Contrasting Memorials

Today’s class was held at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial since we are using the Vietnam War as our first case study in the roles Congress has played in shaping foreign policy. I always love ways of making discussions especially relevant, so I was excited about it, even if it meant sitting outside in that glorious DC heat for two hours.

The background behind the memorial is fascinating, in my opinion. You can get more information on (where else) its Wikipedia page, but here are my favorite details:

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

  • The memorial was designed by Maya Lin, who won a design competition for the memorial at age 21
  • The design was highly controversial, both for its unorthodox, minimalist design and for Lin’s Chinese heritage
  • The American flag and more traditional statue of soldiers nearby were added as a compromise for those who thought the design was inappropriate

It just seems incredible to me that this memorial was so contentious when it was first conceived, but it is now recognized as perhaps the most moving memorial in the entire country. On the memorial itself, the names are listed in chronological order from their death; Lin wanted to show which individuals died together.

My goal when I visit places like this is to never become a cultural voyeur – that is, to never simply visit, take pictures and leave without somehow internalizing the meaning of the place. I think it would be very hard to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and not take something away, however. Between the sheer number of names on the wall and the various individuals who are clearly there not as tourists but to pay their respects, its not hard to get an appreciation for how meaningful this monument is to so many people.

Looking out from the Lincoln Memorial

After visiting the memorial, we went to the nearby Lincoln Memorial. Holy smokes is it ever big! Confession: I’m a bit of a simpleton when it comes to buildings. I’ve always been fascinated by feats of architecture because it just blows my mind how such massive structures can be constructed. It certainly seems like a fitting structure for a president so revered. It really is a beautiful spot, between the massive white columns and the reflecting pool stretching toward the Washington Monument. My new goal is to see a sunrise from the monument – stay tuned for updates.

We also went to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. I didn’t know anything about this one, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It certainly takes a different approach than the Vietnam memorial. The Korean one is centered around several large figures of soldiers in full military regalia, looking as though they’re trudging through a dense forest. Perhaps the differences in style make sense, however. The Vietnam War was so well-known and so controversial, a memorial that takes the focus and places it wholly and simply on the soldiers themselves makes sense – no need to delve into the complex political issues surrounding it.

The Korean War, at least in my experience as a young person, is somewhat misunderstood–or, quite frankly, little known. To be honest, I don’t know much about it nor have I ever learned much about it. So it seems to make sense to me that this memorial tries to really give a face to the soldiers. It also lists the numbers of dead, wounded, captured and missing, as well as the countries who were involved in war efforts in one way or another. Essentially, this memorial seemed to make a more concerted effort to make people aware of the war itself as well as the veterans. I am not sure if this was intentional, or if I am misreading the intent of the memorial, but that’s my take.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

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A Love for Old Things

I have the luxury of being up at midnight the morning of what should be a work day because Friday is not, in fact, a work day for me. Unless you consider meeting up with coworkers at noon for bowling and frivolity hard work, in which case tomorrow’s going to be a real slog.

Wednesday was my first day on the job, although it wasn’t indicative of what a typical day will be. The Chamber was having an all staff meeting in large part because they are transitioning to a new chair. I arrived at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters around nine a.m. after successfully navigating the Metro during the morning rush hour (though I did display my alarmingly poor directional skills once more by essentially walking a circle upon exiting the station). I got my official badge and then met up with the director of the branch of the Chamber I will be working with, called TradeRoots.

She took me to the staff meeting, which was a neat chance to see most of the Chamber staff assembled in one place. I also got to hear the outgoing and incoming chairs speak, which helped me get an idea of the Chamber’s advocacies and positions. Afterward there was a reception complete with cookies and various other snacks – apparently the old college standby of using food to lure people to events works in the corporate world too.

After going to lunch with a couple of the office staff members, I was driven to the offices for TradeRoots – apparently the Chamber is undergoing some renovations, which have moved my office out to a townhouse near the Capitol. It’s a little odd to be working in a literal house (replete with front and backyards, kitchen, etc.) but it’s nice that it’s so small, since it will be easy to know everyone there.  It’s also within walking distance of the Aspin apartments.

I also found out I am actually getting paid for this internship – the hearty sum of six dollars a day. Apparently that is intended to cover my Metro costs since if TradeRoots was in its original offices, I would be using the Metro every day to get to the Chamber headquarters. But, since most days I will only need to walk to work, looks like I’ll make a small profit – just enough for beer money (mom and dad, look away).

Today (Thursday) was our first day of real class. The course we are taking is Congress and Foreign Policy. It’s interesting subject matter, since often our discussions will address specific members of Congress, under some of whom other Aspin interns are working. It’s a neat way to make the coursework especially relevant.

After class a group of us decided to hit some museums on the National Mall. We first went to the Air and Space Museum, which was relatively close, but the Washington DC heat is just brutal. I know I’ve said it before and I will absolutely say it again – it is freaking hot here. The first burst of air conditioning inside the museum felt like the breath of life.

The museum itself was good, although the “Air” aspect wasn’t quite my cup of tea – I don’t normally care for flight museums because I’m not very interested in machinery or technical explanations. I much prefer looking at or reading about old things (really, I’m pretty easy to please). However I really enjoyed the Space aspect; they had a really awesome exhibit on the Apollo missions (old things!) and a beautiful gallery of photos from space.

Next we went to the National Archives – I didn’t realize this was where documents like the Declaration of Independence were held; I had just thought they were in the Museum of American History. When we first arrived we were a little dismayed to see a line stretching outside the entrance just to get in, but it moved quickly enough.  We poked around the other exhibits a bit (and were a bit startled to just happen upon the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation – it seemed like it should have gotten a little more fanfare, but maybe I just like old parchments too much) but we were pretty singularly focused on seeing the big three – the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (old things!)

Those documents were housed in a special chamber with a long queue of people waiting to get in – they controlled the entry so people wouldn’t get quite so bunched up. The line didn’t take too long, and I really enjoyed looking at the documents – there’s just something I love about original documents from different time periods. They’re just such a window into the past, and seeing the original documents themselves makes you think about the individuals who wrote it more as real people than as vague historical figures – looking at the signatures on the Declaration, you realize these were real people making an impossibly bold stand.

The woman who is my intern coordinator isn’t going to be in tomorrow morning, and the entire international division of the Chamber is off for a “staff retreat” tomorrow (the aforementioned bowling) so I am just going to meet up with the staff members at bowling tomorrow. It’s an odd way to start my internship, since I still don’t really have a feel for what I will be doing, but I’m just happy to be here, really.

And here are some miscellaneous pictures:

The Capitol, from the Mall.

This is also the Capitol

This too is the Capitol; however, this picture is clearly completely different as it is at night.

The Archives

The Supreme Court.