Power & Sacrifice in Washington, D.C.

A rose sits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background.
A rose sits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background.

It doesn’t need to be said that Washington, D.C. is densely packed with iconic buildings and striking monuments.  Just bringing up the city’s name conjures images of the White House, the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, whether or not you’ve been there.

A rose sits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background.
A rose sits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background.

There are reminders of power everywhere in Washington, D.C.  But what I didn’t realize before I visited was how many displays of sacrifice there are, too.  For every massive marble structure containing the country’s political authority, there is a monument dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives to make that power possible.  And I saw almost all of them while I was there during my holiday trip.

The Supreme Court Building, the White House and the Capitol Building.
The Supreme Court Building, the White House and the Capitol Building.

Walking the streets of D.C., I unknowingly created a system of sightseeing checks and balances by visiting a political place partnered with a memorial.  Power, balanced by sacrifice.  It was strikingly obvious on my first day when I spent an emotional day at Arlington National Cemetery combined with a tour of the Pentagon.  Sacrifice of the soldiers for the power of the Pentagon.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial names all those who died or went missing during the war.

The next day it happened again when I toured the Capitol Building contrasted with the World War II Memorial.  And the rhythm continued—power and sacrifice, power and sacrifice—until my last day, when I got a private tour of the White House and ended my sightseeing with a visit to the Vietnam and Korean War Veterans Memorials.

The Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C.
The Washington Monument is the world’s tallest stone structure.

Even the extensive security checks at the political places were balanced by the non-existence thereof at the memorials.  Tours of the Pentagon, Capitol and White House required a written request to my senator weeks in advance in order to conduct a background check; I had to go through metal detectors before entering and photography was forbidden.  Meanwhile most of the memorials were free to stroll upon 24 hours a day, at sunshine, sunset or midnight.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial.

As I wandered mesmerized from place to place—here is where our laws are made; here is where the President lives; here is where the nation’s highest soldiers are buried—with the mantra of power and sacrifice echoing in my head, I realized that something must connect these two groups beyond their contrasts.  And finally it hit me.

The Lincoln Memorial lit up at night in Washington, D.C.
The Lincoln Memorial glowing in the sunset.

I’d been looking at everything all wrong throughout my whole trip, categorizing places by politics and soldiers, power and sacrifice, when in reality all of the places were honoring the same thing: dedication.  It isn’t a contrast, where the power is all politics or the sacrifice is all the soldiers; every single place radiated both characteristics.  Politicians sacrifice; soldiers have power.  It’s their dedication that puts them in the same place.

The National World War II Memorial lit up at twilight.
The National World War II Memorial lit up at twilight.

It was so easy to see Washington, D.C. as a city full of contrasts: power and sacrifice, politics and soldiers, Republicans and Democrats.  But when you look at the spectrum as a whole, it’s really just a city full of dedication to our country.  And maybe that’s where the city’s true energy resonates from.

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