Teaching About International Conflict
and Peace

Mary E. Soley

Part of my daily ritual is to scan the international section of the morning newspaper to check on any progress being made on the peace-making front. As I write, this has not been a good week.
On September 22, The New York Times reported the tragedy of an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 unwanted children born to mothers who were raped during the civil war and mass killings in Rwanda. These children, and the mothers who bore them, are outcasts living in desperate conditions with no hope for a normal life. Their shame, and that of their families, greatly reduces the chances for reconciliation in the future.

This week also, a terrorist suspect was shot dead, five men were arrested, and explosives and weapons were found in London raids that the police said had forestalled I.R.A. attacks. And, in the worst week in the Middle East since the signing of the Oslo Accords, violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers raged across the West Bank and spread to the Gaza Strip, leaving at least 39 Palestinians and 11 Israelis dead and hundreds of wounded on both sides.

While there are always reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for a better future, it is difficult to have much faith that the "New World Order," first envisioned by President Bush in 1989, is anywhere on the horizon. Currently, there are approximately 100 violent conflicts around the world resulting in massive civilian deaths and refugee movements, increased local and regional life-threatening instability, and growing environmental devastation. In a 1994 Atlantic Monthly article, Robert Kaplan characterized these conditions as "the coming anarchy"-failed states where teenage boys joy-riding in stolen trucks with machine guns terrorize populations with complete impunity.

Troubles in Chechnya, killings in the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank, genocide and starvation in Rwanda and Burundi, and continued power struggles in Bosnia may seem far away. But in reality, international conflicts touch all our lives. The increased globalization of the world means that, sooner or later, conflict in one region has a far-reaching impact on people everywhere. Interdependence is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing-it is simply a reality. Thus, it is in the interests of all communities to learn how to manage conflicts without violence and how to work for the conditions that will promote greater economic development, social cohesion and tolerance, and political stability and justice.

How can social studies teachers help their students gain a basic understanding of the concepts and themes necessary in order to make sense of today's world? What teaching strategies have the best chances for actively engaging students in analyzing and making judgments about public policies related to international affairs? How can the study of international conflict and peace provide opportunities to learn and practice attitudes and behaviors that promote human rights for all people?

The purpose of this article is to provide practical information that will enable teachers to begin the process of integrating into their existing courses some of the major themes and concepts, higher order thinking strategies, and values and attitudes that are basic to civic education in today's and tomorrow's world.

Concepts and Themes
In thinking about how to integrate concepts and themes related to international peace and conflict into the social social studies curriculum, it is best to begin by asking the ever-pesky question: What knowledge is of most worth? This is not an easy question to answer (it never is), in part because the nature of international/intra-state conflict has changed rapidly and dramatically since the end of the Cold War. It is also a difficult question to address because the growing business of making, keeping, and building a lasting and just peace is relatively new. The study of peace requires understandings that are both inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary. And, while many academics and practitioners are actively engaged in the quest for better means to prevent and end violent conflicts, great disparities exist between theory and practice. Few successful models exist.
Still, I offer for consideration the following list of concepts and themes which reflect my understanding of the major ideas currently being discussed by experts in academic institutions, governmental organizations, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These ideas are definitely a work-in-progress, and should be viewed as simply a place to start.

What's Happening in the World?
Leading thinkers in the field of international affairs have proposed a number of complex and often contradictory
explanations to describe the current state of world affairs. One common theme is that the global system is undergoing rapid and dynamic changes to a magnitude unmatched in human history. These changes have been described as Teutonic shifts, turbulence, transformation, and chaos. They are marked by a high degree of interdependence and volatility of the world's systems, wherein the number and capacity of actors that occupy the global stage has undergone substantial expansion. While the Cold War threat of mutual assured destruction (MAD) has diminished greatly, the disintegration of nation-states and civil order in many areas of the world has spawned smaller violent conflicts that are taking a much higher toll on civilian populations and causing major dislocations of people and societies.
The changes in the international system are being caused by several factors:

More actors and unwieldy publics, dynamic technologies, less competent states, and increased fragmentation make up only one part of the new equation. Simultaneously, the international system (many systems really), is characterized by greater integration, i.e., the globalization of economies. Markets, trade, currency exchanges, investments, and labor forces are less and less national and more and more mobile. While this mobility means that jeans and running shoes can be produced less expensively, and sold more cheaply to consumers, it also means that the financial well-being of practically all communities depends on world-wide economic factors and conditions.

