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Doing Right by Ike

Let’s give him the memorial he deserves.

Jul 2, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 40 • By BRUCE COLE
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Rising generations will lack this firsthand historical memory. Surveys and tests prove that such young people, like many of their parents, will know next to nothing about this great American when they visit Washington.

Not only to teach them about Ike, but also to tell them why he is important and worth remembering, is the task of any memorial worthy of his name. In the execution of these tasks, the Gehry proposal fails utterly.

So, instead of spending millions more on the Gehry plan in these days of enormous government debt and expenditures, why not swap pomposity and self-promotion for modesty and restraint, befitting a memorial to Dwight Eisenhower?

The whole project could start over with a truly open and democratic competition with input from the American public as to what design would most suitably honor Eisenhower. It doesn’t matter if a traditionalist architect or one working in a modern style wins. What’s important is to build something worthy of our 34th president. 

Or how about the reasonable suggestion of the Eisenhower family for a statue in front of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House? An image of Ike adjacent to the World War II memorial would also make sense. Either could be done for just a fraction of Gehry’s multimillion-dollar fee, let alone the total cost of the memorial. 

Until recently, congressional approval for the memorial seemed a sure thing, but after a salvo of national condemnation (Roll Call said it had reached “fever pitch”), including criticism from Ike’s granddaughters Susan and Anne—their brother David resigned from the memorial commission—that’s no longer certain.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has now weighed in by asking for more time and study. According to his press office, “The Secretary believes it is important to build a national memorial that appropriately honors the legacy of President Eisenhower and reflects the shared vision of his family, the Commission, and the American people.” “Appropriately” is the key word here.

Several congressional heavy hitters have also expressed serious reservations, including Jim Moran, ranking member of the House Interior and Environment Committee, who has asked his colleagues on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission “to rethink their support and allow a new public competition on an alternative design.” Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has demanded documents from the scandal-ridden General Services Administration—it ran the architectural competition that critics claim was rigged—and from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Representatives Dan Lungren, Aaron Schock, and Frank Wolf have also publicly stated their concern about the proposed design and asked for a delay. And last week the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the Eisenhower Memorial released a draft budget that included no funds for the project for fiscal year 2013, a move that could put the whole thing on hold.

Until recently, the Gehry behemoth seemed a sure thing, but no longer. If outraged citizens can persuade their elected officials not to squander their tax dollars on an inappropriate monument to a great American, it will be a victory for Ike and the American people. 

Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a senior scholar at the Hudson Institute.

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