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Monuments

The power of a name

At our public panel discussion in May on “Monumental fights,” we considered the important role played by public memorials in civic life. Now, writing over at City Journal, Allan Greenberg, a former professor of architecture at Yale and the author of Architecture of Democracy, provides his thoughts on the civic role played by one memorial in particular: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which turns thirty in November.

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Upcoming event: Monumental Fights

Over the past year, the recently dedicated Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Memorial and the planned Eisenhower Memorial have renewed controversy about the meaning and purpose of public memorials. What do America’s memorials and monuments tell us about our nation and our identity as citizens? How should we memorialize past events and individuals? In this event, co-sponsored by the Program on American Citizenship and the National Civic Art Society, a distinguished panel will address these questions and comment on the MLK and Eisenhower memorials.

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Remembering Eisenhower’s greatness

The on-going saga of the Eisenhower Memorial continues, which we’ve covered before here, here, and here. Now, conservative commentators George Will, Ross Douthat, and David Frum join the line of critics who think that Frank Gehry’s design to commemorate the nation’s  34th president misses the point.

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“We have some serious concerns”

We’ve written before about the criticisms of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, and hinted at controversies to come regarding the proposed Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial. Well, come they have.

In last week’s Washington Post, Katherine Boyle describes the Eisenhower family’s reaction to the proposed memorial: to quote granddaughter Susan, “We have some serious concerns. [...] I don’t think my grandfather would be comfortable with the scale and scope of this design.”

As you may remember, the design, by Frank Gehry, features 80-foot woven steel tapestries and large steel columns, 11 feet in diameter, that will outline the four-acre park. Gehry takes inspiration for the park’s theme from a homecoming speech Eisenhower made in 1945, in which he began his talk by saying that “because no man is really a man who has lost out of himself all of the boy, I want to speak first of the dreams of a barefoot boy.” Eisenhower’s boyhood was spent in Kansas–and so, therefore, the giant tapestries will show images of Kansas in winter.

As Jim Ceaser has written, monuments act as one of the main forms by which we as a polity seek to foster the memory of acts–and people–passed. If this is true, and if, as Susan’s sister Anne Eisenhower posits, that “any memorial should memorialize the person who, in theory, is being honored,” it’s difficult to to imagine exactly what memory or idea of Eisenhower this memorial holds up for posterity.

It’s interesting that when one visits the Eisenhower Memorial website, one is greeted by the picture that we have here: General Eisenhower speaking to men of the 101st Airborne Division before they parachute into France as part of Operation Overlord on June 5, 1944. It’s a moving, emotional scene–the last photograph, undoubtedly, for some of the men pictured–and it’s no wonder the memorial website chooses it to welcome visitors. It’s striking that the proposed memorial carries none of its gravitas.

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