Peace Trail on the National Mall highlights peace themes in Washington, DC. Whether you’re visiting Washington, DC or interested in taking a virtual tour through American history, the Peace Trail on the National Mall brings a “peace lens” to the experience of visiting our nation’s capital. This self-guided walking tour and reference guide highlights peace themes among 13 iconic sites, offering examples of key leaders, institutions and moments in history that demonstrate America’s enduring commitment to peace.
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The "Peace Trail" on the National Mall
Though not offered by the National Park Service itself, it is intended to "highlight peace themes” and to "bring a peace lens to the experience of visiting our nation's capital” by means of a ”self-guided walking tour and reference guide” which “highlights peace themes among thirteen iconic sites, offering examples of key leaders, institutions, and moments in history that demonstrate America's enduring commitment to peace."
Now as a patriotic combat veteran myself and as a keen lifelong student of American history I was taken aback at the perverse notion of America's supposed commitment to peace. Our history amply demonstrates that we are a rather bellicose nation. Think of our many wars from colonial times to the present. We went to war many times against Indians, against French, Spanish, and British colonies and Caribbean nations in the Banana Wars, not to mention the Civil War and our big declared foreign wars from the Mexican War to World Wars I and II.
Even in the nineteenth century, before the US became one of the great powers, we fought two wars against the Barbary Pirates, small expeditionary wars to Sumatra (1838), the Ivory Coast in Africa (1842), Fiji (twice 1855, 1859), the Second Opium War (1859), Qui Nhon (1861), Shimonoseki in Japan (1863-4), Formosa (1867), Korea (1871), Second Samoan Civil War (1899), the Philippines (1899-1902) plus the Moro Rebellion (1899-1913). All except those in the Philippine were small potatoes but still serve to demonstrate a continuing commitment to belligerence as in the reflex call to “Send in the Marines”. Note how three of those expeditionary wars prefigured future conflicts in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam in the twentieth century.
The 13 sites on the Peace Trail include memorials to three big wars: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Three others are memorials or monuments to wartime presidents: FDR - WW II, Abraham Lincoln - the Civil War, and Thomas Jefferson - the war against the Barbary Pirates. The biggest single monument of the 13 is dedicated to George Washington, commanding general of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, plus commander in chief during the Whiskey Rebellion and the the undeclared naval war with France in 1798.
The messages of the remaining half-dozen are arguably ambiguous starting with the Japanese cherry trees around the tidal basin which are latter-day replacements for the ones we chopped down in righteous fury during WW II. Then there is the statue of that true humanitarian and peace lover Albert Einstein, one of whose legacies is that he laid the theoretical foundation for the atom bomb and even promoted its development in a letter which persuaded FDR to mount the Manhattan Project.
Then there is the utterly ineffectual and justifiably obscure US Institute of Peace, a vacuous talking shop and vanity press for a logorrheic corps of professional peaceniks. Akin in spirit and practically next door is the US State Department, the diplomatic arm of our military industrial complex.
The four bronzed and gilded equestrian statues at the ends of the Arlington Memorial Bridge were sculpted in a style which would likely have pleased Mussolini, Hitler or Stalin. These are allegorical figures celebrating the Arts of War (Valor and Sacrifice) and the Arts of Peace (Music and Harvest plus Aspiration and Literature).
In the interest of equal time, the National Park Service should acknowledge our belligerent history and put out an app about a War Trail which include the first six sites of the so-called Peace Trail plus the Navy Memorial, the Navy Yard itself, the Holocaust Museum, the Pentagon, and the numerous statues of military heroes like Generals Grant, Sheridan, Scott, McPherson and Admiral Farragut, the very first man ever promoted to that rank in the US Navy. Finally, and not to be overlooked is Arlington Cemetery where visitors can contemplate the price of historic belligerence.
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