Judging the photos Kathy and I took during our trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City, I’d have to give the top prize to Kathy for this view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol building. The light was just right, and she was quicker with her iPhone 8 than I was with my more expensive camera. We were standing on the terrace outside the Lincoln Monument when we noticed this view.
The walk to the Lincoln Monument has been on all my trips to Washington, D. C. I always start at the Vietnam Memorial and then start making the bend around the reflecting pool with a stop to visit Lincoln and read parts of his speeches craved on the walls there. With the sun going down, it was hard to read my favorite from his second inaugural speech. It’s the one that ends this way:
“With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Despite not being able to read that speech, Lincoln was as impressive as ever and our walk was not done.
While we were visiting the Vietnam Memorial, we talked to a gentleman who was about our age (Remember the Sixties!). He remarked on it “being our war, whether we served over there or not.”
Certainly it had an influence on those of us growing up then. The draft. The draft lottery. Student deferments. Those who fought coming home and how they were treated. Those wounded or killed.
My only acquaintance with those names carved on the wall is a person who beat me up in the first grade. Still, I feel bad for him, and certainly bad for the 53,000 United States service people lost in a war that we as a nation can’t decide if it was worth it or not.
We were debating whether to walk past the Lincoln Monument to visit the Korean War Monument, which was not there the last time we had visited Washington. It seemed as though that monument got squeezed into a corner of the Mall and might not be worth visiting. Oh no, said our gentleman at the Vietnam wall. “Get there when it is raining and dark,” he said, “and you will think the soldiers there are alive and stalking their enemies. Don’t miss it.”
We did not, especially since it was getting dark and rain had started to fall.
The soldiers may not be alive, but your could almost feel the moisture seeping into their boots from the wet grass they were walking through. There is a list of those lost in the war, both U.S. and South Korean. The side panels that run along side the soldiers have an eerie feel to them depicting those who served in a war that is still going on. Would our nation decide to fight if one of Kim Jong-un‘s missiles did not quite reach the sea and fell on Seoul? That would be a decision for the nation.
That ended our evening walk. Earlier in the day, we had taken a bus to see the Jefferson Memorial, which I had not visited. Despite all the bad things said about Thomas Jefferson in Ron Chernow’s book “Hamilton” and the song the Jefferson character sings in the musical (“What’d I Miss”), I still hold Jefferson as a Founding Father who founded much of what formed our country, like “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There’s also that master/slave matter of Sally Hemings. OK, he was a randy coward who skipped the fighting in the Revolutionary War, but I still like much of what he said, including this on the wall of the memorial:
“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in law and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
Setting aside whether human minds have progressed past our barbarous ancestors, there’s six people on the Supreme Court right now who should walk down to the Jefferson Memorial to read that.
There was one other monument on the Mall that was not there the last time we visited Washington. It opened in April 2004, which shows how long it has been since we traveled to the nation’s capital.
The monument marks a war in which 416,000 Americans died, 45 million people world wide were killed and two totalitarian regimes were snuffed out. It took the nation 60 years to commemorate the achievement of the “Greatest Generation.” It’s a war most Americans have no trouble deciding whether it was worth it or not.
But the monument to World War II? My decision: It fails. To me, it seems as if someone or some committee decided to include all that they thought should go into a monument: fountains, lots of stone, statues, bronze plaques, arches, terraces. Build it in a prominent spot on the Mall and everyone will like it. But there is no there there. No symbolism as in the Vietnam Monument. Nothing to focus on as in the Korean Monument. No one statue that dominates as in the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments. Can we decide to do this one over?