Washington DC

Nic Oatridge at Thomas Jefferson Memorial

An interesting thing about Washington, District of Columbia, is that it is not part of any of the United States of America. The people who live there are governed directly by Congress. The land on which DC lies was once part of Maryland, but they ceded it for the new US capital. Virginia and Maryland had ceded a square parcel of territory bridging the Potomac, but the section on the West of the Potomac, which had previouly been part of Virginia, was handed back to the state and only the Maryland portion was retained.

My most memorable visit to DC was when I was once jetted in for the evening for a meal, and met royalty and senators (including the late Ted Kennedy), before being jetted back to my home for bedtime. I also remember another time being caught up after dusk trying to find my way to the railway station and walking through scenes of appalling squalor within a short walk of the White House.

Lincoln Memorial My visit this time was largely to catch up with old friends from Basel, Wahil and Usma, and their son Zico. However I managed to walk around some of the monuments too. I visited the Vietnam War memorial and found it sobering how low key it is, compared with the triumphalism of the World War Two memorial or the celebratory tone of the Gettysburg battlefield. I wonder how the Afghan and Iraq wars will be commemorated, or memorialised, as is the term used this side of the pond.

Out of a mountain of despair Many of the memorials have extensive quotes from the individuals whose lives are celebrated. FDR's and Jefferson's are moving for their eloquence and humanity. Martin Luther King's are a reminder that, although the Civil War was nominally fought to free slaves, a century later black Americans lived lives far removed from the lofty words of Jefferson and FDR.

No country can waste its human resources As I travel South down from DC, I am hoping to learn a little more about both the Civil War and the war for Civil Rights.

Next stop: Virginia.