Archive for the ‘Peace Monuments’ Category

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Swords to Plowshares Memorial Bell Tower

As I was riding past The Lincoln Memorial on this lunchtime bike ride, I noticed a tall three-sided tower in a grassy area on the other side of where some tour busses were stopped on the street that encircles the Memorial (MAP). The tower appeared to be made up of shiny sheet metal bricks, and next to it were an Army-surplus tent and several signs with information. So naturally I rode over to get a better look and find out more about it.

It turned out to be a memorial known as the Swords to Plowshares Memorial Bell Tower, and is sponsored by a group named Veterans For Peace.  The organization was founded as a non-profit organization in the state of Maine in 1985, and was initially made up of U.S. military veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War and other conflicts, as well as peacetime veterans and even non-veterans.  It has more recently expanded, with active chapters and members in communities throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and Vietnam, as well as a very active offshoot in the United Kingdom.

The Swords to Plowshares tower is a touring memorial dedicated to all of the victims and veterans of war on all sides of all conflicts.  The 24-foot-tall tower was modeled after the 115-foot-tall World War I-era bell tower on the campus of North Carolina State University.  One of the cleverest aspects to the design of the touring tower is that it’s covered with over a thousand inscribed memorial “plaques,” which upon close inspection I discovered were made from recycled cans that had been cut and turned inside-out. The plaques are loosely attached to the structure, which causes them to move whenever there is the slightest breeze, resulting in a shimmering effect which, in part, is what initially caught my attention.

I was told that wherever the tower appears, visitors add personal inscriptions to the plaques. They then ring the large old bell, which originally came from the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, but is now located in the center of the structure.  And share their stories about the many ways people suffer on all sides of a war.

The arrival of the installation in D.C. coincides with the Memorial Day weekend, as well as with the Veterans For Peace “Lobby Days,” during which the organization lobbies members of Congress on a variety of issues of concern to the organization. These issues include the Obama administration’s priorities in the national budget, the continuing effects of Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War, and the increase in hate speech in society, particularly during the current presidential election season. The tower’s presence also is timed to coincide with the arrival of the annual “Sam’s Ride For Peace,” led by 91-year-old World War II combat veteran Sam Winstead. The Marine Corps veteran and avid bicyclist rode the inaugural 350-mile Ride for Peace, from Raleigh, N.C. to D.C., in the spring of 2012, so that he could “ask our leaders to stop wars.”

The Swords to Plowshares Memorial Bell Tower will only be on display here in D.C. through May 31st, so you’ll want to make it part of your agenda for the Memorial Day weekend if you want to see it while it’s still here. But if you can’t see it in person, you can follow it here on Facebook.

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The Arts of War

“The Arts of War” and “The Arts of Peace” are two distinctly different yet interrelated sets of sculptures located on Lincoln Memorial Circle (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park. Framing the eastern entrances to Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, respectively, the works were commissioned in 1929 to complement the plaza constructed on the east side of The Lincoln Memorial.  Due to budgetary constraints brought on by the stock market crash beginning on Black Tuesday in October of that year, the completion of the sculptures had to be delayed.  Then when they were finally completed a decade later, they had to be placed into storage, again due to a lack of funding.

Then in 1949, some members of Congress suggested that a European nation be asked to cast the statues as part of the Marshall Plan. At the time the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Alberto Tarchiani, was looking for a way to express his country’s gratitude to the United States for America’s assistance in rebuilding Italy after World War II. And after learning of the models in storage, he decided that Italy would use Marshall Plan funds to take on the responsibility of casting and gilding the four statues as a gift and gesture of good will to the people of the United States. The statues were finally cast in 1950, at the A. Bruni Foundry in Rome and the Fonderia Lagana in Naples. After casting, one of the statues was sent to Milan, and another was sent to Florence, while the remaining two remained in Rome and Naples. The cases were then gilded with approximately 100 pounds of 24-karat gold before being returned to the United States and erected in September of 1951. Almost 64 years later, I rode there on this lunchtime bike ride to see them.

