Friday, June 01, 2012

A hat for Lady Gaga but not for Eisenhower

By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill on 56/1/12

Two moments come to my mind with Eisenhower. How he described the conduct of war was one: "The enemy has to know it is licked." Had it registered in 1914 the 60 million who died 20 years later - 2.5% of the world's population - would have been saved. The second is that great picture on D Day, probably the most important day in American history since Cemetery Ridge. It is an iconic photograph of Ike straight up and unsentimental as he addressed the marines, many of whom would be seeing their last day on earth. It talks to everyone and everyone reads it differently. What are these men thinking as they embark and what words does Eisenhower brings to them to fortify their will and courage? But as kids who take the tour of the Capital learn from the tour guide, Ike was talking to the men about fly fishing.

How vastly opposite from the mad, gnostic, primordial visions of Woden the Nazis were conjuring on the other side of the water. How right a reminder of the difference the “fly fishing photo” brings between them and us.

But generations flip and as one looked to Ike - and my neighbor named her son Ike - the next would look to Doc Watson and Bob Dylan. And I've friends who named their kids Dylan. They go to different places of head and heart because as Pete Seeger sang it there is a season to all things and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to kill. A time to heal. And then it changes again.

And that is architect Frank Gehry's problem. It changed again. He pitched his project in one era and presented his prototype in a different era. Gehry has found enormous popularity in his seasons. He would be a great choice to erect a memorial to Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Duchamp or Picasso and as I understand it he actually designed a hat for Lady Gaga. But there is no reason for him to design one for Dwight Eisenhower. His was an age of irony and irony is only a shadow; it is what there is when there is nothing left.

It is shocking that Gehry was selected for the Eisenhower project. Would the committee have picked an aging hipster who designs hats for Lady Gaga to form a monument for Lord Nelson? Washington? Possibly because Ike was so unpretentious and his soldiers such regular folk they failed to make a distinction. Possibly the decadent notion slipped into the collectivity that behind him was another general just the same, and another behind that and another, but there wasn't. Eisenhower was the one indispensible man on whom history turned and without him there would have been no turning.

Susan Eisenhower sensed the sea change. It started last summer she said, when the deficit began to hit home. I saw it in the appearance of Katniss and Peeta. Lady Gaga saw it in Adele when she took all her awards.
Congress and the memorial commission should reevaluate. Susan Eisenhower is correct when she says:

Today, we must learn again to celebrate things that are simple, sustainable, and affordable. These values were dominant after World War II, as the country, under Dwight Eisenhower’s leadership, built a modern industrial infrastructure and emerged as a global superpower and the leader of the free world.
Simple, sustainable and affordable: Irony yields to originality, ambivalence to honor, material girl and manufactured girl to “girl on fire.”

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