31 May, 2006
My plans sorta fell through (bsivad and I, who were going to shoot it, had the wrong day for Rolling Thunder, which was actually on Sunday) so I found myself with nothin' but time on Memorial Day. It being the beginning of summer and me being a humidity wimp, I decided against walking around the mall and visiting all the memorials. Indoors, then, to the Smithsonian. I found myself at the American history museum at the war exhibit which is unfortunately titled "The Price of Freedom" (is that supposed to be profound? Everyone knows freedom costs a buck o' five.)
I was a bit taken aback to realize that I'd actually, like, memorialized America's war dead. On Memorial Day. And not just 20th century wars either! Oh no my friends. I read me some Civil War exhibit, front to back. Being raised in the North I learned the basics, but now that I live pretty much in its battlefields, it has a different meaning. I read the other exhibits too of course, but none grabbed me like the Civil War did (it's just so much more dramatic than a centuries-long screwing over of the native Americans, and so much less familiar and less propaganda-y than WWII and Vietnam). I was prepared to dive into the WWI section too, but it was an afterthought of an exhibit: the museum took a pure American approach to it, skimming it quickly since we were there for so short a time. Too bad. WWI and the Civil War fascinate me in part because of how they were fought at the border of the old and new methods; the Civil War exhibit spoke to that a bit, but seriously, WWI was a corner you could walk by and not even notice on your way to Hitler and Hirohito in the next room.
It was a pretty patriotic weekend for me, truth be told. A few days earlier I was at the same museum with friends — we came for the Muppets, but stayed for the history, and visited the Brown v. Board of Education exhibit:
Now this was a fight I had a dog in. My parents were involved in the mid-sixties and I've grown up hearing their stories and asking them for their angles on various happenings. I do this all the more now that I realize how quickly we write our history as a nation, and how removed the official story can get from the experience of the bam-on-the-street. They were a bit too young for this PARTICULAR battle, but hey; my people weren't even on this side of the pond for the Civil War, and nobody in my family has served in the military since it went volunteer. Hearing about civil rights battles makes me feel as much or more patriotic as hearing about WWII or Union victories. I'm generally much more about fixing injustice than crushing my enemies and hearing the lamentations of their women. Perhaps that's why the Civil War appealed to me as it did. It's sort of the perfect storm of meaty American issues.