Flanking the entrance to Arlington Memorial Bridge, the bronze, fire-gilded statuary group entitled “The Arts of War” was sculpted by an American sculptor named Leo Friedlander. The group consists of two art deco-style statues entitled “Valor”, which is located on the left if facing the bridge from D.C., and on the right, “Sacrifice”. “Valor” depicts a bearded, muscular male nude symbolic of Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. To his left is a semi-nude female striding forward, holding a shield with her left arm. “Sacrifice” shows the same figures. But the nude male is holding a child in his arms, and is bowing his head. The semi-nude female is to his right, her back to him and the horse.

“ The Arts of Peace”, created by American sculptor James Earle Fraser, also consists of two separate statuary groups, entitled “Aspiration and Literature”, which is on the left, and “Music and Harvest” on the right. These Neoclassical statues frame the entrance to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. Both statues feature Pegasus, the source of inspiration and poetry in Greek mythology. “Aspiration and Literature” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right with a toga over his left shoulder and holding an open book, symbolic of literature. Another nude male on Pegasus’ left, dressed in a toga over both shoulders, is depicted aiming a bow backward, which is symbolic of aspiration. A serpent is also portrayed behind the personification of literature, representing wisdom and knowledge. “Music and Harvest” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right holding a sickle and carrying a sheaf of wheat , symbolizing of harvest. A semi-nude female holding a harp, symbolic of music, is on Pegasus’ left. A turtle, symbolizing the belief that art is long and time is fleeting, is also present.

The massive statues are the largest equestrian sculptures in the United States, with each weighing 40 tons, and measuring 19 feet high, 16 feet long and 8 feet wide. Each is mounted on a hollow granite pedestal which has 36 gilded bronze stars at the top, representing the number of states in the United States at the time of the Civil War. The Arts of War and The Arts of Peace are maintained by the National Park Service, and are considered contributing properties to the East and West Potomac Parks Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

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The Arts of Peace

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Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial

There is no shortage of unusual memorials in D.C., and on this lunchtime bike ride I visited one of them which happen to be dedicated to nuns. Now at first, that might not seem all that unusual. But as the title of the memorial indicates, the context of the nuns being honored gives it an unusual quality. It is the Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial, and it is located at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue, M Street and Connecticut Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial is a tribute to more than 600 nuns who belonged to the 12 orders of nuns who nursed the sick and wounded soldiers of both armies during the American Civil War. It is one of two monuments in the District that mark women’s roles in the conflict, the other being The American National Red Cross Headquarters Building, which was built by the Army Corps of Engineers as a memorial to women of the Civil War.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial not only honors the selfless service of the volunteer nuns during the Civil War, but could also be said to commemorate how that service helped to dispel the anti-Catholic sentiment that existed in America prior to the war. Anti-Catholicism reached a peak in the mid nineteenth century when Protestant leaders became alarmed by the heavy influx of Catholic immigrants, particularly from Ireland and Germany. In fact, nuns and sisters prior to the Civil War would not wear their habits outside of their convents for fear of insult or attack. There was even an instance of an anti-Catholic mob burning down a convent. But as a result of the quality of the nursing they received from these women of God, as well as their general kindness and good cheer, soldiers and others on both sides of the conflict were impressed, and generations of bigotry began to quickly dissolve.

The idea for the memorial originated with a woman named Ellen Jolly, who was the president of the women’s auxiliary branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who said she grew up hearing stories of battlefield tales told by nuns. She initially proposed the memorial to the War Department just after the turn of the century, but the request was denied. After years of gathering additional information in support of the memorial, in 1918 she proposed the idea to Congress, which authorized its construction. However, they refused to fund it. So a committee to raise money for the project was formed by the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Headed by Jolly, it took six years to raise the money and construct the memorial, which was finally dedicated in September of 1924.

The Memorial was created by Irish sculptor Jerome Connor, who also created the Monument to Robert Emmet, and the Statue of John Carroll on the campus of Georgetown University, both of which are here in D.C.  He is also reported to have assisted in the creation of  The Court of Neptune Fountain in front of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial consists of rectangular granite slab that sits on a granite base, with a large bronze relief panel on its face. The relief depicts a dozen nuns dressed in traditional habit, representing the twelve different orders of nuns who served. Those orders are the Sisters of St. Joseph, Carmelites, Dominican Order, Ursulines, Sisters of the Holy Cross, Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, Sisters of Mercy, Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and Congregation of Divine Providence.

