Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Nation's Capital

We just got back from a trip to Washington, DC, where I attended the Teaching Professor conference and saw the sights with my family.

I like the Teaching Professor conference because it's an extremely pragmatic conference, filled with great tidbits of info and new ideas to try. I'll post about some of my thoughts on it later, but for now I'd like to talk about Washington, DC.

As a city, DC gets a lot of criticism. However, I do believe they do an excellent job of creating and maintaining a public space. The Mall is an amazing creation, if you think about it. We saw the monuments via a Bike the Sites tour, which is a fabulous way to see many of the monuments in 3 hours). It was expensive, costing us $140 as a family, but well worth the money.

I was last in DC when Sophie was 18 months old, and before that I had made a few short visits for rallies in support of reproductive freedom. Since I last visited, a few new memorials have popped up: the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the FDR Memorial.

I find the World War II Memorial to be incredibly ostentatious and even somewhat tacky. It seems kind of palatial and reminds me of Versailles a bit. I just Googled a bit to find out if others felt the same way, and the short answe ris yes. From Daniel Honan, posting on HNN:

"Unfortunately, the World War II Memorial has less in common with the classical "temples of democracy" built in Washington during the 1930s than it does with Albert Speer's 'stripped classicism' that was fashionable in Nazi Germany. Stripped classicism involves classical designs reduced to their structural elements and rendered on an immense scale intended to overwhelm the spectator with the experience of raw power."

I also find the FDR Memorial to be a bit much. It consists of 4 large "rooms," each one representing one term of his presidency. We had to walk our bikes through it, and it seemed kind of endless. It's beautiful, and I do like the way it evokes the period of the Great Depression and honors Eleanor Roosevelt. But it's HUGE.

The Korean War Memorial is my favorite. For some reason, it touches me in a way the Vietnam Memorial doesn't (though I admire the Vietnam Memorial greatly). The figures seems to rise up out of the earth, a group of men alert to danger, trudging through the swamps. For a moment, you wonder if you are the enemy they are watching for. I find it discomfiting, though in a good way.

I'm also interesting in why all these monuments popped up during the last 2 decades. I can imagine that the WW2 vets were pretty pissed off that the Vietnam vets got a memorial before they did, and this probably led to a kind of competition. Then of course the Korean vets had to get their due. But it feels so silly, in a way. And it does make me wonder how we will eventually remember the veterans of the Iraq wars, two of the most wrong-headed wars of American history.

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