A friend of mine just returned from a trip to Washington DC. He and his wife had last been there in 1978. There was much new to see. They enjoyed the trip.
He mentioned that their tour group visited the World War II Memorial (completed 2004).
A younger member of the tour group, a college student, apparently told the group that President George Bush was responsible for building this monument. It’s one of those things common in conversation: a factoid comes from somewhere, is passed along, and soon casually becomes fact. We don’t have the time or the interest to fact-check everything, much less provide reasonable context.
We chatted a little about the topic, and later in the afternoon I decided to satisfy my own curiosity about the issue. The easily found answer is here. Succinctly, the authorization for the Monument was passed by a Democrat Congress and signed by a Democrat President in early 1993. It takes years to plan such a major project and it happened to begin construction early in the administration of a Republican President.
Forty-eight years, including 28 with five Republican Presidents (Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush) passed by without authorizing such a Memorial.
Such facts likely wouldn’t much matter to the student on the tour. The WW II Memorial is George Bush’s accomplishment. And to some degree it is, albeit initiated and made possible by other parties and other presidents and endless numbers of other people.
Such is how political discourse goes in this country: fragments pass for truth.
It happened that my friend was in DC during the week of bin Laden’s death in Pakistan. We haven’t talked about that, and since they were on vacation, and he normally is not much into politics, there probably wasn’t a whole lot of attention paid to the barrage of information and misinformation that flowed during the week. Each constituency, of course, who appears on television or in other media, has a particular and carefully prepared ‘spin’ on what the event meant or means. I haven’t changed my interpretation since I wrote my commentary the day after bin Laden was killed.
The assorted bunches are all busy making virtual ‘billboards’ of their own particular bias: it was torture that got bin Laden; President Obama is a war President; on and on and on. Each takes some fragment of truth as they see it, and busily construct it into their form of whole cloth. If you follow only the iterations of one theory you can easily be convinced, as the college kid at the World War II Memorial quite obviously was, that there is only a single reasonable way of looking at the issue: George Bush built the monument to World War II.
I see no accumulation of evidence that President Obama in any way reveres war, or sees war as the answer to human problems.
We are, unfortunately, a society that does almost revere war – try to find any peace monument in Washington, DC. I’ve been there many times. On the other hand, you can hardly walk a block there without running into some monument to War. They are as ubiquitous as churches in Rome.
We have a national attitude problem about the virtues of war. Paradoxically, as we become ever more sophisticated and dangerous in the business of weaponry, we are ever more vulnerable, and losing capacity for long term success. When one fights war from cave-to-cave, or villa-to-villa, as we did finding bin Laden, all of weaponry’s magic is lost. There are too many villas and caves to cover.
Inevitably, there will come a time when our warriors will be back on horseback, or on foot, defending our village from those in neighboring villages. It is not a joy to contemplate this future for my descendants.
Consider becoming a Founding Member of the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation – I have been since 2006 – and helped build towards something positive.
Bring an image of peace to the United States Capitol, as well as to your own community.