Updated: June 7, 2016 9:45:41 pm
On his fourth visit to the US after taking over as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is spending less time on the diaspora and talking more to the American people. As part of the strategy, Modi’s first stop on this visit was the Arlington National Cemetery.
Sprawled across 624 acres in the Virginia Hills overlooking the national capital, the Arlington Cemetery is of special significance to the American historical consciousness. Among the 400,000 graves here are some of the greatest names in American history, including Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant, designer of the City of Washington, and William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States. The cemetery is also special because its origins lay in American Civil War, the nation’s bloodiest political conflict in the mid-1800s. But it became really big for Americans after President John F Kennedy was buried here following his assassination in 1963.
The cemetery holds emotional value for Indians as well, since it carries the memorial for Indian-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla.
The estate on which the cemetery is now situated was originally built by Gerorge Washington Park Custis, the adopted grandson of the first American president. He passed it on to his only surviving child Mary. Mary and her husband, Lt. Robert Lee, lived in the Arlington estate till the state of Virginia decided to join the secessionist states in the Civil War.
Once Virginia joined the Southern states (the Confederates) in their revolt against the American government, Robert Lee became the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee’s abode at Arlington was considered strategically vital for the Confederates since it provided a commanding view of the capital.
Though resisted strongly by both Mary and Robert Lee, the Arlington estate was taken over by the Confederates Army in May 1861.
By 1864, American soil had been covered in blood. The heavy death toll resulted in bodies being buried wherever they fell. After public outcry against this practice, an administrative search for suitable areas for burying the martyrs of the civil war began. Arlington was considered fit for this purpose, once again much against the wishes of Robert Lee.
Though the Lees could no longer enjoy the serenity of their homely abode, the Arlington became the resting bed of hundreds of Civil War soldiers who died fighting.
In later years the Arlington went on to serve as the burying ground of a number of national heroes including those who died battling as part of the Armed Forces of the United States in World War II.
PM Modi paying homage to the bravehearts of American history is a good way to start a conversation with the people of America.
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