So it seems that Frank Gehry is designing a memorial for Dwight Eisenhower on the National Mall. Eisenhower’s family is angry because, gasp, one of the scenes shows Dewey as a poor, barefoot kid. My God! Rather than portray him as “cornpone-in-chief” as one critic wrote, the Eisenhower family wants him in full heroic form.
1. Portraying our leaders in full quasi-fascist heroic poses creates really bad monuments. The pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps story is central to American mythology. Even though I deeply critique that, it is less offensive than an Eisenhower lording his greatness over us. I haven’t been to DC in a few years so I haven’t seen the MLK memorial. But I am almost certain to dislike it because it, I understand, is kind of towering. A better memorial to King would be sized to real-life, i.e., he was a short man. It is in his normality than King was a great man. He wasn’t that different than the rest of us. Neither was Eisenhower.
2. Does Eisenhower really need a memorial on the National Mall? The monument-building on the Mall has gotten a little over the top in the last decade or so. I’m really unconvinced that Eisenhower deserves to take some of the rapidly decreasing open space. While Eisenhower was the lead general of U.S. forces in Europe during World War II, I don’t see that as sufficient given his presidency, which was mediocre. And before anyone commends Dewey for nationalizing the National Guard in Little Rock, note that Eisenhower was an open racist but couldn’t allow Faubus to flaunt federal authority. But hey, I’m sure the Guatemalans, Vietnamese, and Iranians would be real happy to know Eisenhower is being honored.
Who’s next for the Mall? Nixon? Rutherford Hayes? We also don’t have enough monuments to James Blaine in this country.
….This brings up a related thought. Is there any more egregious naming of a major structure for a political figure than John Foster Dulles Airport? Dulles? Arguably the worst Secretary of State in history. The man who promoted Diem for the sole reason that they were both Catholic? The man who did the bidding of his good friends at United Fruit and overthrew Arbenz? Couldn’t we rename the airport for someone slightly more competent. Like, I don’t know, Millard Fillmore?