The increased integration of the global economy has resulted in development and prosperity for many people. But, while economists and international affairs experts debate the extent of the correlation between the globalization of economic factors and human poverty, it is clear that the disparity between the world's richest and poorest nations is growing. For every South Korean success story, hunger and poverty is spreading across much of Africa, and parts of Asia and Latin America.

The Nature of International/Intra-state Conflict
Conflict can be defined as a struggle over values and claims to scarce status, power, and resources in which the aims of the opponents are to neutralize, injure or eliminate their rivals. Conflict involves two or more parties who have differing goals. These goals relate to issues that are seen as vitally important to the parties involved. Conflict occurs at different levels of societies, systems and institutions and is of varying intensity (stages) and duration. The successful management or resolution of conflict varies depending on a large number of factors. One factor involves addressing the basic nature or root causes of the conflict.
Not all conflict results in violence and denial of basic human rights. In fact, a great majority of conflicts-whether they be inter-personal, inter-group, or intra-state-are settled, or more accurately managed, without violence. Therefore, conflict in itself is not viewed as a negative thing. Conflict reflects changes that are often inevitable, differences that exist among people and groups, and the processes by which individuals and groups negotiate needs and wants.

Conflict becomes a problem when the management mechanisms fail, resulting in violence. The failure of these mechanisms (rule of law, courts, treaties, mores, third-party intervention, mediation, negotiation, voting, authority figures, etc.) is rooted in a number of underlying causes, or, the nature of the conflict itself. Conflict issues may be related to ideology, territory and the environment, identity, race, governance and authority, and economics.

Ideological conflict is a clash of basic values related to the role of government in society, how economic resources should be produced and shared, who should make decisions for the people and how should they be made, and who gets the incentives, rewards, and punishments in society. Ideology is a "world view". It is the lens through which all other things are perceived.

Territorial and environmental conflicts involve disputes over land, water, control of rivers, and protection and use of natural resources and the environment. Territory often becomes the place where the other kinds of conflicts get acted out. Or, sometimes, it is just the land, water, river, etc. that is at the heart of the conflict.

Identity conflict relates to the question of "Who am I?" and to feeling safe to be who you are without fear of violence or discrimination against you. Tribal, religious, ethnic, linguistic, and nationality conflicts would fall under this category. Again, it's a question of values and traditions that become so central to people that they fear, mistrust, and hate others who are not the same.

Racial conflict is a type of identity conflict, the issue here being not one's beliefs but the color of one's skin or the "raciaquot; origin group from which one comes. Because of superficial differences in appearance, people are considered inferior or superior.

Governance and authority conflicts involve the use of power and authority. Simply put, it's a question of who makes decisions for the group. With this decision-making power comes the ability to make economic decisions, control territory and resources, and favor or punish groups based on their identity or race.

Economic conflict also involves questions of authority. Conflicts for market share, terms of trade, and competition for the means of production and distribution can contribute to exacerbating tensions.

Approaches to Peace
The graphic shown here, developed by Michael Lund for a 1996 U.S. Institute of Peace book on preventive diplomacy, provides a powerful picture of the major concepts or approaches to peace. It is, of course, a simplification of the stages, intensity, and characteristics of conflict and peace. In reality, conflicts and conflict management do not follow a path and are certainly not predictable. Still, I have found Dr. Lund's efforts to depict conflict and peace visually extremely useful.
Routine diplomacy is the norm for most international affairs and for most countries. Nation-states conduct their foreign policies through a state department or ministry of foreign affairs. These formal diplomatic exchanges (Track One Diplomacy) are increasingly being supplemented by unofficial actors (Track Two Diplomacy) who act with the knowledge and consent of the government, and by private organizations and individuals (Track Three Diplomacy) who may intervene to negotiate on behalf of one side in a conflict.

