A Battle Over Eisenhower in Washington

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New York Times Editorial Board
News Abstract: 
After a steady siege of Washington infighting and aesthetic backbiting, the plan to build a national memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president and five-star military leader of World War II, has run into its toughest hurdle yet — growing congressional resistance to financing the project and even calls to “reset” the planning process from scratch.

All Washington monuments and memorials seem destined to pass through a barrage of fire from politicians and critics, with the focus usually on the architect’s design or the politics of the honoree. The one for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eisenhower’s commander in chief, took 42 years from its first congressional approval to its opening in 1997.

The memorial for Eisenhower, a popular military hero and political leader from the plains of Kansas, should not have to suffer that fate. Since Congress authorized the project 16 years ago, $60 million has been allocated for planning. Nevertheless, the House Appropriations Committee voted last month to withhold construction funding for the memorial, whose total estimated cost is $142 million. Last week, the design by the architect Frank Gehry received final approval by the National Capital Planning Commission.

Several significant design changes have already been made to the four-acre project near the Capitol. This has not satisfied critics, including the Eisenhower grandchildren, who have complained that the design has an excessive “barefoot boy from Kansas” theme, which they say detracts from a larger focus on Eisenhower’s achievements in government. Eisenhower currently is depicted as a teenager, soldier and president in a parklike setting. The original plan for three giant woven steel tapestries depicting his life was scaled back to one. But family objections continue, including criticism of altered sightlines along the National Mall.

Critics in Congress insist that there will be no monument built without final approval by the Eisenhower family. For Congress to yield such power to family members, however, cuts against the whole idea of a national consensus to honor a national hero. Better that lawmakers heed Bob Dole, the plain-spoken former senator from Kansas, who is battle-scarred from World War II and the politics of Washington.

“This is not being built for the grandchildren,” Mr. Dole said as a member of the memorial commission’s advisory board. “The voice that hasn’t been listened to is us guys for whom Ike was our hero, and we’d like to be around for the dedication.”


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A version of this editorial appears in print on July 12, 2015, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: A Battle Over Eisenhower in Washington. Today's Paper|Subscribe

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Saturday, July 11, 2015