On each end side of the slab sits a bronze female figure. The figure on the right side has wings, and is dressed in robes, armor and a helmet, robes to look like an angel representing patriotism. Sitting, she holds a shield in her proper left hand and a scroll in her lap with her proper right hand. She is weaponless to represent peace. The other figure on the left side of the monument is another winged figure, and is depicted wearing a long dress, a bodice and a scarf around her head to represent the angel of Peace.

On the granite above the relief is inscribed: “They Comforted The Dying, Nursed The Wounded, Carried Hope To The Imprisoned, Gave In His Name A Drink Of Water To The Thirsty.” And on the granite below the relief: “ To The Memory And In Honor Of The Various Orders Of Sisters Who Gave Their Services As Nurses On Battlefields And In Hospitals During The Civil War.”

The memorial is part of a group entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

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United States Institute of Peace

United States Institute of Peace

Congress has the power to create, organize, and disband all components of the Federal government. But there is no complete official government list, and even experts can’t seem to agree on the total number of Federal government departments, agencies, commissions, offices, bureaus and institutes. Most estimates suggest there are probably more than two thousand, each with their own organizational structure and areas of responsibility and authority. However, their duties often overlap, making administration and keeping tracking of what your tax dollars are supporting even more difficult.

On this bike ride, as I was riding in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, I happened upon a modern, glass-fronted building which upon further exploration turned out to be the headquarters for one of the Federal entities that I had never heard of before – The United States Institute of Peace.  Located at 2301 Constitution Avenue (MAP), just a block west of The Albert Einstein Memorial, and near the northwest corner of the National Mall near The Lincoln Memorial, their headquarters is a LEED-certified building which was designed to house the Institute’s offices and staff support facilities, library, conference center, auditorium, classrooms, and a public education center, all while serving as symbol of this country’s commitment to peacebuilding.

The United States Institute of Peace is a non-partisan, independent, Federal institution that provides analysis of and is involved in conflicts around the world.  It is relatively new, having been established by an act of Congress that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The Institute’s staff of approximately 275 is split among its D.C. headquarters, as well as field offices, and temporary missions to conflict zones.  It is governed by a board whose members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

In this city that often seems to thrive on it, the Institute and its headquarters building are not without controversy.  The Institutes board members have historically had very close ties to the American intelligence community, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency may assign officers and employees to the Institute.  And critics assert that the Institute’s peace research looks more like the study of new and potential means of aggression through trade embargos, austerity programs, and electoral intervention.

Further, the Institute is funded annually by the U.S. Congress, and during its first 30 years its official funding has increased almost tenfold. However, it also receives funds transferred from other government agencies, such as the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense, making its actual operating costs unknown.

The controversy and criticism of the Institute also affected the construction of its headquarters building. Officials broke ground for the new headquarters in June of 2008 at a ceremony that included President George W. Bush. However, by 2011 Congress voted to eliminate all funding for the U.S. Institute of Peace, including for the construction of its headquarters. Funding for the building was eventually restored the following year by both the House and Senate.

Additionally, the Institute is prohibited by law from receiving private funding and contributions for its program activities. However, the restriction on private fundraising was lifted for to construct the massive headquarters building which I visitied on this ride.

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The Peace Monument

The Peace Monument

The Peace Monument, also known as the Naval Monument or Civil War Sailors Monument, stands on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building in Peace Circle, located at First Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.  Part of a three-part sculptural group which includes the James A. Garfield Monument and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, the Peace Monument was erected in 1877-1878 to honor naval deaths during the Civil War.  It is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.,” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 44-foot white Carrara marble neoclassical monument was designed by Admiral David D. Porter, one of the top naval commanders of the Civil War, who originally conceived it to be built in Annapolis, Maryland, the home of the United States Naval Academy.  The monument prominently features sculptures by American artist Franklin Simmons, who also sculpted the equestrian figure of General John A. Logan at the center of Logan Circle in D.C.  The monument is surrounded by a basin built on a raised platform, which was designed by Edward Clark, the Architect of the Capitol at that time.

