Ordinarily, the news that a long overdue memorial to an historic American leader has been put on hold still again would come as a disappointment. But if you've seen the innocuous design for an Eisenhower memorial in the nation's capitol, the news may come as a relief -- and a welcome opportunity to start all over and try to get it right this time.
Innocuous doesn't begin to cover the emptiness, the blahness, the pomp meaninglessness of Frank Gehry's design for this "monument" that is the opposite of monumental. It's just a few saplings around what looks like an empty neighborhood playground in any interchangeable midwestern suburb circa the 1960s. A cross between a no-place, to borrow Walker Percy's perfect phrase for so much of America's forgettable urban landscape, and the non-style dubbed the International Style -- an enclosed blankness.
Oh, yes, there are a few disjointed quotations from the real Eisenhower clunked onto the design like random afterthoughts to lend it a bogus authenticity, and a statue of the accomplished general, under-estimated statesman and smiling national leader as ... a Kansas farm boy.
I'd call the design Disneyish except that it lacks even that much character. Believe it or not, this disconnected, spaced-out blob of a little park is supposed to have something to do with honoring an American who was first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen in his time. Which was the 1950s, the Age of Cool, when understatement was in fashion, displays of emotion were out, and political rhetoric was supposed to be as slim as the neckties.
But this design for an Eisenhower "memorial" betrays no memory of either the Supreme Allied Commander in the European Theater or the president who ended another war, the forgotten one in Korea, and kept a Cold War from getting hot. And who had the good sense not to get in the way of an American economic revival that would jump-start the world's after the Second World Devastation.
Where is that Eisenhower in what is supposed to be an Eisenhower memorial? Where is the Ike we remember? There's not a trace of him.
Here was a general who could get prima donnas like Patton and Monty and DeGaulle working together, using their talents just when and where they were most needed and not otherwise. Then he would come home to reunify a bitterly divided country and deal with the Joe McCarthys and Orval Faubuses and J. William Fulbrights so deftly and effectively it looked as if he were doing nothing at all.
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