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S. 535: Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act

Is this the way to honor those who lost their lives?


4,431 U.S. military members have died in Iraq and 2,352 have died in Afghanistan since 2001.

There are official national memorials for U.S. service members who died in World War IWorld War IIthe Korean War, and Vietnam, but not for the post-2001 Global War on Terror. (Interestingly, there is no official national Civil War memorial either.)

The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act of 2017 authorized a private tax-exempt foundation to begin the process of raising money for and designing the potential memorial. Taxpayer funds were explicitly banned. The law was relatively noncontroversial, passing by a voice vote in the House and by unanimous consent in the Senate.

So can’t they just snap their fingers and build the memorial? Not so fast. The little-known Commemorative Works Clarification and Revision Act of 2003 says that no subsequent “commemorative work” can be located within the National Mall, at least until Congress says so.

What the legislation does

The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act would authorize the memorial to be built on one of three designated spots in Washington, D.C., “notwithstanding” the 2003 law.

The House version was introduced on February 18 as H.R. 1115, by Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO6). The Senate version was introduced two weeks later on March 2 as S. 535, by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that thousands of patriotic men and women gave their lives in the 21st century, and that sacrifice is deserving of a memorial in the nation’s capital.

“The Global War on Terrorism changed the course of American history and the lives of millions of service members, military families, first responders, and civil servants — including my own,” Rep. Crow, an Army veteransaid in a press release. “Those of us that have served know the transformative power of a sacred place where veterans and their families can come to reflect, remember, and heal. A permanent tribute to their courage and sacrifice in our nation’s capital will go a long way in honoring those who have served in our nation’s longest war.”

“As someone who had my boots in the sand in Iraq and Kuwait, I know firsthand the sacrifices the millions of brave men and women of our armed forces made in defense of our nation and our freedom,” Sen. Ernst, an Army National Guard veteransaid in a separate press release. “Our nation should forever remember the sacrifices of the Americans who answered the call to wear the uniform — along with their families and loved ones — after our country came under attack. This Global War on Terror memorial on our National Mall would be a longstanding testament and reminder of their selflessness for generations to come.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that, while it was certainly tragic that so many Americans lost their lives, the Global War on Terror was fundamentally different in key ways that distinguish it from other wars with official memorials.

For example, there was no draft. And a 2019 YouGov poll found that only 12 percent of respondents believed the current military engagement in Afghanistan was completely justified.

“As one who deployed three times in the GWOT [Global War on Terror] era, I don’t believe we deserve a permanent place on the Mall just because we did our tactical jobs well,” Daniel L. Davis told the American Conservative. “The standards for such commendation should require the participation and sacrifice of the entire population. In such cases, national recognition is appropriate.”

“There should be no expectation that we must build some special structure to each and every military conflict that the U.S. engages in,” Davis continued. “The level to which the nation and Armed Forces were committed for the First World War, Second World War, Korean War, and Vietnam Wars were considerable and, in most cases, very traumatic. At no point did [the Global War on Terror] ever reach to the levels of these conflicts which have memorials, and almost for that reason alone it should not be placed as equivalent to them.”

Odds of passage

Rep. Crow’s 2019 version attracted 103 bipartisan House cosponsors, 57 Republicans and 46 Democrats, but never received a committee vote. The current version has so far attracted 94 bipartisan cosponsors, 57 Republicans and 37 Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. Ernst’s 2019 version attracted 10 bipartisan cosponsors, five Republicans and five Democrats, but also never received a committee vote. The current version has so far attracted nine bipartisan cosponsors, six Republicans and three Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Last updated Apr 16, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Dec 16, 2021.

Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act

This bill authorizes the establishment of a National Global War on Terrorism Memorial in the area of the National Mall.