Preventive diplomacy involves governmental or non-governmental efforts undertaken at an early stage in a conflict. These efforts may be diplomatic, political, economic, or military, and are meant to keep states or groups from threatening or using armed force or coercion as the way to settle disputes that arise from the de-stabilizing effects of national and international change. Preventive diplomacy aims to discourage or minimize hostilities, reduce tensions, address differences, create channels for conflict resolution, and alleviate insecurities and material conditions that tempt violence. Policies and instruments for preventing violent conflicts include: (1) military approaches (demilitarized zones, arms embargoes, non-aggression agreements and military interventions designed to disarm contenders or separate forces); (2) non-military approaches (diplomatic and economic sanctions, fact-finding missions, observation teams and on-site monitoring, early warning systems, bi-lateral negotiations, third-party mediation, and multilateral peace conferences); and (3) development and governance approaches (economic trade reforms and standards, human rights suits, partition, and private or public economic development and investment aid).

Peacemaking involves the many processes and mechanisms employed to bring warring parties to the table. This includes pre-negotiation, formal and informal third party intervention and direct talks between disputants to lay out the terms for discussing a cease-fire and settlement. What follows is the usually long and laborious task of actually hammering-out an agreement. As with preventive diplomacy, peacemaking can involve, at various stages, formal governmental actors and interventions and/or non-governmental actors who operate behind the scenes or in public to facilitate or mediate the negotiation. The art and craft of peacemaking is an extremely complex process, one that varies from conflict to conflict and seeks to address the root causes of the conflict and the differing perspectives on issues related to values, history, reality and what's at stake.

Peace enforcement mechanisms involve the use of militaries to prevent violence during the peace process and/or the work of governmental and non-governmental individuals and organizations to begin the process of "healing the wounds." The goal of peace enforcement is to provide humanitarian aid and other kinds of support for a cease-fire. Peace enforcement strategies often involve some combination of "top down" efforts to work with leaders (using some degree of military intervention) and "bottom-up" efforts to reach into local communities and deny warriors public support for a resumption of violence.

Peacekeeping operations can be defined as all efforts to increase the chance that a settlement agreed upon by disputants will, in fact, actually "stick". Peacekeeping is a slippery slope indeed, for the root causes of a violent conflict rarely disappear just because a settlement has been signed. Often, peacekeepers (multilateral forces such as the UN or NATO in the case of Bosnia) find themselves trying to keep the peace against the will of the various factions on each side who never wanted to agree to the settlement in the first place, or were not included in the talks. Peacekeeping involves the military and many other governmental and non-governmental organizations working diligently to promote the settlement. Each community in a peacekeeping mission has its own culture and mode of operations. Communication problems, battles over turf and priorities, and lack of coordination often interfere with the over-all goals of the mission. Much time is currently being devoted to exploring ways peacekeeping operations can bring various parties together more successfully.

Post-conflict peace building involves investment-of capital, humanitarian aid, education, cross-community talks, and many other material and non-material supports to promote reconciliation and reconstruction. War crimes tribunals, elections, training of police, refugee re-settlement, teacher training, road construction, housing repair, disarmament, and many other efforts are employed to promote the peace agreement and work toward the conditions that will ensure a lasting peace. The world community can do a great deal to help build the peace. But, in the final analysis, the parties to every conflict have to desire peace, and eventually, provide for themselves the structures to make it last.

The concepts and themes of the life cycle of a conflict, with the interventions possible at each stage, represent an outline that is incomplete at best. In reality, conflicts do not move neatly from one stage to another, and success at one point is no guarantee that disputants will hold at a certain place for years, much less decades, before either slipping backward toward escalation or moving forward toward de-escalation.

Teaching Approaches
Suggested strategies for teaching about peace and conflict go beyond use of texts and the lecture/discussion format. While these two methods may be useful in the initial stages to help students acquire basic knowledge of history, geography, and political science, other methods are needed to promote greater student interaction and involvement with resource materials and varying perspectives on a conflict.
The teaching approaches recommended here are those typically used to teach controversial issues. They are both active and collaborative. They are also time-consuming, and advocate teaching fewer concepts in greater depth rather than many concepts with a greater degree of superficiality.

