Iwo Jima Monument
Once I came out of the tunnel, I drove for a few hundred metres along Interstate 395, and then turned off. This was for the Iwo Jima monument. There was plenty of car parking right beside it, a fact which took me completely by surprise. Remember - I'm from Europe. I'm not used to this.
Talking about foreign vehicles well, one of us was there were several tourist buses parked up here. And most of them were Van Hools, Setras and the like. American buses were very much few and far between.
I think everyone knows the story of the Iwo Jima memorial, so I don't reckon I need to repeat it again. What many people don't know is that many of the guys depicted in the memorial never actually made it back to the USA.
You can see in the photograph that it's pretty big. A lot bigger than I expected it to be.
Now, I always learn a lot on my travels, and already, one of my favourite misconceptions was being laid to rest. Most Europeans could not understand how come an aeroplane managed to crash into the Pentagon (or is it the Penta-gone?) without being noticed. Surely someone must have seen it, or photographed it, with all these thousands of tourists about. Well, they probably did. And didn't think anything of it. This is why.
If you look at the image to the left, you'll see a good view of the Washington Monument. Click on the photo to enlarge it, and you'll see an airliner flying over it, at quite a low altitude. Yes. Behind me is Arlington Cemetery - behind that is the Penta-gone, and behind that is Reagan National Airport. And planes fly over here every two minutes. It's hardly surprising that no-one noticed an extra one flying a bit lower than normal.
But what is this nonsense about a "no-fly zone" over Washington D.C.? Either there isn't one, the aeroplane above is totally defying it, or there are some very clever birds doing some pretty good aeroplane impressions.
Here's a better photograph of Washington D.C. You can see what a good view you get from up here. If you click on it to enlarge it, you'll see the Potomac River and Arlington Memorial Bridge in the mid-ground, with a rear view of the Lincoln Memorial almost dead-centre (that was supposed to be a joke!), and then the Washington Monument and the dome of the Capitol. Where the Sh ... er ... White House is is more-or-less level with the Washington Memorial but behind the Highway 50 sign.
You have to realise that I'm actually in the state of Virginia taking this photograph. Not surprising that the Unionists had the frissons at the start of the Civil War. Defeat at 1st Manassas must have scared them to death. No wonder there was a panic-stricken flight from the field.
As I said, behind the Iwo Jima monument is Arlington Cemetery. This is the home of all the American heroes - yes they all get their 6 feet by two feet by four feet deep as a reward for all of their efforts. There's about 200 acres of bodies buried here, as well as a couple of Kennedy brothers. Famous people buried here include
to name but a few.
Surprisingly enough, the land formerly belonged to General Robert. E. Lee. Not many people know that.
Another thing not many people know is that the grave of the unknown warrior from the Vietnam War is empty. Apparently his relatives identified his remains, and took them away. Apparently there is something about DNA retention for members of the armed farces, so unknown soldiers will be a thing of the past
Now, what happened next? Frog went home. Ohhh - no! I remember. Next stop was the Penta-gone, that "immense monument to modern man's subservience to the desk" as Sir Oliver Frank described it in his "Saying of the Week " on 30th November 1952.
And wasn't that a disappointment? You just can't get near it in a car for concrete barriers, barbed wire, armed guards who move menacingly towards you every time you slow down, and so on. It was absolutely impossible to get close enough with sufficient time to take a photograph. I should really have come in on the metro as planned, or left the car at Iwo Jima and done the 15 minute journey on foot.
But a thought did occur to me. Now none of the precautions outlined above are any use at all in preventing low-flying aircraft. Yet they are fairly effective at stopping any road-going transport. I was proof of that. Now I remember the events of 11th September very clearly, and I remember all the news bulletins announcing that it was a truck bomb that had gone off at the Pentagon, not another aeroplane attack. Some French guy even put together a series of photographs challenging people to find the Boeing. Certainly makes you think, doesn't it?
"Conspiracy theory!" I hear you yell. And maybe you're right (and maybe, just as rightly, you might not). 60 years ago, conspiracy theories were the domain of maybe one or two people who had seen a spaceman in a crashed rocket in Roswell. Today, there are thousands, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of conspiracy theories, and almost everyone believes in at least one of them.
But criticising the theories and the people who believe in them totally misses the point. And that is that the average person has lost just so much confidence in the government of the day and there is so little trust that remains, that they don't believe a single word that the government tells them any more.
