It’s Presidential election time again.
That means listening to months more of Republicans defaming the capitol of the very country they claim to love.
Yes, it’s definitely fashionable in right-wing circles to hate and despise “Washington.”
To hear them tell it, you might believe that “Washington” is:
- The capitol of an enemy nation.
- A cesspool of corrupt, power-hungry men and women slavering to gain dictatorial control over the life of every American.
- A center of lethal contagion which, like ancient Carthage, should be burned to the ground and its inhabitants destroyed or scattered.
And–so claim Republicans–all that prevents “Washington” from gaining absolute power is the Republican party.
Which leads inevitably to the question:
If “Washington” is so evil and destructive, why do so many Republicans–most of whom style themselves as the candidates of Virtue–lust to live there and control it?
But others who live or work in Washington, D.C. take a far different view of their city and duties.
These men and women will never call a press conference or rake in millions in “political contributions” (i.e., legalized bribes) for promising special privileges to special interests.
Many of them work for the National Park Service. Every national monument–and Washington is speckled with monuments–has several of these employees assigned to it.
Their duties are to protect the monuments and offer historical commentary to the public.
One such employee regularly addresses visitors to Ford’s Theater–known worldwide as the scene of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
George (a pseudonym) opens his lecture by raising the question every member of the audience wants answered: How much of Ford’s Theater remains intact from the night of Lincoln’s murder–April 14, 1865?
And the answer is: Only the exterior of the building.
After Lincoln’s assassination, enraged Union soldiers converted the interior of the building into a military command center. That meant ripping out all the seats for spectators and the stage for actors.
The stage and seats–even the “Presidential Box” where Lincoln sat–have all been reproduced for a modern audience.
As George talks, you can tell that, for him, this is no typical day job. He realizes that, renovated or not, Ford’s Theater remains saturated with history. And he clearly feels privileged to share that history with others.
George explains that Presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth did not sneak into the theater. He didn’t have to–as a celebrity actor, he received the sort of favored treatment now accorded Lindsay Lohan.
Another monument where you will find Park Ranger guides is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Completed in 1982, it receives about 3 million visitors a year. Adorning the Wall, in columns that seem to reach endlessly to the sky, are the names of the 58,195 soldiers who gave their lives during the Vietnam War.
That struggle–lasting from 1961 to 1975–proved the most divisive American war of the 20th century.
On the day I visited the memorial–April 25–groups of elementary schoolchildren passed by. They were jabbering loudly, seemingly oblivious to the terrible sacrifice the Wall was meant to commemorate.
I asked a nearby Park Ranger: “Do you feel people now respond differently to the Wall, as we get further away from the Vietnam war?”
“No,” he answered. He felt that today’s visitors showed the same reverence for the monument and for the losses it had been created to honor as those who had first come in the early 1980s.
And it may well be true: I saw many tiny American flags and wreaths of flowers left at various points along the Wall, which stretches across 250 feet of land on the Mall.
When thinking about “Washington,” it’s essential to remember that this city–along with New York City–remains at the top of Al Qaeda’s target list.
Those who choose to live and/or work here do so in the potential shadow of violent death.
Anytime you enter a Federal building, be prepared to undergo a security check.
In most agencies–such as the Department of Agriculture–you simply place your bags or purses into an X-ray machine similar to those found at airports, and walk through a magnetometer. If no alarms sound, you collect your valuables and pass on through.
Such machines are, of course, nammed by armed security guards. And they stand sentinel at every conceivable Federal building–such as the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the Smithsonian Museum, the Pentagon and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
These men and women must daily inspect the bodies and handbags of the 15 million people who visit Washington, D.C. annually, generating $5.24 billion dollar in revenues.
This means repeating the same screening gestures countless times–looking through X-ray machines at bags or coats, and running an electronic “wand” up and down those people whose clothing gives off signs of metallic objects.
It also means projecting a smiling, friendly demeanor towards those same people–many of whom are in a rush and/or resent being electronically sniffed over.
And every security guard knows this: It’s only a matter of time before the next terrorist shows up.
On June 10, 2009, just that happened at the United States Holocaust Memorial.