The monument is topped with a statue which features two figures, one representing Grief crying on the shoulder of a female personification of History.  The History figure holds tablet in her left hand that reads “They died that their country might live.”  A statue featuring a female figure of Victory stands below Grief and History, holding a laurel wreath and an oak branch to signify strength.  At her feet are infant representations of the Roman gods Neptune, representing the Navy, and Mars, representing the Marines.  Another statue, depicting a female figure of Peace holding an olive branch, stands facing the Capitol Building.  An inscription at the base of the monument reads, “In memory of the officers, seamen and marines of the United States Navy who fell in defense of the Union and liberty of their country, 1861-1865.”

However, upon close examination it is apparent that the memorial was never completed.  Based on the proposed design, it was supposed to also include a decorative fountain with bronze dolphins spouting water into the base, and four ornate street lamps at its corners. But when construction was completed these decorative elements were absent.

Instead, the base includes four bare holes that simply dump water out into the surrounding basin.  And the four granite piers at the corners of the memorial have screws sticking out of them where the street lamps were intended to be installed.  It would seem evident from the unfinished construction that they were expected to be added at some point.  The fact that when construction of the monument was halted but no formal dedication ceremony was held, as was the custom when a memorial was completed, would further indicate The Peace Monument’s unfinished status.  Presumably, the ceremony was put off pending final completion of the memorial, and to date there is no record of a dedication ceremony ever having taken place.

In a city replete with countless memorials to wars, the military, and individual soldiers, it is disappointing that after 137 years, the Federal government has chosen not to complete one of the few memorials dedicated to peace.

 

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The White House Peace Vigil

The national capital city routinely hosts a variety of protests.  Some are one-time events, while others are ongoing.  And they range in size from hundreds of thousands to just a few.  From marches down Pennsylvania Avenue to crowds gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building, there is almost always multiple protests taking place in D.C. on any given day.  Currently the longest-running protest in the city, and perhaps the longest-running protest in United States history, is the White House Peace Vigil.

Located in Lafayette Square Park (MAP) across from the northern portico of the executive mansion, the White House Peace Vigil, also sometimes referred to as 1601 Pennsylvania Avenue, is an anti-nuclear weapons peace vigil started by William Thomas Hallenback Jr., better known simply as Thomas, in June of 1981.   Concepción Picciotto, known as Connie, joined Thomas in the protest in August of the same year.  At times over the years, various other activists have helped man the vigil.  And despite Thomas’ death in 2009, the vigil still continues to be maintained around-the-clock by the tiny and weather-worn 77-year-old Conchita, along with other volunteers.

Over the last 33 years the protest display has been a fixture outside the White House, but there have been two incidents when the anti-war protest display that is a fixture outside the White House has been temporarily removed.  It is routinely moved back from the White House and further into Lafayette Park during Presidential inaugural parades, as well as during times of heightened security and other limited occasions.  But it was actually shut down twice last fall after volunteers abandoned the watch during the night and the display was left unattended in violation of the laws that regulate protest efforts on Federal land.  U.S. Park Police dismantled the small, makeshift encampment and seized the protest materials after the volunteers walked away during the night.  When other volunteers arrived to man it during the morning shifts, the vigil was gone.  Both times the materials were retrieved from the Park Police, which had placed them in a Park Police storage facility for safekeeping, and he vigil was continued.

And it still does today.

UPDATE (1/26/2016):  Sadly, Connie passed away at the aged of 80 on January 25, 2016, at N Street Village, a non-profit organization that supports homeless women in D.C.  However, others have vowed that the White House Peace Vigil will go on.

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Memorial Statue of Mahatma Gandhi

In a city that is home to an abundance of memorials, including a large number which honor our country’s military figures and war heroes, the memorial on Massachusetts Avenue between Q and 21st Streets in northwest D.C. (MAP) stands out as different. It is different because the bronze statue in the small park in the DuPont Circle neighborhood honors the leader of a foreign independence movement who promoted strict nonviolence.

