General Lee's House, Arlington, Virginia

Brian Holden Reid glimpses the dilemmas of 'Southern Man' at Robert E. Lee's house in Arlington, Virginia.

Washington DC is a city l have visited so many times over the last decade that I feel as equally at home there as I do in London. Washington is, however, not without its problems. Its financial arrangements are never less than chaotic. In May 1995, for instance, some services ground to a halt because the city could not pay its bills. The carcasses of what the television news described as 'euthanised' pets were left to rot in large bins under the remorseless glare of the hot sun. The American news media is always ready with an inelegant euphemism to conceal the realities of life. In more recent months, the stark reality of Washington's appalling financial crisis has been revealed. In the spring of 1996, the city faced a debt of $72 million. It has been re-christened the 'district of calamity', and Washington's controversial mayor, Marion Barry (who has periodically disappeared in search of 'spiritual and physical renewal'), has been stripped of all spending powers by Congress.

Another reality that cannot be concealed is the inexorable growth in crime. In the mid- 1980s Washington was one of the safest cities in the Union. Now it is one of the most dangerous. The explosion of violent crime is invariably drug-related. It presents an awful warning of the remarkably rapid, corrosive and wholly corrupting effects of the drug culture.

Yet, despite these initial sentiments and the Los Angeles riots of 1992, I am impressed by the resilience of American cities. Marxist and other critics of the United States, such as Ronald Segal in his polemical work, America's Receding Future: The Collision of Creed and Reality (1968), have been predicting cataclysmic urban explosions for so long, and so inaccurately, that one may fairly conclude that warnings of the death of the American city have been somewhat exaggerated.

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