Our honored dead, our flawed history

The Washington Post
By Fergus M. Bordewich
November 8, 2009

In the folds of its hills on the Virginia shore of the Potomac, where its vast array of white tombstones evokes the mesmerizing image of an assembled army in its last resting place, Arlington National Cemetery splendidly honors the generations of self-sacrifice embodied in the nation’s military dead. It also encapsulates the flawed story of a country still struggling to come to terms with the human cost of its wars.

The central character in On Hallowed Ground, Robert M. Poole’s gracefully written, often deeply affecting history, cannot speak. However, Poole succeeds grandly in giving voice to the more than 600 acres of what virtually all Americans consider sacred soil. As Veterans Day approaches, the almost daily arrival of flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base reminds us that the dead of today’s wars will continue to come to rest beneath Arlington’s gentle hills.

Arlington was the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee, and before that of George Washington Parke Custis, the stepson of George Washington. After Lee threw in his lot with the Confederacy, the property was confiscated by the federal government, which in 1864 began burying Union soldiers on the estate’s slopes.

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