Franklin D. Roosevelt: Could he be Barack's Template?
Last week I was free to wander the nation's capitol. All alone, I set forth from my hotel near Dupont Circle, catch the metro, and in a heartbeat, I'm dumped off in the land of tourists, museums, marble Federal buildings, and, presumably, the inner workings of our government.
While I was witness to precious little government doings (as noted in a previous blog, the public is barricaded out of the serious business), the weather was cool, crisp, and clear and I had a pretty good day walking around the great monuments to the men and women who founded/defended/died for our country. I found the names of some friends of mine who died in Viet Nam and it caused me to wonder, all over again, about all that. To be truthful, it wasn't the names of the dead stretching out on that black marble wall that got to me--it was the phone book-thick directory of their names that made those painful old echoes in my mind return. It was as heavy as a local telephone book--58,000 names--on and on, and , as I leafed through the plastic-covered pages looking for just three names, it struck me that, in that too-heavy book, I was holding the names of dead men that should have been living like I have been living--raising children, having grandchildren, traveling, eating, drinking, making love.....
But what's 58,000 dead when you when you can see 6,000,0000 dead? Before I reached the Viet Nam War memorial, I walked through the Holocaust Museum. That gets the human-beings-are-really-savage-beasts juices flowing--and then, with visions of unspeakable horror floating in my brain, I passed through the FDR memorial that was all about war and how bad it is and how it really never should happen again. Then, there I was, in the midst of my generation's war and all its dead and then on the way back to the hotel the news stands were full of papers with headlines about this generation's war. The Mall at our nation's capitol is dignified and haunted and very sad; it's all a very fine and ongoing madness and very old news, and I'm sure, hardly worth mentioning.
What is worth mentioning, at least in passing, is his observation: while I was studying the barbaric madness in the Holocaust Museum, I was mingling with hundreds of middle schoolers on class field trips. When a group of us looked down into a pit filled with photographs of naked women's bodies that had been cut up and pickled by the Nazi doctors for "research purposes," I heard nary an adolescent snicker.
I had a great deal of trouble sleeping that night. The next day, I avoided dead old friends and monsters wearing swastikas and spent the day hanging tough in the National Gallery of Art, the intent being to balance the human genius for murder with the one it has for creating things profoundly beautiful. Watch this space.