The Eisenhower Memorial, a $142 million project projected to be completed by and dedicated on Memorial Day 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, has been challenged with legislation which would take $100 million out of the project and call for a competition aimed at a new design. The legislation, with the blessing of the Eisenhower family, was introduced by Rob Bishop (R-Utah) at a congressional hearing on March 19. The current design is a travesty and in no way serves the memory and legacy of the greatest president in my lifetime.
"We need a new set of eyes to look at the situation to clearly review where the money has been spent and where the money will be spent in the future," said Bishop. "Our goal should be to do what is right by President Eisenhower and do it the right way."
The controversy over the memorial stem from a design by architect Frank Gehry, which calls for four acres of land walled by 13 80-foot tall towers which will support giant, steel tapestries depicting different scenes from Eisenhower's life. Near the center of the proposed memorial and the fracas is a statue of the 34th president as a child, meant to represent his time as a "barefoot boy" in Abilene, Kansas, which Eisenhower considered his home. Critics have derided the statue as unrepresentative of Eisenhower's leadership and achievements.
"It's easy to imagine tourists mistaking the memorial as a spectacularly misconceived tribute to Huckleberry Finn," wrote Geoffrey Kabaservice.
The "barefoot boy" statue is derived from a speech General Eisenhower made on June 22, 1945 upon his return to Abeline near the end of World War II. "Because no man is really a man, who has left out of himself all of the boy, I want to speak first of the dreams of a barefoot boy," Eisenhower said. The line was meant to represent the joy the general felt upon returning to Abilene because "always in his dreams is that day when he finally comes home."
It was a touching sentiment to the citizens of Eisenhower's hometown and a nice portrait of Eisenhower as a boy, but in no way touches on the significance of Eisenhower. This is one of the aspects of the memorial that offends the Eisenhower family.
"He was chief of staff of the Army; he was a two-term president of the United States," said Susan Eisenhower, a granddaughter who also spoke at the congressional hearing. "It's in those roles that America has gratitude for him, not as being a young boy with a great future in front of him." Eisenhower, in her statement, called for the restraining of funds for the project and the family's refusal to support the current memorial proposal in "concept, scope or scale. The Gehry design is, regretfully, unworkable," Eisenhower said.
Undoubtedly, for a project meant to preserve the accomplishments of a five-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, whose efforts contributed to ending World War II and, as president, balanced the budget, sent troops to enforce de-segregation orders, ended the Korean War and oversaw a span of unprecedented peace and prosperity, the concept is as misguided as it is egregious. If the memorial is to proceed with the current design concept it will stand more for the things it is not and will only serve to provide a nondescript monument for future generation.
The Memorial should depict Eisenhower as the Allied Commander, in his waist length "Ike" uniform jacket or as President in his customary conservative three piece suit , Eisenhower at the height of his accomplishments, but not as a tow-head boy indistinguishable from Tom Sawyer.
This point is well-made by George Weigel in a 2012 article for the National Review Online:
He was supreme commander of the greatest political-military coalition in history, holding it together despite great centrifugal forces (both political and personal) until that coalition won what Eisenhower memorably called its "crusade in Europe" and the "Thousand-Year Reich" was no more. He led an Ivy League university; he helped forge NATO into one of the instruments that prevented another totalitarian power from dominating Europe; he helped keep the Republican Party from drifting into the irrelevance of isolationism. Despite the criticisms of the nation's high-cultural and journalistic tastemakers, he was a successful (and crafty) president, one of the few two-term chief executives who left the Oval Office a highly popular man. Americans, now and in the future, ought to know that this country can produce men of such accomplishment. No one will learn any of this, however, from the Eisenhower Memorial that will soon be built in the heart of monumental Washington: unless, that is, Congress moves quickly to force a reconsideration of a historical and aesthetic travesty.
At the 1968 Republican National Convention Richard Nixon exhorted Republicans to "win this one for Ike." We must win this fight over Eisenhower's legacy not for Ike but for ourselves.