Churchill of course is often reported as having said "truth is the first casualty in war". Anthony Cave Brown, in his book Bodyguard of Lies reports Churchill as having said "in wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies ". Everyone today knows these quotes, and knows what to expect of their Governments, especially as the governments, having run out of conventional enemies to attack, have now gone out of their way to fabricate enemies just for the privilege of attacking them - just to keep the arms manufacturers and the armed forces happy.
Most of the people know, too, the words of Hermann Goering "the common people don't want war ... but after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship."
"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."
And when the people see their leaders adapting Nazi speeches in order to justify their own morally-bankrupt policies, then it's no wonder that the people no longer believe a single word their leaders say. The sooner the leaders start to work on a policy of honesty and openness to win back the trust and the confidence of their people, then there'll be no longer any need for the people to have to believe in conspiracy theories.
Talking, incidentally, of western leaders using Nazi speeches, see if you can spot the similarity between
"An evil exists that threatens every man, woman and child of this great nation. We must take steps to ensure our domestic security and protect our homeland."
by Adolf Hitler, forming the Gestapo, 1922,and
"There is a serious security threat to this country. It is important, therefore, that we take the necessary measures, while respecting people's liberties, to protect the nation's security".
Tony Blair, in the House of Commons, February 2005.
One of the things that you have to bear in mind in the current crisis is that while the USA might have had an excuse to go to war in Afghanistan (no matter how ridiculous and unlikely you thought it might have been, there was an excuse), the British had absolutely no excuse whatsoever. It was a blatant act of naked aggression, the type of aggression to which even Hitler didn't descend.
I once made a throwaway remark about "the B liar and the Blazis". I'm not at all surprised at just how much currency this term has gained.
With the Pentagon effectively out-of-bounds, I crossed over the Potomac on the Mason Memorial Bridge and up 14th Street to the Constitution Avenue junction.
I was quite impressed by this part of Washington D.C. and I have to admit I was pleased to be here. I'd heard a variety of stories about the other parts of Washington D.C. that were not so impressive.
A quick turn into Constitution Avenue North East and I almost immediately found a parking space. I'm from Europe. I'm not used ...
"you've said that before, Eric"
"Oh yes. So I have"
...and I went off to find out how to pay the parking meter. Good job I always keep all my small change from previous journeys. I had drawn quite a crowd of Americans who looked on in amazement as I reversed the car into a tight parking space between two other cars. A friendly voice bellowed over to me
"What's that?" I queried
"It's free after 6:30. You needn't pay anything to park!"
"You're most welcome".
Blimey, is it that time already? Better get my skates on!
Wandering around the top end of the Mall and dodging the traffic, I came across an equestrian statue. There was also one of a man on his horse. There was a plaque on the side to tell me who he might be, but for some reason that I have yet to fathom out, I forgot to write down the name. And what with my legendary memory, you can imagine what has happened. I did the necessary and told myself I'd look it up on the internet when I get home.
After an exhaustive search, however, I was still none the wiser (and I wasn't even better informed), but then Liz Ayers put me right. She reckons it's a statue of General Tecumseh Sherman, who famously went marching through Georgia and burning Atlanta to ashes, before devastating the rest of the south.
After the war, it is claimed that he suffered pangs of guilt and tried unsuccesfully to persuade subsequent presidents to moderate the excessive demands of the Reconstructionists. The Republican Party tried on many occasions to encourage him to stand as their candidate for the Presidency, but each time he refused. Being approached again for the 1884 nomination, he famously replied "If nominated I will not run. If elected I will not serve".
What you see in the background is of course the Washington Monument.
This is a good opportunity for me to tell you than if you want to comment on anything I've written, correct an error, or add some local colour, please feel free to . I welcome interaction from my audience, and you may even get to see your name in lights.
This building here on the left is much more well-known. It's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue North West, better known as the White House.
It was commissioned by George Washington in 1792 and designed by the Irishman James Hoban. Although construction commenced in 1792, it wasn't finished until 1800, after Washington's death. Yes, you can tell it's a government building. Barratts would have had it up in a week. The British burnt it down in 1814 (during the War of 1812!) and it caught fire again in the early 1930s. In the late 1940s when the place was being renovated, Truman had to go to live in "Blair House" - now there's a coincidence.
It also caught fire a couple of weeks ago and the bushbaby lost several of his most valuable books. He hadn't even finished colouring them either.
Apparently groups of 10 or more can apply to visit it. I wonder why Mohammed Atta and his friends never took up the offer?
