A tale of two cities

April 22, 2004 ,

THEY say that Cardiff's civic centre is a scaled down version of Washington DC with its fine white buildings and monuments.

I am writing this from the US capital where I am representing the British parliament looking at the work of the 9/11 Commission. The comparison with Cardiff is understandable.

The dome of the Capitol building looms like City Hall's and the civic centre is laid out similarly symmetrically.
In the middle a new memorial is being built to remember those who died in World War II.
Its design is circular like the one in Cardiff, although in comparison it is huge.

Tucked away is another war monument, much smaller but enormously moving.
It is the Vietnam War memorial.

It is a simple black wall of marble, which grows taller as you descend a path, and thinner again as you walk up to its end.
On the wall is written the name of every American soldier who died in the Vietnam War.

People come from all over America to find the name of their husbands, sons, brothers, friends and comrades.
They often leave poignant messages or objects at the foot of the wall.

As you walk along you gradually see yourself reflected in the black marble; and in your own eyes you feel the questioning gaze of those who died, looking back at you.

It is immensely affecting, and even more so as you wonder how many names will be written on the future memorial to be built for those dying in Iraq right now.

It is also a reminder to politicians like me of the enormous responsibilities of our profession, and of the cost that is paid in lives whether British, American, Iraqi or Vietnam, when politics fails.
That alone is enough reason for every person to be interested in politics.