Teaching about the nature of conflict and approaches to peace is controversial because it involves differing perspectives on values, on history, on reality, and on what's at stake. Understanding the fundamental differences between warring parties involves probing into each side's "story," including basic viewpoints over who is right and wrong, the psychological and long-term emotional effects of "wounding," and, usually, very different attitudes toward the world. Often, the bias of the Western press makes it difficult for us to understand experiences and points of view that seem far removed from our own.

While making judgments vis-a-vis the aggressor or victim is an important part of the intellectual process, it is best to begin the exploration of a conflict free from pre-conceived ideas. However abhorrent one side's present behavior may be, violent and even barbaric acts occurring today usually have their roots in violence inflicted upon people in the past. Memories of even century-old blood-feuds die hard, resulting in more centuries of sporadic violence interrupted by occasional periods of peace.

The following teaching strategies are recommended to assist in helping students understand today's conflicts and peacemaking approaches in ways that deepen their understanding of the complexity of human behavior and the many choices available to them and others.

Questions used to guide student investigations will vary depending on specific learning objectives for the course. Obviously, one goal is to have students acquire in-depth knowledge about one specific case. As important is the use of cases to provide a way for students to apply what they have learned about one case to another. This transfer of knowledge is how students construct a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the world.

Simulation/role play is another teaching strategy that promotes deeper understandings of multiple perspectives. While some simulations are based on fictitious conflicts among made-up characters, it is my belief that real conflicts, past or present, offer better opportunities for valuable learning. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of conflicts from which to choose.

The more difficult part is to set-up a peace conference that involves negotiation based in reality. For example, what would a potential full-scale peace conference on Northern Ireland actually look like? Who would have to be at the table in order for peace-making to occur? The point is not to set up a false expectation that violent conflicts can be settled just by getting everyone to the table, but to provide a way for students to learn what the various parties think and feel and to experience the frustration and difficulties in making and keeping peace.

An advantage of using simulations/ role plays is that, by enabling students to take on the various identities of the parties in conflict, students become introduced to the skills of research, negotiation and mediation, as well as those of active listening and the development of empathy. The most important learnings from a simulation come from the analysis of how students choose to interpret their roles, what surprises and frustrations they experience, how the simulation experience was similar to or different from what would most likely happen in reality, and what new things they absorbed about the nature of international conflict and approaches to peace?

Problem-solving is another strategy that provides significant opportunities for students to learn higher order thinking about current controversial issues. The basic approach is to provide (or to help students create) "problems" that require the use of reflective inquiry techniques to investigate, and which hopefully motivate students to be actively and intellectually engaged in the process.

The major strength of problem-solving is that students are asked to focus on authentic, important, and controversial questions, and to acquire practice at wrestling with the same nagging issues that policy makers confront on a daily basis. Helping students recognize the inconsistencies in international relations, and the many conflicting perspectives on what is or is not in a nation's or group's best interests, is an important first step in participating in the processes for influencing public policy.

In this age of "sound-bite" explanations for very complex issues, it is vital that young people seek deeper knowledge and greater understandings. Problem-solving activities are among the most valuable tools for use in helping students make some sense out of what must seem to them on the surface to be a very chaotic world.

Using documents and primary sources to construct the nature of current international conflict and approaches to peace is the final approach recommended. A recent book by David Kobrin, Beyond the Textbook: Teaching History Using Documents and Primary Sources, is an excellent resource for teaching students how to construct history. I take liberty here to apply Dr. Kobrin's ideas to teaching students how to construct the present.

One of Dr. Kobrin's main questions to his students is: When the history of your generation is written, who is going to tell YOUR story?-the point being that all history is constructed by people who, by their own life experience, have their own biases, views, and interpretation. To quote from Kobrin:

Thinking seriously about how history is created means accepting the view that valid, sometimes contradictory, multiple perspectives are unavoidable .... Delivered history comes packaged and the shape of the package depends on someone's perceptions and the decisions that followed about what to include and omit, the best wrapping paper, how to tie the bow....
Such is the case with what we know about current events. While we often have the benefit of reading the accounts, or hearing the TV and radio reports, of people "on the ground," we know we are only getting part of the story-and possibly a part that may be intentionally or unintentionally distorted.

