Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Two Stories that Epitomize American Culture

On the front page of this morning's Times are two stories that tell you a lot about American culture.

In the first, President Eisenhower's family objects to the design that has been chosen for his monument in Washington:
The design shows Eisenhower as a youth gazing out at images of his adult accomplishments against a backdrop of the Kansas plains. But the Eisenhower family objects to the design and is attempting to delay approval of the project in a dispute that has pitted a leading American family against one of the country’s most recognized architects. The family says Mr. Gehry should portray Eisenhower as a man in the fullness of his achievements, not as a callow rustic who made good. “He was chief of staff of the Army; he was a two-term president of the United States,” said Susan Eisenhower, a granddaughter. “It’s in those roles that America has gratitude for him, not as being a young boy with a great future in front of him.” The family has asked that the project be delayed until its objections are addressed, and others have joined its cause. “The statue of Ike as a Kansas farmer-boy mocks the president as cornpone in chief, the supreme allied bumpkin,” said the nonprofit National Civic Art Society, which focuses on architecture and urban design.
Gehry says his design was partly inspired by seeing this photograph of Eisenhower (center) with some friends in Abilene in 1904.

The memorial. I noted when I first saw this design that it might be too radical for such a conventional figure, and now American's champions of boring marble monuments are stepping up to prove me right.

The second story features veterans of the Iraq war who are angry about the ticker-tape parade planned for the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants:
The New York Giants on Tuesday will be showered with confetti and greeted by throngs as they are feted with the city’s most storied honor: a parade through its Canyon of Heroes. But all the fanfare — the parade this week is the fourth since 2000 to honor a sports team — has touched off anger and unease among some returned Iraq veterans, who are eagerly awaiting their own recognition. “Everybody recognizes that the Giants deserve a parade,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. But, he added, “If a football team gets a parade, shouldn’t our veterans?” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has long expressed his regret that the United States did not do a better job honoring veterans of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, has cited advice from the Pentagon in deciding it was not appropriate to hold a parade while American soldiers are still fighting in Afghanistan. 
The worst thing the public discourse in America is that everybody is always getting offended. The Eisenhower monument isn't dignified enough for a president. A parade for football players somehow slights veterans. We are like a nation of noble youths from Shakespeare's Italy, our hands on our (verbal) rapiers, always on the lookout for slights to our honor. What about me, what about my cause, why wasn't I consulted? What about my people, why are we being ignored, why don't we have our own monument and our own holiday and our own museum on the mall? Blah blah blah.

If Eisenhower's family doesn't like this memorial, why don't they raise money and put up one of their own? If veterans in New York want a parade, why are they waiting for the city to stage it for them? Surely if they just announced that they were going to have one, people and businesses would contribute to make it happen. No, we insist that the government recognize us and give us some kind of nod from on high. Otherwise we are going to get offended and take our toys home to sulk.

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