WASHINGTON -- Uniquely among the capitals of the world, Washington's monumental core pays homage to the word. The glory of the Jefferson Memorial is not the Founder's statue but, carved in stone around him, his words on religious freedom, inalienable rights and sacred honor. At the Lincoln Memorial, one cannot but be moved by the eyes and grave bearing of the martyred president, but even more moving are the surrounding words: the sublime cadences of the Second Inaugural and the Gettysburg Address, both in their entirety. (Lincoln's gift for concision helps. Castro, of the eight-hour speeches, could not be so memorialized.)
Other capitals celebrate the gloria and fortuna of victory. No Arch of Triumph here. True, in the last few decades the Mall has added Vietnam and Korean memorials. But these are hardly glorifications of battle. They are melancholy meditations upon wars of sorrow. The very newest addition, the World War II memorial, is jarring and deeply out of place precisely because its massive and pointless wreath-bearing Teutonic columns represent European triumphalism disfiguring the heart of a Mall heretofore dedicated to the power and glory of ideas.
But Washington has a second distinction, more subtle and even more telling about the nature of America: its many public statues to foreign liberators. I'm not talking about the statues of Churchill and Lafayette, great allies and participants in America's own epic struggles against tyranny. Everybody celebrates friends. I'm talking about the liberators who had nothing to do with us. Walk a couple of blocks from Dupont Circle at the heart of commercial Washington, and you come upon a tiny plaza graced by Gandhi, with walking stick. And perhaps 100 yards from him, within shouting distance, stands Tomas Masaryk, the great Czech patriot and statesman.
Masaryk, in formal dress and aristocratic demeanor, has nothing in common with the robed, slightly bent Gandhi with whom he shares the street except that they were both great liberators, and except that they are honored by Americans precisely for their devotion to freedom.
Farther up the avenue stands Robert Emmet, the Irish revolutionary, while one block to the west of Masaryk looms a massive monument to a Ukrainian poet and patriot, Taras Shevchenko. And then gracing the avenues near the Mall are the Americans: great statues to Central and South American liberators, not just Juarez and Bolivar but even the more obscure, such as General Jose Artigas, father of modern Uruguay.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
Be the first to read Krauthammer's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.