Will: Dishonoring Ike with a monstrosity
We could wearily shrug, say “Oh, well,” and economize waste and annoyance by just building the proposed $142 million Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial. But long after its perpetrators are gone, it would squat there, representing Washington at its worst and proving that we have forgotten how to nurture our national memory with intelligent memorials.
This saga of arrogance and celebrity worship began in 1999 when Congress created the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission (EMC). Sixteen years later, and eight years after the project’s 2007 scheduled completion, scores of millions have been squandered and there is no memorial and no immediate prospect of building one.
It is good news that the money has been wasted: The atrocious proposal has not become a permanent blight across from Independence Avenue’s Air and Space Museum at the foot of Capitol Hill. More good news: Congress has not appropriated a penny of the $68 million the EMC requested for construction in 2016, and private fundraising is too anemic to allow architect Frank Gehry to sprawl his preposterous memorial across four acres. Its footprint would be large enough to accommodate the Washington Monument and the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, with room to spare for a monument to Gehry. Which is what the Eisenhower Memorial would be, with Ike, warrior and president, reduced to merely a pretext for Gehry’s flamboyance.
Gehry’s original proposal was for something so gargantuan it would block some views of the Capitol: There would be a statue of Eisenhower, but as a Kansas boy, and three 80-foot-tall metal “tapestries” depicting episodes from Eisenhower’s boyhood and military and political careers.
Several panels of “experts” — in what? — have given their imprimatur to Gehry’s undertaking, perhaps in order to resuscitate the hope of getting him to apply his ennobling touch to the nation’s capital. Ten years ago, the Corcoran, Washington’s oldest private art gallery, abandoned plans for Gehry to build a new wing, a proposal also begun in 1999. It too came to naught, even though, for a while, visitors entering the Corcoran walked past what The Washington Post called a “celebratory video” titled “Mr. Gehry Goes to Washington.” Not yet; ideally, never.
Washington’s Mall and its environs, one of the world’s most elegant urban spaces, is becoming cluttered with commemorative bric-a-brac dispensed by Congress that can be called “recognition pork barrel,” mollifying this and that constituency’s clamor for acknowledgment of this or that. Eisenhower certainly merits a memorial, but one consonant with his astonishing achievements and Midwestern unpretentiousness.
George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post.