I was in Washington DC the other day with my family, and, since I'd come separately from them, we picked a place to meet - the World War II monument. Even though I've lived in this area for a while, I hadn't done a monument tour in quite some time - not since I was 14 or so when I was down here as a happy high school freshman on a 5-day youth leadership something-or-other. So, to my recollection I'd never seen it before.
It really is a stunning, incredible monument, and I couldn't help but be struck by it. The giant fountain is surrounded by separate monuments for each state that lost men and women in the war. The grandness of it all gives you a real sense of the grandness of the war - not grand in a positive sense, but in the sense that it was all-encompassing; it affected every facet of daily life, and not just because a huge amount of America's young men were in combat. I thought of all those men and women that didn't come home from the war, the hell they'd been through, the sacrifices they'd made so that some of the most horrible ideas in history wouldn't be propagated any further.
My two year old daughter, however, wasn't quite as impressed. She was more concerned with a pair of ducks that were sitting in the fountain, occasionally diving into the water to poke their bills at the bottom of the clear water. She didn't look at all the stone and marvel at the sacrifice of over four hundred thousand Americans. She pointed at the ducks and laughed, saying "Upside down! Upside down!"
The contrast of me sitting there looking out at the monuments and her sitting there looking at a pair of ducks struck me. It brought to mind a phrase that's been ubiquitous for the last decade:
The meaning behind what really is just two simple words wasn't immediately clear to me. Does it mean that we're supposed to remember America's ideals and what it took to keep them? To remember those who sacrificed? To remember our history?
Or does it mean to keep a grudge? To hold on to hatred and fear, because they are the only two things that can really protect us?
I'm not dove-hugging or naive. I spent the last ten years of my life fighting terrorism and doing my part to protect our way of life; trust me, I get it - studying history or be doomed to repeat it, and all that. But maybe there's a difference between remembering and honoring those who have gone before you and using them as a shield to protect us from growth.
I don't know the answers to these questions - really, this isn't just a subtle way for me to tell people that they're wrong - but I'm glad a little girl helped me think about them for a bit.
As I sat there with the incessant laughter of my daughter in my ears no matter what I was looking at, I couldn't help but wonder if she had the right idea. Is it better to look solemnly at our past and recall all the pain that has been caused? Or is it better to spend more time looking at a pair of ducks, laughing and yelling "Upside down! Upside down!"