are locations in Alaska's Aleutian Islands and even a military airfield in Nevada where bomber crews practiced dropping dummy versions of atomic bombs to train for later missions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he added.
As time passes, said Shaw, preserving these landmarks for posterity becomes even more critical.
“The memory, that collective memory of the war is being lost today,” said Shaw. “It changed everyone's lives. It changed society. We need to keep that memory alive. It's too important to lose to time.”