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Next to the White House

While visiting Washington DC in March, I found it interesting to note the edifices closest to the White House.
The Executive Office Building

EAST, WEST
The neighbor to the immediate East of the Obama’s White House is the Department of the Treasury. Is that any surprise? Of course not, but how bourgeois! I could imagine Scrooge McDuck sneaking across the White House garden twice a day to check his reserves. To the West is what we now call the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It’s the site of the suspicious office fires which may or may not have masked a recent vice-president’s misdeeds. The edifice looks straight out of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and check out the plaque which commemorates what the building used to be called:

State War and Navy Departments

Probably that should be no surprise as well: the White house sandwiched between Treasury and War. “State, War and Navy.” How so much less duplicitous than the “Department of Defense.”

SOUTHWEST
Behind the former War offices, to the Southwest of the White House, lies the war memorial to end all war memorials. It’s the WWI Memorial, of considerably diminutive size compared to those commemorations of subsequent wars which have spilled unto the Mall, but its form followed the convention of the typical Great War monuments erected throughout Europe among the nations who had participated.

WWI monument to US Army Expeditionary Force

Except the American version is dedicated to the “Expeditionary Forces” which I just love. That’s what WWI was about for the US. The trenches of Europe were no place Americans needed to defend their freedom. The troops we sent, to relieve France and England, represented a foreign expedition, exactly that. More precisely, our troops were an R&D expedition for our blustering capitalists.

(This may be no time or place to note that history books do not link America’s WWI experience with the Influenza outbreak of 1917-18, which began in the barracks of US soldiers being mobilized for war. American soldiers took their flu to Europe and ultimately killed 50 million people. Those were not the days before we knew better to stay home to prevent infecting others.)

The US entry into WWI was bitterly opposed by a peace movement which the war-opportunist-profiteers maligned as isolationist. Selfish globalization-denying isolationism has been the slander ever since, used against anyone who tries to block military interventions in all their guises.

Ultimately WWI was no affair of ours, had the Huns emerged victorious, American foreign affairs would hardly have changed. Our foreign trading partners would have numbered more Germans, that’s all. But it’s useless to compare alternative outcomes of WWI, all things staying constant, because America participated and profited wildly.

If American investors had not jumped in Over There, the greatest business opportunities of blossoming industrialism would have been missed. The opportunities offered by the Europeans fighting amongst themselves, proved to have been momentous.

And here was the monument to those lost American lives, sacrificed so that American industrial might, in particular the new banking monopolists, could seize the European spheres of influence throughout the world. Of course the lost lives of the American Expeditionary Force were remembered thus:

“…WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE WORLD WAR THAT LIBERTY AND THE IDEALS OF OUR COUNTRY MIGHT ENDURE”

It would take another World War for the US to appropriate the colonies and oil fields by means of contracts and loans, with the leverage of coming to their aid again, this time armed with lend-lease bills.

SOUTHEAST
To the Southeast of the White House, across the back lawn, lies the monument antecedent to the Great War. It’s the Civil War Memorial, atop which rides the triumphant General William Tecumseh Sherman. (Who, to be fair, presided over the War Department for a long stretch after the Civil War, actually this nation’s longest peacetime period.)

Sherman monumentCurious that I chose to crop his personage from my pictures, but my eyes were drawn to the lesser figures around the base of the monument, in particular, a half naked woman.

The memorial seemed to include various uniformed Civil War participants. How egalitarian to include a woman. But this woman was no French Revolutionary with breast bared oblivious as she rallied her comrades to victory. This delicate woman was unarmed and stripped to the waist, her children in tattered rags at her feet.

Could this statue be offering another conceit to the reality of war, to Sherman’s March to the sea, to the burning of Atlanta, to the shameful destruction he visited on the secessionist South? Was this a nod to the real role given to Women in war, their sons and husbands taken from them, a non-combatant left helpless to defend her children or herself. Did the shirt torn from her body confess to the woman’s rape?

More probably the feminine likeness personified man’s attraction to war, a soldier’s predilection for her beauty. How many war monuments memorialize as they also beacon?

Much of the terrain around the White House grounds is blocked off by secondary and tertiary security perimeters. But for the arrival of bus unloadng its visitors to see it, the Civil War Monument is normally cordoned off. When I had passed it earlier, a balaclava-clad guard was blocking the only entrance.

SOUTH
The grassy expanse immediately South of the White House, permitting the First Family an uninterrupted view of the National Mall, has actually been given over to parking permits. The loop of asphalt across the lawn, with cars strewn diagonally along the edges, gives the unfortunate impression of overflow event parking. In any other neighborhood, the crowd of cars would be a dead giveaway that someone on the block was having a party.

One thought on “Next to the White House

  1. Eric, the half-naked woman is carrying an olive branch. She represents “peace” and the children (and possibly her bare breasts) represent rebirth or renewal. Or so I’ve read.

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