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Washington, D.C., was then; home is now

Former Washingtonians are asked whether they miss it. During my first year back in the area after more than 40 in Washington, I answered “no” with a dismissive laugh.

I noted disappointment in the eyes of my questioners. They wanted me to say something exciting about the great events I had witnessed. My flippant response was arrogant and reflected a malady of getting older – The Geezer’s Lament.

The Geezer’s Lament afflicts us all. “Back in the day,” the lament goes, “we didn’t get as many snow days.” “Back in the day politics was more congenial and satisfying.” Things were always better, harder, more glamorous, historic and fun “back in the day.”

My life in Washington was fantastic. For more than four decades I participated in major national and international events. The world changed and I was there making a difference. I was in critical meetings at the White House, debates in Congress and dangerous conflict zones.

I watched my three children grow up and flourish. My first grandchild will be born in Washington in May.

I miss my time in Washington like I miss the past. Memories are great, but life moves on. My political wounds are healed. I’ve no regrets. When given a chance to teach at Trine University, it was time to move on.

There is no need to lament the past in Washington. Washington tramples on the past even as it builds more monuments.

Washington’s location was set by political compromise. Money is its driving force. It was located on land George Washington wanted to develop for economic and commercial gain, and as a road to the Ohio region. That’s why Washington sent three successive invasive armies to convince Little Turtle to give up Kekionga. After twice defeating Washington’s armies, Turtle was paid off.

James Madison formulated our political system in an attempt to contain, control and channel “the violence of faction.” American politics was designed to be messy because humans are “not angels.”

Washington’s known every kind of scoundrel, cutthroat, petty despot and flimflam artist. Washington also nurtured what Lincoln called our “better angels.” Who’s to say the mix is worse today than yesterday. The circumstances are different.

We fought a bloody Civil War to end slavery and expand George Washington’s continental empire. Washington then fought two bloody world wars against global dictatorship.

My time in Washington after the world wars coincided with lessening racial and sexual discrimination. Immigration and the integration of various cultures continued to create conflict, yet advanced. We elected a black president. We cleaned our air and waterways. Government is more open.

We fought a long Cold War to protect and expand freedom and democracy. Washington won without a shot fired and secured the Soviet empire’s weapons of mass destruction. My trophy is the last Soviet uniform of the three-star general in charge of blowing up Washington in the 1980s. It was a gift for my work on the Nunn-Lugar program.

I had my time in Washington. Now it’s my time to teach back home. Thanks, Washington. We’ll stay in touch. Go Nats.

Mark Helmke, a former press secretary and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member for Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind, teaches public policy and communications at Trine University in Angola. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.