I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten to meet someone in person that I’ve previously only conversed with online. This weekend, I had a chance to meet a long-time fellow-blogger, Katherine, in Washington, D.C. This doesn’t happen very often, and it is a very cool experience to finally meet someone personally that you have known virtually for years. Bloggers, unite!
While we were there, we had a chance to visit, among other things, the International Spy Museum, and several monuments. I’m not going to lie: I wanted to visit the Spy Museum to see James Bond sorts of gadgets. I wasn’t disappointed. As with any museum, you learn a great deal. The experience was an education in history I’ve known and forgotten, history of which I knew little, and history that I’ve never known at all (I am, after all, a product of mostly public education, and we know how well they do history).
The Spy Museum begins by talking about how critical secrets are to governments, and moves to the premise that, in order to understand history, you have to know the history behind the history. Therein is the realm of the spies. The stories of deception and the knowledge that spies look like everyone next to us, as well as how events in history unfolded because of secrets that were leaked, smuggled, and otherwise divulged, moved me beyond my love of intrigue in espionage novels. There’s an exhibit on propaganda that will leave you shaking your head in stunning realization. There’s an exhibit on the formation of the KGB, by whom spying was turned inward for the first time, that will make you cringe.
The next day, Karen and I visited some monuments that she had never seen. I haven’t been to D.C. since I was an undergrad, so the visit was just as impactful for me as it had been the first time. Years ago, I walked the length of the Vietnam Memorial to gain some appreciation for the war into which my father was drafted. Monuments, of course are erected to commemorate a person or an event. For example, the Lincoln Memorial points not only to the President, but also to his positive contributions to American history…a sign, more than a symbol. Enormous crowds of people pressed in on all of the memorials on Monday, in commemoration of Memorial Day, and I imagine many of them being as I was for many years of my life…reading a thankful patriotism into the history with which the monuments connect us. And I’m not saying that’s wrong. I was just left to ponder man’s desire for power, a power gained by keeping secrets, secrets that cause perpetual violence and war. Perhaps those things will always be with us in our mortal lives. I still like the intrigue (The real life Aston Martin was incredible for those of us who are James Bond fans), but knowing that a harsh reality is the basis for the fiction causes me to see past the intrigue, into shadows of a humanity always poising itself for power over itself.
The fiction we can put away when we go to bed at night. The reality is something with which we must always live, and moreso the consequences of that reality. In doing so, perhaps we realize that our monuments portray, at once, both the dark and the light that walk together through history.