I spent Monday afternoon walking around the National Mall in Washington, DC. It depresses me to suspect that there are way too many lifelong US citizens to whom you could utter the words “National Mall” and they’d ask if it had an Abercrombie & Fitch. For such a supposedly patriotic bunch, a lot of us don’t really know a lot about our native land.
Monday in DC was a day borrowed from summer: mid-80s, sunny and incredibly windy. As I kept walking, my feet led me beyond the Washington Monument to the tidal pool, where hundreds of cherry trees were in full splendor.
You couldn’t walk five feet without stopping to avoid knocking over a tourist who had stopped to take a photo. The wind was blowing so hard that it was raining tiny petals, which floated on the water like a magic pale pink carpet.
From under this floral canopy I called a friend to finalize dinner plans, and she suggested I visit the FDR Memorial on the other side of the tidal pool. I admitted to having no idea that there was an FDR Memorial, so over I went.
As fuzzy as my historical memory might be, I do know that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our 32nd president (OK, I had to look that up), presided over our nation at some of its darkest hours: the Great Depression and World War II. A time, in fact, not unlike now.
As I walked around the monument, I read some of the 21 FDR quotes carved in its stone walls.
“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order.” I started snapping pictures.
“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”
I walked a little ways farther. “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
I looked around at the kids playing by the waterfalls, parents taking pictures of their children sandwiched between statues of men in a bread line, foreign tourists chatting happily in the sun and the wind.
When our history fades, it isn’t just facts that we lose track of. It is just 66 years since Roosevelt died, and we have already forgotten that terrible time. It seems that we have been doomed to repeat it; unfortunately, this time around, there is no FDR.