The Cemetery was first established during the Civil War on the grounds of an Arlington estate passed down to Mary Anna Custis. Shortly after the Civil War began in 1861, Mary Anna and her husband of 30 years, Robert E. Lee (yes, that one), left their home. Federal troops occupied the estate, using the Custis- Lee Mansion (popularly known as Arlington House) as their headquarters. As a program from the Cemetery recounts,
In 1864, Washington D.C. was flooded with wounded and dead soldiers from the North and the South. On May 13, the first military burial took place in what is now Section 27. By the end of the Civil War there were nearly 16,000 dead buried on the old plantation.
Today, almost 150 years and many wars later, there are over 250,000 service members laid to rest in the Cemetery. Just pause for a second and ruminate on the size of that figure. A useful point of comparison for me is that my hometown (and capital of the Confederacy), Richmond, Virginia has a population of a little over 200,000. For those of you who have been to D.C., and the National Mall in particular, you'll instantly recognize the scope of Arlington Cemetery's expanse if you take a gander at this satellite imagery (Zoom out a couple of clicks and you'll see the Mall just northeast of the Cemetery). If you zoom in, you'll begin to see little while specks that almost look like stippling. Those, of course, are the perfectly arranged rows of grave markers. Rows and rows and rows of grave markers. It's incredible. And regardless of your feelings about any war in particular, there's something to be said for being thankful that others have fought and died on your behalf.
My girlfriend and I recently paid a visit to Arlington Cemetery for the first time a couple of weeks ago. None of the pictures she took adequately capture the immensity of the grounds. That's not for a lack of photography skills; the area is beautifully wooded and is characterized by gorgeous rolling hills befitting such hallowed ground. Here are a couple of her attempts, though:
I'd have to say that my favorite section of the Cemetery (if I can put it that way) is Section 60, the area dedicated to those who have died since September 11, 2001. This Section, above all others, made me feel something. Sure, seeing the seemingly endless grave markers of those who died in Vietnam and the World Wars made me reflect and think about sacrifice and loss, but only in an intellectual way. These wars are too far removed to pull at my heartstrings. These wars don't affect me emotionally. Not like Section 60. How can you not get a lump in your throat looking at headstones of men and women--kids, really-- your age and younger who were cut down in the prime of their lives, very likely in a horrendous manner. How can you not get even just a little teary-eyed when you see the photo collages, notes, and mementos that those who have been left behind--mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, children, siblings-- leave for the person they'll never see again, except in memories. We saw one such woman in Section 60 during our visit. From her age and the average age of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd guess she was a mother. She was simply sitting there, by herself, in a folding chair, beneath an umbrella, facing a headstone.
I'm not sure how many servicemen and women are buried in Section 60. But there was an all too thick binder filled with the names and locations of the occupants of the Section. This should give you a good idea:
While this post is unusual for the Mideast Note in that it takes a slight detour through American history, it is, unfortunately, still very pertinent given the United States' recent misadventure in Iraq. For the foreseeable future, the United States will continue to have strategic interests in the region, and will, therefore, continue to involve itself in the region's affairs. Nonetheless, though there are just and necessary reasons for going to war, one can only hope that they are few and far between.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist