When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and America was dragged into war, it was Dwight Eisenhower who was tasked with creating a strategy to defeat Japan and Germany. Eventually becoming the Supreme Allied Commander of the European forces, he designed the Normandy D-Day invasion, which led to the fall of Nazi Germany. After the war, he ordered camera crews to document the atrocities at the discovered concentration camps so that justice could be done at Nuremberg. He helped defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, then rebuilt the countries. As president, he brought forward the first civil rights legislation, built our highways and enforced the Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education decision.
Eisenhower is, without a doubt, one of Kansas’ best-known citizens. Congress determined that Ike deserved a presidential memorial in the nation’s capital, an honor bestowed on only four other presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission is attempting to make this memorial a reality.
But the current plans for the memorial are a postmodern monstrosity of enormous concrete pillars and steel tapestries lording over a small statue of Eisenhower as a barefoot child next to a backdrop of a desolate Kansas winter. Contrast this portrayal with the ever-watchful Lincoln, Jefferson as a stalwart of democracy, or Roosevelt, all found not far from the planned memorial site on the National Mall.
Eisenhower is portrayed as just dust in the wind. The monument mocks the heroic nature of Kansas’ most famous son – the leader who led us to defeat fascism and confront genocide, and who desegregated our schools.
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In his first inaugural address, Eisenhower stated that “we are called as a people to give testimony in the sight of the world to our faith that our future shall belong to the free.” This monument does not testify to anything other than the ego of its designer.
The Eisenhower family is strongly opposed to the design. David Eisenhower, the family representative on the commission, resigned in protest.
Kansans should be ashamed that the executive architect and designer have been able to run wild with this design.
Our memorials are not just tourist attractions; they are representative of the values of our culture. Long after those memorialized fade from public life, their values and sacrifices live on to remind future generations of the past. Imagine a world where Lincoln did not sit watching over the Union with the Gettysburg Address etched in marble next to him, or where the Washington Monument did not tower over the capital, reminding us of the nation’s first struggle for liberty.
Fortunately, Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran are in a position to do something, as is the rest of the Kansas congressional delegation. We ought to raise our voices.
Though the political battles of the day are important and dominate the news cycle, national memorials represent who we are as a nation. We ought to take the time to ensure they represent the best aspects of our society.
Long after the 2012 election cycle, will a monstrosity sit along the National Mall mocking a great Kansan? Or will it represent what we Kansans have known all along – that freedom, duty, service, sacrifice, the rule of law, justice and hard work are the core essence of a better future?