The memorial to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi stands across the street from the Embassy of India, and was presented to the city as a gift from the people of India and the Indian-American community. The figure stands nine feet tall, is perched atop a granite base, and is surrounded by Gandhi quotations carved into granite.

After numerous non-violent demonstrations, fasts, and boycotts, as well as several periods of imprisonment, Gandhi eventually led his native India to independence from British rule through his philosophy of non-violent confrontation. However, despite seeking a unified India, the two independent states of India and Pakistan were instead created and Gandhi was greatly distressed by the partition. Soon afterward bloody violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims in India. In an effort to end India’s religious strife, Gandhi resorted to fasts and visits to the troubled areas. He was on one such vigil in New Delhi when a Hindu extremist who objected to Gandhi’s tolerance for the Muslims, fatally shot him.

In India Gandhi is recognized as the Father of the Nation, and his birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. Known as Mahatma, or “the great soul,” during his lifetime, Gandhi’s persuasive methods of civil disobedience influenced leaders of civil rights movements around the world, especially Martin Luther King Jr.  Albert Einstein once wrote, “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”.

Gandhi is perhaps one of the best known political leaders in the world, but here are some lesser known facts about him. He married his wife when they were both 13 years old. Then after having a number of children, he informed his wife that he planned to follow the Hindu practice of brahmacharya, which meant going celibate. They stayed married anyway, until her death in 1944. Despite being a lawyer, he was terrified of public speaking. Gandhi did not get his start as an activist in India. He began his legacy as an activist in South Africa, where he had moved when he was unable to find employment in India. Gandhi was pen pals with the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. And he had a set of false teeth, which he carried in a fold of his loin cloth. He put them in his mouth only when he wanted to eat. After his meal, he took them out, washed them and put them back in his loin cloth again.

Another little-known fact about Gandhi is that he often rode a bicycle, as a means of transportation to commute to work in his younger days, as well as for exercise and enjoyment in his later years. The great protestor and crusader even took on causes pertaining to cycling, such as when he wrote about and protested against a bike licensing law aimed at African natives in Johannesburg. So he was not just a great advocate for the Indian people, he was an advocate for cycling as well.

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Peace Corps Headquarters

The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when during the course of his campaign for the presidency then Senator John F. Kennedy floated the idea that a new “army” should be created by the United States, and challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship.

To fulfill this plan, Kennedy issued an executive order on March 1, 1961 establishing the Peace Corps as a trial program. The stated mission of the Peace Corps includes three goals: providing technical assistance; helping people outside the U.S. to understand American culture; and helping Americans to understand the cultures of other countries. The work is generally related to social and economic development.

Each program participant, a Peace Corps Volunteer, is an American citizen, typically with a college degree, who works abroad for a period of 24 months after three months of training. Volunteers work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations, non-government organizations, and entrepreneurs in education, hunger, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment.

There are a number of notable people who previously served as a Peace Corp Volunteer, including Bob Vila (home-improvement expert), who served in Panama from 1971-1973; Chris Matthews (news commentator and host of MSNBC’s “Hardball”), served in Swaziland from 1968-1970; Bob Beckel (political pundit), served in the Philippines from 1971-72; Kinky Friedman (Texas singer, songwriter, novelist, politician), served in Malaysia from 1967-1969; Christopher Dodd (former U.S. Senator), served in the Dominican Republic from 1966-1968; Donna Shalala (former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services), served in Iran from 1962-1964, and; Reed Hastings (founder and CEO of Netflix), served in Swaziland from 1983-1985.

Riding to the Peace Corps Headquarters located at 1111 20th Street in northwest D.C. (MAP) and learning about the organization is what my bike riding and this blog are all about.  The better known monuments and memorials in D.C. are worth the time.  But so are many other attractions in D.C.  And unfortunately, most people, whether they are tourists who are here only for a short while or residents who spend their entire lives here, never experience these lesser known but often equally interesting aspects of the city.

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