Wednesday, 6 May 2015
In 1969, following cuts to the national park service budget, George Hartzog (then Director of the National Parks Service) famously closed parks and monuments including the Grand Canyon and the Washington Monument two days a week. The public outcry as a result of these closures resulted in funding being restored to facilitate the reopening of these popular sites. This action was colloquially dubbed the “Washington Monument Strategy” or “Washington Monument Syndrome”, terms that while in popular usage (particularly by newspaper journalists) have largely remain untheorised.
While Hartzog’s original actions related specifically to services experiencing funding pressures as a result of post Vietnam War related austerity measures, the Washington Monument Strategy has increasingly been instituted by higher levels of government and as a means to resolve largely unrelated financial or political disputes. For example in February 2013 national parks were threatened with closure as a result of sequestration measures, in October the same year, they were closed for sixteen days following the Government Shutdown that resulted from the Republican Party’s attempts to defund the Obama administration’s signature policy, The Affordable Healthcare Act – a bill entirely unrelated to the parks and monuments that were closed as result.
This latter incident resulted in memorials, and in particular the World War II Memorial in Washington DC, being used by the media and both the Republicans and Democratic parties as symbolic of the effects on bipartisan conflicts on the most valued and vulnerable members of society, being veterans. The World War II memorial thus became a popular emblem of the Shutdown. This paper explores the role of the national monument, and particularly memorials, as “political hostages” in institutional conflicts in the United States of America, with particular reference to the 2013 Government Shutdown.