I recently traveled to Washington, D.C. for an extended weekend after I realized that I was only a 45-minute flight away (well, theoretically, barring – oh, I don’t know, three hour delays at JFK) from our nation’s capital. As fortune would have it, one of my friends offered up his couch, and my traveler’s feet were itching to get away for a while. So I went ahead and booked the flight, requested a few days off from my job, and flew down, scarcely expecting much of anything except pretty white buildings and museums.
My last visit to the anomalous, politically murky region between Virginia and Maryland (did you know that D.C. residents do not get a vote for the Presidential elections?) had me at ten years old, barely mature enough to visit the museums without causing a racket. This time would hopefully be better; I was armed with a penchant for history and the ability to stay interested for longer than ten minutes.
Let’s start with the conclusion: Washington, D.C. – or, at least, the National Mall and the Tidal Basin – is a mandatory visit for any self-respecting United States citizen.
Not because of the museums, which – don’t get me wrong – are outstanding; it’s a pity I had limited time to explore (refer back to this incredibly bourgeois blog post to understand why), but I saw enough to know that I could spend an entire year in the National Mall and still have left sight unseen.
Nor was it because of the architecture, in which I mildly scratch the surface in appreciating; of course, the amazing Brutalist design of the Washington Metro is generally leaps and bounds ahead of the MTA back home, and the Library of Congress is one of the most beautiful building interiors I’ve set foot in; but those aren’t the reasons that I’m encouraging – nay, exhorting – every American to visit, even if for just a brief moment.
Americans, generally speaking, are fiercely proud of their nation. This pride manifests itself in many ways, and span the gamut from liberal to conservative opinions. (The arguments for both for and against the Mexican border wall are rooted in preserving our nation’s heritage… which is quite funny, from a certain perspective.)
However, much of this pride tends to manifest themselves in the abstract. We’re proud of our country because of our values, our culture, our global reach. None of that is easily identifiable; what exactly defines “American values”? How can we easily describe American projection of power, and why that’s so appealing to us?
I’m proud of my country, but I didn’t really grasp the significance of what that meant until I was standing in front of the Washington Monument, with the World War II memorial just behind it and the Lincoln Memorial barely visible in the distance.
Here, in a mile’s radius, lay a physical demonstration of just what our nation had accomplished together. We had thrown the yokes of monarchy and established a constitutional democracy; we bravely fought in the most destructive war of our time and emerged victorious; we set the slaves free and overcame our differences to stay together as one nation.
We are one nation, under God (some folks may take exception, and they’re not wrong – “under God” was never a part of the original Pledge of Allegiance), indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And nowhere is that more apparent than in Washington, where marble monuments, dozens in number, stand testament to the great acts of courage and statesmanship performed by our predecessors.