Brandon James Smith
Dwight Eisenhower is one of Kansas’ most famous citizens. Congress determined that Ike deserved a presidential memorial in the nation’s capital, an honor bestowed on only four other presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission is attempting to make this memorial a reality.
How does one honor Eisenhower’s efforts and sacrifices? The Commission held a secretive competition, allowing very few entries compared to the hundreds allowed for the FDR, Lincoln or 9/11 memorials.
The design is from an architect, Frank Gehry, who refused to work on the 9/11 memorial because he was not offered enough money. He was not an appropriate choice to design the memorial for a man who valued public service, duty and sacrifice.
Current plans are for a postmodern monstrosity of enormous concrete pillars and steel tapestries lording over small statues of Eisenhower as president, supreme Allied commander and as a barefoot child next to a backdrop of a desolate Kansas winter. Contrast this portrayal with the ever-watchful Lincoln, Jefferson as a stalwart of democracy, or Roosevelt, all nearby on the National Mall. Eisenhower is portrayed as just dust in the wind. The monument mocks the heroic nature of Kansas’ most famous son and the man who led us to defeat fascism, confront genocide and who desegregated our schools.
In his inaugural address, Eisenhower said, “We are called as a people to give testimony in the sight of the world to our faith that our future shall belong to the free.” This memorial does not testify to anything other than the ego of its designer. The Eisenhower family is strongly opposed to the design. David Eisenhower, the family representative on the commission, resigned in protest.
Kansans should be ashamed that the architect and designer have been able to run wild with this design. Our memorials are not just tourist attractions; they are representative of the values of our culture. Long after those who are memorialized fade from public life, their values and sacrifices live on to remind future generations of the past. Imagine a world in which Lincoln did not sit watching over the Union with the Gettysburg Address etched in marble next to him, or in which the Washington Monument did not tower over the capital, reminding us of the nation’s first struggle for liberty.
Fortunately, Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran are in a position to do something, as is the rest of the Kansas congressional delegation. We ought to raise our voices. Though the political battles of the day are important and dominate the news cycle, national memorials represent who we are as a nation. We ought to take the time to ensure that they represent the best aspects of our society. Long after the 2012 election cycle, will a monstrosity sit along the National Mall mocking a great Kansan, or will a more fitting memorial represent what we Kansans have known all along: that freedom, duty, service, sacrifice, the rule of law, justice and hard work are the essence of a better future?
Brandon James Smith, a native Kansan, is a KU Law School graduate who is works in Washington, D.C. and followed the commission’s progress on the Eisenhower Memorial. He lives in Arlington, Va.