The first impression was: Canberra on steroids. The second impression was: Canberra on steroids. This is Washington, DC, capital of the Western World, if not the Entire Universe. It’s all wide boulevards and government buildings. Once I saw a shop, but I think it may have been an hallucination brought on by heat exhaustion: the temperature’s been hovering around 100F here for over a week, and at ground level it’s even hotter, because those wide boulevards just soak up the sun from the moment it comes up (one of the few things not under the control of the government here) until it goes down.
I went past a place where a lot of people were standing in front of a railing fence. In the background, the distant background, was a nice big white house, with lots of columns out the front, southern-mansion style. Apparently a Mr & Mrs B Obama live there. They’re what was once called ‘colored’ people. Once upon a time, not too long ago, their rellies would only have been able to live out the back and serve the grand folks who lived in places like this.
Across the road from the railing fence, a small-chinned white policeman yelled at some brown-skinned tourist people to get off the car-less road. Perhaps he too was dreaming of a past where things were simpler, and people knew their place. (Then again, maybe he was just bored beyond endurance, and letting off a bit. I’m sure the Gross National Boredom Index has quadrupled since 9/11, for now every building seems to have its own security squad, who look terminally tits-off bored.)
I walked on, past memorials to this war and that war-to-end-all-wars, past the Lincoln Memorial (more grand white columns, with a couple of rider-on-horse statues out the back to differentiate it), to the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. This is an anti-monument, in the sense that it exists below the surface of the ground, and rather than celebrate a notional ideal of glorious sacrifice, it is a record. It’s a simple V shape, incised into the earth, and is deepest at the point of the V, rising to ground level at both ends. On its highly polished granite surface are the names of all US service personnel who died in that war. There are too many names.
It was especially poignant to watch other visitors enter at either end, then disappear below ground level. We are able to resurface, unlike all those whose names are inscribed here. They did their bit for the unwinnable war.
Many others who came back are now gone far too early, or still suffering, some mightily so. Will their names ever be recorded for the public to see?