Washington, DC is one of the most popular tourist destinations not only within the United States, but internationally as well. Millions of people from across the globe come to our nation’s capital expecting to see its glowing history and remarkable educational treasures, its breathtaking artwork and gleaming architecture, and, of course, its varied and enticing culinary delights. Upon leaving the capital area and returning home, many visitors are somehow forever transformed.
From my first visit to Washington, DC when I was a high school student in 1964, to taking up residency in “The District” from 1971 until 1973, to my infrequent return trips ever since, I am continually amazed by the emotional and, yes, transformational impact this relatively small parcel of land has upon my spirit.
Each time I return, though, there remains within me a feeling of unease, tension, and inner conflict where my thirst remains unquenched and my hunger unsatisfied. I view the Washington, DC experience as representing an important and inspiring, yet limited, partial, and narrow vision of our complete national history and our collective consciousness.
First, while our monuments, statues, and memorials honor our country’s luminous heroes, an extraordinarily few pay tribute to our nation’s women and persons of color.
And second, the gleaming and stirring monuments and memorials, though certainly moving, appropriate, and important in that they keep us forever connected to an aspect of our past while helping us progress into the future, primarily embody and give testament to our nation’s past wars, and honor primarily presidents who either served during wartime or achieved prominence in war.
Therefore, the symbolic and literal narrative of our nation’s capital speaks primarily only part of our collective story. The fulcrum on which the foundation of this narrative rests represents an important though incomplete story, primarily about white male leaders with armed conflict as the organizing principle.
Take, for example, our most notable and visible monuments and memorials situated on the Capital Mall. Standing tall and visible for miles around in every direction, the Washington Monument honors our first president, one of our “founding fathers,” who organized and led what began as a rag tag, disorganized, and undisciplined array of resisters into an effective fighting force.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, reflected in the Tidal Basin, gives tribute to the author of the Declaration of Independence, which signaled the colonies’ severing ties with Great Britain and sparked the War of Independence.
The Abraham Lincoln Memorial, which greets visitors as they cross the Key Bridge over the Potomac River from Virginia into the District, memorializes the man who served over a divided land, and who eventually kept the nation intact during trying times.
And the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, one of the most expansive in sheer acreage, gives homage to our longest serving chief executive who presided during a time of great peril as ruthless tyranny threatened both domestic and world democracy.
In addition, our new and eagerly awaited World War II Memorial, situated directly between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, stands in tribute to the “greatest generation” of patriots who defeated the forces of tyranny and oppression continents away.
The Korean War Memorial, located in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial, keeps fresh the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the “Cold War.” And the Vietnam Memorial, also in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial, its black marble reflecting the faces of young and old as they come to witness the thousands of names inscribed on its surface, helps to heal some of the many wounds of a divided nation torn apart by war far from home.
Also located in Washington, DC we find the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian, and soon, the Armenian Genocide Museum of America.
As truly important and inspiring as are the memorials and monuments, few larger-scale tributes to peace and to peacemakers can be found in Washington, DC, though space is given within the museums to the abolitionists, rescuers, diplomats, and other courageous individuals and groups.
A small and relatively unknown statue stands at the east front portico of the US Capitol called “The Peace Monument”: a marble sculpture constructed between 1877-1878, which includes three women (Grief, History, and Victory) and the inscription:
In memory of the officers, seamen and marines of the United States Navy who fell in defense of the Union and liberty of their country, 1861-1865.
An important and impressive new monument was dedicated to civil rights leader and peacemaker, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the first larger-scale monument in Washington, DC devoted to an inspirational leader of non-violent resistance and peace.
- Where, however, are the other tributes, monuments, and memorials to peace and to the peacemakers not only in Washington, DC, but throughout the nation?
- Where are our memorials and monuments to the diplomats and the mediators; to those working in conflict resolution; to the activists dedicated to preventing wars and to bringing existing wars to diplomatic resolution once they have begun; to the individuals of conscience who refuse to give over their minds, their souls, and their bodies to armed conflict?
- Where are the memorials and monuments to the practitioners of non-violent resistance in the face of tyranny and oppression; to the anti-war activists who strive to educate their peers, their citizenry, and, yes, their government about the perils of unjustified and unjust armed conflict and incursions into lands not their own in advance of appropriate attempts at diplomatic means of resolving conflict?
Individuals and groups who stand up and put their lives on the line to defend the country from very real threats to our national security, as those in our nation’s military, are true patriots. But true patriots are also those who speak out, stand up, and challenge our governmental leaders, those who put their lives on the line by actively advocating for justice, freedom, and liberty through peaceful means.
And where are the memorials and monuments to the nation’s artists, musicians, poets and writers, philosophers, and intellectuals. I am continually amazed as I walk through the capitals of several other nations to encounter these testimonials to the human creative spirit.
Looking over the history of humanity, it is apparent that tyranny, at times, could only be countered through the raising of arms. On numerous occasions, however, diplomacy has been successful, and at other times, it should have been used more extensively before rushing to war.
We must all, therefore, find it unacceptable when one’s patriotism and one’s love of country is called into question when advocating for peaceful means of conflict resolution, for it is also an act of patriotism to work to keep our brave and courageous troops out of harm’s way, and to work to create conditions and understanding that ultimately make war less likely.
- First, the United States Congress needs to pass a bipartisan resolution to increase the number of statues and memorials to honor this country’s female heroes and heroes of color.
- Second, the United States Congress must set aside a parcel of prime land on the Capital Mall in Washington, DC for the installation of a highly-visible and permanent United States Monument to Peace and Peacemakers. Residents as well as business and corporate leaders throughout this country can then donate financial, moral, and tactical support to coordinate the design and development, and to cover the costs of such a Monument.
- Third, local communities can develop residents’ counsels to work toward the establishment of Monuments to Peace and Peacemakers throughout the United States to honor individuals and groups that have in the past and continue to work through peaceful channels.
The national, regional, and local Monuments to Peace and Peacemakers could connect to institutions of research and learning, which will serve as archives, libraries, and living teaching centers of continuing education for ourselves, our children, and for the generations yet to come.
Very encouraging was the building of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened to the public on April 26, 2018. This represents our nation’s “first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.”
We are once again a divided nation—politically, philosophically, economically, and spiritually. The theme of “values” has been dominant in public and political discourse.
Monuments exists as much more than stone and steel structures. Most importantly, they symbolize the values a nation holds dear. The promotion of peace should rank as one of the highest values deserving our immediate and sustained attention.
The creation of Monuments to Peace and Peacemakers can help us heal the divisions, can help to bridge the gaps in our national consciousness, and help bring us together. It is time to let the healing begin.
To contact The US Peace Memorial Foundation, an organization dedicated to the establishment of a large-scale and visible tribute to Peace in Washington, DC, for information and ways to get involved, contact http://www.uspeacememorial.org/
Do you want to be part of creating a kinder, more inclusive society?
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