Commentary Magazine


Recognizing Greatness

To the Editor:

Michael J. Lewis ably identifies the misconception inspiring the Eisenhower Memorial design and its failure to convey “greatness” [“Eisenhower and the End of Greatness,” May]. He observes that only two figures in world history—Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Washington—achieved greatness by military conquest of a continent followed by a civilian presidency. But there is another whose accomplishment meets that standard: Ulysses S. Grant, whose own memorial was constructed in 1922 at the foot of Capitol Hill.

The equestrian statue is said to be the largest in the United States and portrays the general aboard a large horse whose tail appears to be blown forward by the wind. The rider is bundled up, slightly hunched forward, his face obscured by the wide brim of his slouched hat. The horse is standing still; it looks like they are in foul weather. What is Grant thinking? His appearance conveys a brooding melancholy. Below his statue are two group sculptures portraying cavalry and artillery. Their figures are caught in the heat of battle, and the effort of their strife contrasts sharply with the poignant figure above them.

When I am in Washington, I try to visit the memorial of the old general. I always find it uplifting. As Lewis explains: “A monument must make a single great claim. It can say one thing only.” Henry Merwin Shrady’s Grant conveys greatness.

Rod Roggensack
Lancaster, Wisconsin

To the Editor:

Michael J. Lewis does not go far enough in conveying the truth about the proposed Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., which as designed is a general disgrace to our 34th president. The concept of a memorial experience to commemorate Eisenhower’s memory has emerged as a goofy design disaster. The memorial that architect Frank Gehry intends future generations to experience looks more like a few big trees, senseless walls, a silly boy statue, a picnic lawn, and a dog park.

Monuments to our forefathers represent both their accomplishments in behalf of this great nation and their significant achievements on the proud road of American history. How can anybody compare the Washington Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial, the White House, the Capitol building, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the hideous blocks of concrete Gehry proposes to commemorate Eisenhower’s life? Gehry’s proposed wall sculptures look like ugly graffiti. His attempt to post excerpts from President Eisenhower’s speeches is chunked into a wall layout so incomprehensible that Eisenhower’s life becomes unnoticeable.

The blunt failure of Gehry’s design to commemorate Eisenhower is seen in his inability to convey the significance of Eisenhower’s life and career. A monument to an American president must convey his soul, essence, and reason for being that will inspire individuals who view it to reflect on their purpose in the pages of history.

Eisenhower was a prominent five-star general, the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and NATO. He sent in federal troops to desegregate public schools, desegregated the armed forces, and advanced the “Domino Theory” to prevent the spread of Communism. Gehry’s design lacks any military or historical nuance. The Eisenhower family, backed by Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, oppose Gehry’s architectural monstrosity for good reason and want it redesigned. Any visitor looking at Gehry’s “vision” would not have a clue about what Eisenhower’s life symbolized. The current design mocks Eisenhower as a life-sized boy sitting on a plank, a significant denigration.

The only way to convey the life of Eisenhower in architecture is to build a large-scale memorial befitting his recognized stature as one of the 10 best American presidents. Eisenhower’s soul must be perpetuated with a fitting memorial confirming his place with our forefathers, so the adage “I Like Ike” is never forgotten.

Robert Brizel
New York City

Michael J. Lewis writes:

I appreciate Mr. Roggensack’s description of the poignant Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, which is unknown to the American public—and unaccountably so, since it is hiding, so to speak, in plain sight at the foot of the Capitol. Perhaps it is because the memorial, as good as it is, is overshadowed by the larger and more sublimely conceived objects around it, which make it difficult to give it the quiet attention it deserves. It certainly rewards close study.

Mr. Brizel believes that a presidential memorial should “inspire individuals who view it to reflect on their purpose in the pages of history.” I agree wholeheartedly, as I believe the great majority of the American public does. And the more that the public sees of the proposed Eisenhower Memorial, the less it likes it. Since my article appeared, the House of Representatives has declined to include additional funding for the current design in its proposed budget for 2013. It may be—one can hope guardedly—that the tide has begun to turn at last against Gehry’s hyperactive and disingenuous anti-memorial.




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