Cleveland Plain Dealer: Diminishing Dwight Eisenhower in D.C. Memorial

Writing in The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Kevin O’Brien staunchly opposes Frank Gehry’s hideous design for the Eisenhower Memorial :

Gehry’s plan is to depict Eisenhower as the “barefoot boy” growing up in Abilene, Kan., that the general referenced in a speech when he returned from the war. A sculpture of young Eisenhower would be shown marveling at metal tapestries on which would be etched scenes from his life.

Eisenhower’s descendants registered a formal objection this week with the National Capital Planning Commission, which is aiming for final approval of the project in February.

“The mandate is to honor Eisenhower, and that is not being done in this current design,” his granddaughter Anne Eisenhower told the Associated Press. “Or, shall we say, it is being done in such a small scale in relation to the memorial that it is dwarfed.”

She’s right.

The Eisenhower who lives in America’s memory is not a barefoot boy. He is a man, a leader of men and, eventually, the leader of his nation. That was how his country knew him, and that is the image the country should see preserved. . . .

His origins didn’t matter. His deeds did.

The Eisenhower family is also uncomfortable with the sheer size of the memorial. Ike’s 89-year-old son, John, has asked that his father be memorialized with a simple stone monument, befitting his humility.

Gehry, however, says no sculptor working today could manage a traditional statue of Eisenhower.

Well, nonsense.

I suspect that we may just live in an age when glorifying avant-garde architects feels safer than honoring heroic generals.

Consider this, from a Washington Post reviewer who likes the idea of “a giant stage set enveloping a relatively small representation of Eisenhower. . . . Eisenhower was a great man, but there were other Eisenhowers right behind him, other men who could have done what he did, who would have risen to the occasion if they had been tapped.”

No. First, we don’t build monuments to maybes, or to barefoot boys. Second, there was only one Eisenhower. He, and no one else, was chosen. The responsibility, the decisions and the results were his alone. He was a big man on a big stage at a critical time.

His exceptional leadership earned him a place in American and world history, and yes, a place among the capital’s memorials. But not the place Frank Gehry has in mind.

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