Some little girl was asking her parents if that was where the President lived. Quick as a flash I chimed in "of course not, pet. Ever since 1863 the President has lived at the Gettysburg address!". No wonder everyone thinks I'm crazy.
Back on your left, you will see the Washington Monument, built to remember George Washington, the pot-smoking, freemasonic, slave-owning "Father of the nation" filthy beast, or the "town destroyer" as the Iroquois called him. The construction of a monument in his memory was proposed as early as 1783 while he was still alive, but the lack of funds put the project on hold for a while. Why didn't they tax the tea to raise some money?"
Anyway, in 1833 the American citizens had a whip-round and by 1848, what with Americans being Americans, they had collected enough wonga to make a start. And, what with Americans being Americans, by 1861 they had constructed 150 feet of it. Work was then suspended for the duration of the Civil War, and recommenced in 1878 (what with Americans being Americans).
What with Americans being Americans, they started to use stone from another quarry, so there is a change of colour in the construction. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see.
There is a lift inside the monument, and you can ride it to the top, all 555.5 feet of it, where you "can get a good view of the Virginia suburbs". I'm not sure that I would use that as a selling point to entice visitors into my lift.
Behind the monument are some flowering cherry trees that were given to the city by the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. Pearl Harbour was of course a long way away, and I'm surprised that what with LeMay's Tokyo fire bombings, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese never asked for them back.
From here, I walked across the Mall and down by the lakes, and over to my next port of call, the Lincoln Memorial. That was quite a nice-enough walk on its own.
The Lincoln Memorial was built in 1922 (had they finished building the Washington Memorial by then?), and is home to a giant seated statue of Abraham Lincoln, which you can see on the right. If you count the pillars that hold up the front of the memorial, you'll see that there are 36 of them. They represent one for each of the states that was in the Union at the time of his death (I wonder if they are including the secessionist states in this?).
Inside, the noise was deafening. There weren't so many people in there, as you can see, but somehow the noise that they made reverberated around inside so it was like a continuous rumble. The Gettysburg address is carved up on the wall to the left of shot in the photograph here.
It's been a favourite spot for politicians and the like to speak out to the crowd. Martin Luther King "had a dream" up here in the early 60s. And you can see why. The view from up here is quite stunning and you can really captivate a crowd. All the steps up to here (see photo above left) where all the people are sitting make an ideal place for spectators to stand.
The view is magnificent. Here on the left is a good photograph down the Mall looking at the Washington Memorial, with the Capitol behind it. I imagine that the view from the rear, across the Potomac would have been equally impressive, but there is no way to access it. I was hoping to get a shot of the Penta-gone from up here, but it was out of the question
What I did though was to walk down to the banks of the Potomac behind me (and that was farther than it looked, too) where I could just about make out the top of it across the river (and the river is wider than it looks, too). Anyway I squeezed off a quick shot. It was the best I could do, and it'll have to wait for another time - that is, provided no-one else has another go at it.
Walking back towards the Mall from here, I passed by the "Tidal Basin", where you can see on the right the Jefferson Memorial. It was designed by Pope in the 1930s, and based on the Pantheon, to represent Jefferson's love of Ionic architecture. It's actually open to the elements, and within is a bronze statue of Jefferson holding the Declaration of Independence. The walls are decorated with more of his writings.
But as you can see, the light is going fast. The street lights are on, and so are the vehicle lights. And I still had a long way to go.
I walked back across the Mall, past a kick-about football match (even with referee), and down past the old "Smithsonian" to the Capitol. But it was hopeless. None of the photographs I took were any good. The light had completely vanished (oh for a 35mm camera and some ASA 1600 film sigh). I reluctantly headed for the car. And I came to another conclusion. The Mall here in Washington DC was a total waste of time. There wasn't one single shop.
So, two hundred yards down the road, a right turn, past two sets of traffic lights, and I disappeared down the 9th Street tunnel. Coming out the other end, I was on Interstate 395, the Washington D.C. ring road. This took me back over the Potomac and through the Southern Virgina suburbs. I knew where I was heading.
First stop though was an Interstate restaurant, to get something to eat. But there was nothing. Not a restaurant in sight. I was glad I still had my Carrefour honey and nut loaf and that customs hadn't seized it. I was grateful for that. A service station supplied a giant-sized root beer (I can remember that from Canada and it was sooooo nice), then I rigged the ship for silent running and disappeared into the night.