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More Eisenhower Memorial

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I’ve expressed my reservations before about the idea of a memorial for Dwight Eisenhower on the National Mall and scoffed at the protests by his granddaughters that part of the Gehry-designed memorial would dare to depict the great man as an average boy growing up in Kansas.

Witold Rybczynski has a useful op-ed about the memorial in the Times, noting the contested nature of many of our monuments that we now revere:

The four finalists who prepared designs for the memorial were picked, by a jury that included Eisenhower’s grandson David, from a list compiled by a panel of leading architects, who in turn chose from among 44 firms that submitted their names to the memorial commission. Ever since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition was won by Maya Lin, then a college student, it is taken for granted that the best memorial designs are the result of open competitions, in which hundreds of (largely unqualified) individuals compete.

But the accepted wisdom is wrong — the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is an exception. It’s worth remembering that the Lincoln Memorial was the result of a competition between only two young architects — Henry Bacon and John Russell Pope — and the loser, Pope, was later invited to design the Jefferson Memorial; no one else was considered.

What’s more, both the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial were the objects of criticism when they were proposed: why was Lincoln portrayed as a tired rather than a triumphant leader; why was Jefferson housed in a Roman temple? Today, of course, these memorials are among the country’s most beloved structures.

Memorializing historical figures and events, particularly upon the secular sacred space of the National Mall, frequently run into difficulty because of the contested nature of historical memory. I’m not precisely sure Eisenhower is important enough to modern Americans to bring out those passions except in his descendants, and they are the ones leading the fight against the design here. But as Rybczynski points out, both the Vietnam Memorial and Lincoln Memorial were hated by people at the time of their construction.

Of course, the World War II Memorial on the Mall is so objectively awful that I have a hard time seeing a critical turnaround for it.

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