New York Sun Editorial: Ike Memorial Is a Monument to the Architect, Not the President
Editorial of The New York Sun | June 16, 2014
An email this morning alerts us to the crisis brewing over the memorial to President Eisenhower planned for the mall in Washington. This is something to think about in a season of retreat in American foreign policy, when so many of us find ourselves thinking about heroes of the other days. The Eisenhower memorial could cost $150 million, most of it from taxpayers. Yet it looks like the early money is being wasted in a squabble over a plan that horrifies the Eisenhower family and offends many others who cherish the classical American heroism that Ike embodied.
This has been widely covered in the press, including the New York Times, the Washington Examiner, and the Weekly Standard. The problem stems from the choice of an avant-garde architect, Frank Gehry. He fetched up with a plan for a monument featuring an 80-foot high “curtain” and, at one point, a statue of a barefoot Eisenhower sitting on a fence. He seems averse to centering it on the general, with his famed waist-length jacket that is celebrated in statues of him in London, Abilene, and the Plain at West Point, where the future Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, was graduated in 1915 as part of the “class the stars fell on.”
It happens that this newspaper loves art and reveres the great artists, including some of the visionary abstract painters and sculptors. We wouldn’t want to be interpreted as dismissing Mr. Gehry’s life oeuvre. It has included some of the most astonishing buildings on the planet. But the insistence on such experimentation at taxpayers’ expense and the intransigence of the Gehry faction, these have created a situation in which the result would be a monument not to the general who led us to victory against the Nazi hosts but to one progressive architect.
What is the point of that? Congress never would have authorized taxpayer millions for a monument to such an architect. It wanted a monument to a general turned president who inspired his troops and officers with his Eisenhower smile and who stood with his arms akimbo and looked across the Channel that divided the Free World from the Nazi occupied world and saw that liberation was possible. Surely it is possible to capture this in a way that inspires his countrymen without offending his family and those who knew him best.
That would be important to any campaign to raise private funds— but also right. And much needed as a crisis of morale grips America. We haven’t seen its like since President Carter retreated to Maryland to deal with what he called America’s “crisis of confidence.” Mr. Carter retreated to a camp Eisenhower named for his grandson David. What an irony. One of the ways to beat the malaise is to take inspiration from our greatest heroes, to study their example, to read books, see films, gaze on portraits of them, and stand before monuments that capture their heroism and burnish their glory. Eisenhower would be ideal.