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Blog // Thoughts
August 18, 2005

A Tale Of Five Monuments

Like most tourists visiting Washington D.C. I was keen to see the monuments along the Mall. First of all we visited the Lincoln Memorial, which is a momument I have long wanted to see. Like many others, what the Lincoln Memorial commemorates, both in terms of biography and history represents a great deal of what […]

Like most tourists visiting Washington D.C. I was keen to see the monuments along the Mall. First of all we visited the Lincoln Memorial, which is a momument I have long wanted to see. Like many others, what the Lincoln Memorial commemorates, both in terms of biography and history represents a great deal of what is admirable about the US (as well as a great deal of painful sacrifice). Upon seeing the memorial I was not dissapointed, but after a short while I became aware of the behaviour of the crowds. It was such a diverse mix of people but one grouping stood out for me; the number of middle-aged Hispanic men. I’m not sure why there were so many, all keen to get their picture taken solo posing in front of the grand old statue of Abe, or the reverse view out towards the Washington Monument; I reget not having asked.

The Korean War monument was both a surprise and a highlight of the visit. This is a visually compelling work that neither glorifies war nor dimishes it. You get a sense of being watched, of fear, but also hope. As someone born after this conflict, it is easy to forget the scale of the war and also the breadth of international involvement. Both these things are simply yet effectively commemorated in the momument. It gave me a sense of place, purpose, cost and goal and I thankful for the experience of it.

By contrast the Vietnam Memorial is somewhat disorienting. I wasn’t the only one struggling to understand the design and it left you with little sense of anything other than loss. In fact it created a sense of hopelessness as you travelled deeper into the names of those who died. I’m not sure the momument commemorates anything other than loss and maybe futility.

The WWII monument simply made me angry. I have visited a number of WWII monuments around the world and grew up with a deep sense of the importance of the efforts of the allies in the war against facism. However, this momument seemd designed to give the impression that war was fought single-handedly fought the war. In contrast to the Korean War Monument, which named all the countries that contributed to the effort, the WWII Memorial only lists US states (and former protectorates like the Philippines and Guam). Frankly I was sickened at this attempt to rewrite history to fit the current unilateral outlook. I walked away very depressed.

The Washington Monument is an oddity and not my cup of tea really. I guess I don’t go in for that sort of symbolism. However, on the walk down from that monument I found myself reflecting upon the poor condition of the Mall as a part. Both L and I have heard USAmericans complain about the condition of UK parks (a claim I foten found hard to take). However, the Mall was in simply appalling (and dare I say for people from the US, embarassing) condition; it was a mess with poor paving, terrible grass and a general feeling of rundown disrepair.

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