Aesthetic Realism in the Press
The philosophy founded by Eli Siegel

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Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel in The Oregonian
June 11, 2001
Protesting the World War II Memorial 


America deserves an honest, beautiful World War II Memorial. We join all the veterans and others protesting the current design for a WWII Memorial pushed through by Congress and signed into law by President Bush. This design is an aesthetic mockery, unjust to the ethical meaning of the war. 

We are WWII veteran Chaim Koppelman and Dale Laurin, son of a veteran. We are now colleagues who study and teach at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City. We learned in our study with the poet and critic Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism, that every person has two desires: to respect the world we are born into, and to have contempt. Fascism was utter contempt, against beauty, life itself! This was a war nakedly between contempt for people and respect. 

Chaim Koppelman in France, 1944, as a US soldierI, Chaim Koppelman, manned an anti-aircraft machine gun in the D-Day Normandy invasion, landing on Omaha Beach. Later as a Staff Sergeant, I was awarded a Bronze Star. When I crossed the English Channel on June 6, 1944, I felt "At last we are coming to grips with that monstrous evil!" 

Now, in 2001, as an artist, a member of the National Academy of Design, I am appalled at that design; it is a travesty, more like a monument to the Nazi Wermacht. 

Dale Laurin, architectI, Dale Laurin, am the son of a WWII United States Army Air Corps lieutenant who piloted a B-24 Liberator Bomber in the Pacific. My father, Thurston Laurin, showed me the message sewn into his pilot's jacket in case he was shot down, which he now has framed on the wall. The message in Chinese asked that this soldier be taken care of, he is our friend, an American. As someone who has a big feeling about the meaning of this war, as an architect, and a member of the American Institute of Architects, I think the current design is an insult to what my father and every American soldier fought for. 

The courageous men and women of the United States, with our Allies: Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, Australia, Canada, the Free French, the Underground Resistance -- deserve a monument that grandly expresses that heroic conflict, the ugliness we fought and the triumph over that ugliness. The current design does none of this. Its aloof marble monoliths -- symmetrically placed around a sunken pool at the end of the mall -- give no sense visually of the ugliness of fascism, the intensity of the conflict, and the true pride felt by every soldier, every fighter for democracy. 

What can we learn now from this memorial that can have all people live in a kind world, peaceful world? We hope people can learn what causes such hideous brutality, and how to prevent it. 

In sentences we love for their honesty and passion, Eli Siegel wrote: "We have to ask, with all the ways the word 'fascism' has been used, what was it? It is the ego made iron. It is conceit made metallic." We learned that the ego and conceit that made for Auschwitz and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, are heinous forms of the ordinary contempt in every person. Aesthetic Realism describes contempt as "a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself." Contempt causes the coldness and quarrels in domestic life; it is the cause of racism, and what makes children shoot other children in our schools. In railroading through this design without public hearings, Congress had contempt for our democratic process. 

Eli Siegel described Adolph Hitler as "perhaps the greatest evoker of human contempt in history." And writing about Hitler's crucial defeat by the Soviet Union in the Battle of Stalingrad, Mr. Siegel said, "What he found out is that good is also powerful. Good also has its metal and its speed." 

The design for a National World War II Memorial must give visual form to the contempt that caused this war, and to the greater might -- the beautiful, determined, fight-to-the-finish that defeated the Axis powers in 1945. 

This memorial should educate people about the cause of this war, encourage people to learn what Aesthetic Realism explains -- how to criticize contempt in ourselves and wherever it exists. It should strengthen the most beautiful, powerful thing in America, the feeling that the difference of people -- whatever race, skin color, language -- adds to ourselves. It should evoke courageous thought about what is in these sentences by Eli Siegel, "The next war has to be against ugliness in self. And the greatest ugliness in self is the seeing of contempt as personal achievement. Respect for what is real must be seen as the great success of man."

This article was published in various forms in the Rock Island Argus, the Chicago Defender, the Virginia Pilot (Norfolk, VA), Caribbean Life (New York, NY), LaVida News / The Black Voice (Fort Worth, TX), and on the Save the Mall Coalition web site.

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