Our Nation's Capital

Trip Start Jan 05, 2006
Trip End Jan 17, 2006

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I've been to DC several times, but I always look forward to another visit. It may be my favorite city in the States. It has more museums than you could see in a lifetime and they're all free. And it's a great walking city. Everything is relatively close by, but if you're in a hurry or feeling lazy, you can always hop on one of the nicer metros in the world (although it can't touch Madrid). And we were fortunate. Considering it's mid-January, the weather wasn't as miserable as one might expect.

We took the train up from Richmond. It was $50 round trip, and it meant we didn't have to worry about traffic on I-95, which makes I-35 look like I-45. I don't know what that means. And train travel is relaxing and fantastic. We found a 3 diamond hotel online for $85, so we got to spend a couple days up there. It turns out that Motel-6 is a four diamond hotel, but what are you gonna do? We paid for location and it was great. We were a few blocks from DuPont Circle and within walking distance of the Mall. Plus our hotel was the one Marion Barry got caught smoking crack in a few years ago. So it's historic. As an homage we sniffed a little glue. We're lightweights.

Our first stop was the Supreme Court. It's behind the Capitol, a few blocks from the mall, and I had never been there. When we arrived we were told there would be no tours of the courtroom that morning. We inquired as to why. We were told it was because court was in session and a case was being argued. We asked if we could watch. They said, "Sure!" So we went in and watched the Supreme Court in action. It wasn't Roe v. Wade, but the case was pretty interesting, and they're all important. And it was just really cool to see how human the judges were. They roll around in their chairs, lean back in disgust, interrupt the lawyers constantly, roll their eyes, pass notes, throw spit balls. They're like really powerful little kids. But I loved it. And since I took a Media Law class a few years ago, I wasn't completely lost. Thanks Gilbert.

We went to the Library of Congress next door. It's a gorgeous building. And they have a Gutenberg Bible, which was very cool.

The other part of D.C. that just blew me away was the Holocaust Museum (http://www.ushmm.org/). It's sobering and nauseating and heart breaking. The main exhibit is 3 floors of literature, photos, films, and historical items. While it's an abundance of information, it is never boring or pedantic. Everything seems important. And the room full of shoes of victims of the gas chambers, or the rail car that carried Jews to their doom, are powerful and convey a message without need of articulation. For me, the feeling I left with was more general than the atrocities of WWII and the holocaust. I was just overcome by mankind's ability to commit wholesale human slaughter. Whoever the victims or the perpetrators, whether it was 50 years ago or a thousand, I am baffled and ashamed by our ability to kill. And while a single murder is terribly sad, genocide is unfathomably horrible. And, unfortunately, as World War I was not in fact the war to end all wars, genocide did not stop with the holocaust or the signing of the Geneva Convention. Boznia and Cambodia and the Sudan will all need museums too. But each of us should visit museums such as the one in D.C. It can serve to remind us, in a very personal way, what vile and deplorable acts we are capable of. And that we should take every opportunity to curb such acts, and to rescue those who cannot rescue themselves. World War II was perhaps the last just war. But there are still noble fights to be fought. We just have to choose them more wisely.

I'll leave you with the words of Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winning author. As Jews arrived at concentration camps, they were placed into two lines: those who were immediately killed and those who would work a few weeks or months until death found them through exhaustion, starvation, or German whimsy. Wiesel writes of the crematorium (where his mother and sister both met their end), a place where Jews loaded the bodies of fellow Jews who had just left the gas chambers.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
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