Saturday, June 13—The US Capitol
Lisa and I started this, our first day in Washington, DC, at the United States Capitol. This tour was a very different experience than the one we enjoyed in the late 1980s with our three children. The US Capitol now has a visitor center on the east side of the building through which visitors gain access to the crypt and rotunda, but not a whole lot more. It felt strange to be disallowed access to the senate and house galleries, and even from walking up the steps in front of the capitol.
We were scheduled for a tour courtesy of our congressman, Jared Huffman. The tour guide was a very good and enthusiastic communicator, and referenced George Washington throughout the tour. He pointed to a painting in the rotunda by John Trumbull, who captured the scene of General Washington resigning his commission after the Revolutionary War. The guide told us that George was asked to be a leader/monarch in the new government, and he turned it down. The guide went on to rhetorically ask what our country might look like today had George been less humble and seized the opportunity to have such power. This story of the painting as presented by the tour guide is referenced as legend in a Today article by Bob Dotson most recently updated on 1/16/2009:
“Legend has it that, after his victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington was so popular that a group of citizens wanted to make him monarch of the new nation. He turned the suggestion down, or so the story goes.
Of course, there are many legends about our first president, and historians suspect that the story of Washington’s spurning the throne is as apocryphal as the one about his chopping down that cherry tree…”
A summary on the painting describes “…the scene on December 23, 1783, in the Maryland State House in Annapolis when George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. The action was significant for establishing civilian authority over the military, a fundamental principle of American democracy.” So it appears as thought the official tour guide is promoting the legend following rather than the symbolism of the resignation event. I found that interesting.
Lisa and I walked around the capitol after touring the Library of Congress and taking a stroll through the US National Arboretum. We found what is referred to as the Peace Monument, also known as the Naval Monument or Civil War Sailors Monument. It is an interesting work, apparently intended to be a commemoration of the deeds of the Navy during the Civil War, nearly completed in 1878. It was supposed to include a decorative fountain around its base and four street lamps at the corners, but those finishing touches were never added.
Sitting at the Peace Monument was Michele Colburn…knitting away. Lisa asked her what she was doing. Michele told us she was knitting her third panel out of Viet Nam era trip wire. The Trip Wire Project, started in 2014, will contain 152,000 stitches to commemorate the “…dead civilian, noncombatants of Iraq and Afghanistan which for our operations in the area are estimated at over 152,000 people.” This project “… is part performance, part durational and conceptual (and) began as a concrete tally to memorialize, in a fashion, our soldiers who are dead and wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.”
I asked her about her position on veterans and war. She was somewhat reluctant to engage in a discussion, yet told us she was very supportive of veterans while she questions the motives of engaging in the conflict beginning with Operation Desert Storm in 1991. She went on to question the purpose of Operation Iraqi Freedom, e.g. George Bush’s claim of the presence of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction), given the fact that such weapons were never found. The New York Times, of all papers, reported in mid-October of 2014 that WMDs were, in fact, found. Further research suggests the report was about older WMDs, and the debate continues to this day. For some, unknown reason, we continue to deny that Saddam Hussein sought to annihilate the Kurdish people in 1988, when the military killed at least 50,000 Kurdish civilians and destroyed 2,000 villages. To think that he was going to miraculously see the error of his ways and stop committing genocide in the future seems rather foolish and, in my opinion, trumps the debate.
Michele and I respectfully disagreed on several points surrounding this particular conflict. (However, we agreed fully when recalling the circumstances surrounding the Viet Nam war, and on our high respect towards veterans of that war.) I’m not sure the statistics against which she is knitting are more than directionally accurate, having researched them. Yet I was glad to have met her and witnessed the representation she is artfully creating. I believe our society is too quick to polarize around ideals, thus blinding us from a perspective that just might be closer to the truth, a truth that seemingly is never fully revealed.
Sunday, June 14—The US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Today was intended to be mostly a day of rest. So we started out with brunch at Bandolero. The moment we walked in Burak, who noticed my SF 49ers cap, enthusiastically greeted us. He reached out his hand to shake mine. Apparently, one of the reasons he immigrated to the United States more than 30 years ago was his love for the 49ers. (Hey, who could argue with that?) His uncle had given Burak a Joe Montana jersey, and he has been part of the 49er Faithful ever since. First drinks on him!
We then headed to the premier of Anne Frank’s Holocaust at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was created as an extension of the museum, with people who were victims of the holocaust sharing their stories. Several holocaust survivors attended the premier. The movie debuts on the National Geographic Channel on Father’s Day, June 21. We both highly recommend you watch it.