Opinion: Carolina Beat

No. 683: Reflections on America’s Battle-Scarred, Yet Enduring Capitol

Washington is gearing up for the 4th of July weekend. Already a steady stream of students, parents, and tourists from all over the world are arriving to visit this wonderful, complex city during the sweltering dog days of summer.

Former visitors who return will note that many of the historic views in the nation’s Capitol City have changed during the last couple of years.

There are more barriers than one can imagine, and there is a three-story hole in front of the Capitol being dug to house the new Capitol Visitor Center, which will also provide additional security for our nation’s most recognized symbol of liberty and freedom.

But as I walk my dog or sit trapped in the snail-pace of cross-town traffic that accompanies summer visitors and tour buses, one thing never changes for me…
And that is this.

Whether in war time or peace time, Washington is a city that implores to teach us on every corner, monument, building façade, and historic plaque mounted on a house or in its cemeteries. From Jenkins Hill, the farmland bought upon which to set the jewel of the Capitol City, The US Capitol, to the swamp where the Pentagon was first built at break-neck construction speed — this city tells an incredible story. Its face is changing now, and that, too, tells a story.

It is a story of our unconquerable American spirit, our determination to survive and to protect freedom, for ourselves and for those who cannot protect themselves. As I write this column, our country will probably be put on “high” security alert for the upcoming holiday. One needs only to look around to see increased barriers everywhere. But we will endure this reality of threats and survive this chapter of our history as well.

From the Pentagon to the Capitol, Washington is a city of symbols. Our Capitol tells its story — destroyed by an enemy only to be rebuilt — and its symbolic dome completed through the dogged perseverance of Abraham Lincoln as a symbol that the Union would survive. The Pentagon, built to help to win a war, attacked and rebuilt, stands armed for battle again. Washington is a city that wears the scars and tells it tales of struggle, battles, boldness and, at times, amazing determination.

Our story as a nation is here, although we often forget to look for it. Too often it’s others from around the globe who come here who stop, look, ponder, and wonder at what has been built in America. And that indeed, from the “band of rabble” that British Revolutionary War Gen. Charles Cornwallis found so confounding, much has been made.

I watch the people from all over the world, standing and reading the speeches and carvings on the buildings that tell our story, echo our philosophy, explain the dreams of our forefathers and leaders…Men and women walk quietly from the war memorial walls often with tear-stained cheeks.

I hear fathers and mothers telling their children about Washington, Jefferson, Madison and I read the words inscribed on memorial tributes to them reflecting their incredible vision…And I am struck by how they unknowingly foretold in their own words how we would feel about the country they longed to build and how their wisdom has protected and sustained us. How we wish we could thank them…

The words that Lincoln so aptly voiced about the Gettysburg Cemetery can be said of all our nation’s fallen champions and our departed visionaries as well…

… “We cannot consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

I think of these words when I drive past the Pentagon and when I look across the river at Arlington National Cemetery. I think about these words when I envision our soldiers “standing watch” around the world in harm’s way. And I thank those who have gone before us to secure that we live in a country where we are free. We thank them. We thank them all.