The wisdom has always been that history is written by the winners of wars. And today it appears that it works the same way for the culture wars as well. Regarding the proposed Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. so far the winner is the left. The memorial has been designed by Frank Gehry, a preeminent architect, but also a self-admitted atheist with socialistic tendencies. He is known for “pushing the envelope” in building design — a guy who wouldn’t exactly have been my first choice to design a memorial of President Dwight David Eisenhower.
Ike was the general in command of the European theater and one of the architects of victory in World War II, as well as a two-term president whose standing has risen steadily over time. As part of a $100 million memorial park, Gehry has decided to portray this leader as a barefoot farm-boy gazing up into the clouds, not as a mature man. This approach completely diminishes the man and his achievements. It’s a disgrace!
The other presidential memorials on the mall in D.C. are either majestic in their abstract simplicity, such as the Washington Monument, or they pay tribute to past leaders like Lincoln and Jefferson in their maturity, portraying them as they were when they made their singular contributions to our common heritage. Eisenhower’s contributions and legacy as an American speaks for itself.
Ike understood like no president before him the security issues of a post-World War II world. He was a West Point graduate and five-star general, who had seen as much of war as any American, and who had presided over a significant expansion of America’s strategic nuclear arsenal in the 1950s. Nonetheless, he ends his second term with a message to his countrymen about the dangers of unchecked military/industrial power, what he coined as the “military-industrial complex.” His efforts were geared to advance the cause of peace.
Ike ended the Korean War faster than Obama got us out of Iraq or Afghanistan, declined to get ensnared in France’s debacle in Indochina, quashed the boneheaded Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, and generally avoided costly military entanglements afterwards. His foreign policy record wasn’t perfect by any means, but he compares quite favorably to virtually all of his successors.
Eisenhower not only led the Normandy D-Day invasion that liberated Europe, he also liberated the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. During his presidency he successfully desegregated the Armed Forces of the United States and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. He passed two landmark civil rights bills — a fact that is often overlooked — and sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to force the integration of public schools.
He presided over an economic boom that balanced fiscal austerity — he was the last president to cut the budget in real dollars. He began our exploration of space with the creation of NASA and invested tens of billions to create the interstate highway system — the largest public works project in history — which has been re-paid with incalculable dividends in economic growth over the years.
The Eisenhower family has publicly opposed the Frank Gehry design for the memorial. The president’s grandson, the family’s sole representative on the Memorial Commission, has resigned from the Commission. The family members of Dwight D. Eisenhower are upset over a memorial for the late president that prominently features a small monument showing Ike as a child and barefoot rather than giving greater attention to the war hero and world leader he became.
A couple of weeks ago, at a House Natural Resources Subcommittee meeting on National Parks and Public Lands, Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter, testified that “President Eisenhower’s contribution to this nation is not the central theme to this design.” Susan Eisenhower said the design of the roughly 80-foot-tall statue has a “Horatio Alger” narrative that portrays the late president as a “dreamy boy.” The family has said it finds the main theme of the memorial offensive to Eisenhower’s legacy as a two-term president and a Supreme Allied commander during World War II.
Imagine the Lincoln Memorial not as the inspirational, majestic adult figure of the seated Abraham Lincoln, but as Lincoln as a young barefoot lad happily reading by the light of his fireplace. Or how about the Washington Memorial not as it is now, but as a statue of young George chopping down the cherry tree? If these depictions sound dumbed-down and infantile, you’re right, they are. They are also demeaning and insulting to the memory of those leaders. Just as the proposed memorial will be of President Eisenhower if it goes forward as it is.