The purpose of using documents and primary sources to teach about current issues is to begin to teach students how to question what they read and hear, how to look critically at the bias and point of view of any source, and how to take greater responsibility for interpreting a variety of sources of information rather than depending exclusively on TV news or the print media. The goal is to teach students to become better "sifters" of information so that they make more careful judgments about the creditability of sources. Students leaving school without practice in this basic intellectual survival skill will be at a tremendous disadvantage.

Lesson Ideas
Diagnosing the Nature of Conflict
The list and definitions of the causes of conflict presented earlier may be used to teach students to analyze one or several conflicts from the past or present. After explaining and discussing the six basic categories or causes of conflict, one approach is to divide students into six groups (one for each cause), providing each with a packet of readings, documents, maps, articles, etc. on one violent international or intra-state conflict. Have each group study the materials searching for evidence of the particular cause it has been assigned. After synthesizing their evidence, each group reports its findings to the entire class. Probing questions might include:

Using this lesson idea may be an appropriate strategy for setting the stage for a simulation on negotiating ways to manage or resolve the conflict. Before actually coming to the table for a "pre-negotiation" negotiation or an actual peace conference, students would use this process to identify the various parties to the dispute and the third-party actors to be involved in the peacemaking process.

Using the same list of causes of conflict, another approach would be to provide materials on different conflicts to each group, asking them to examine the information to determine how the nature of each conflict can be explained by one, two, or more of the six causes. Conflicts may be historic and/or current, selected to emphasize one or all causes, or chosen from the same or different areas of the world. This approach is designed not only to have students identify the causes of conflicts but to help them compare and contrast various conflicts. Once again, probing questions could include:

In concluding the use of either approach, provide opportunities for students to express their own tentative beliefs about whether or not the use of violence was ever justified, how violence might have been prevented, and how difficult and frustrating it was trying to identify the causes of a conflict.

The bottom line is that violent conflicts are extremely complex. The purpose of breaking down the nature of conflict into discreet categories is to assist in the process of diagnosing root causes, tracking the way a conflict can change over the course of time, and understanding the complex and interrelated nature of its causes and conditions.

Of course, it is important to understand that, in reality, these ideas are all mushed together. We pull them apart so we can take a closer (and over-simplified) look at what's going on. This increased understanding of the root causes of the conflict is a necessary step in designing strategies to prevent violence and in addressing the issues involved in bringing disputants to the table.

A Problem-Solving Lesson
The general steps of a problem-solving instructional model should include:

Developing a "good" problem for students to tackle requires both knowledge of current (and past) international conflicts and peace making, and access to information resources that students will find challenging yet not so technical and dense that they become totally confused and frustrated. The point of a problem-solving activity is not necessarily for students to become experts on a particular conflict or peacemaking process, but for them to experience the contradictions, ambiguities, and complexities of current international problems. While important and in-depth knowledge is an important outcome of problem-solving, it is also important to remember that the process of inquiry is what drives the learning experience.

Sample problems to pose for your students might include:

The Life-Cycle of a Conflict
The graphic developed by Michael Lund could serve as a useful tool for students to track one violent conflict in particular, or to identify the current status of various conflicts. Take the Middle East, for example. In the past five years, relations between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel and Jordan, and Israel and Egypt have changed, vacillated, and moved toward the partial settlement of some key issues-only to lead to renewed suspicion, and in the case of the occupied territories, a new outbreak of significant violence. The international and bi-lateral interventions have also been dramatic, with what appeared to be a solid and irreversible peace process seeming to almost wholly disintegrate over the course of a few short months.
Historic, geographic, cultural, and of course political factors all come into play in deciphering what's happening and the many forces pushing for and against the peace process. Exploring the Middle East in light of the major concepts represented in the "life-cycle of a conflict" would assist students in gaining not only a deeper understanding of this major international conflict and its peace process; it would also help them learn about the dynamics of the many actors and organizations involved.

In Conclusion
Teaching about international conflict and peace is not easy. In addition to the burden of preparing materials to help students tackle the difficult concepts, themes, and ever changing nature of world events, the task requires an extraordinary commitment to the learning process. Still, I believe strongly that the benefits are worth it.
Not a week passes when I don't receive letters and phone calls from many of the 150 social studies teachers who participated in the five summer institutes I directed during my tenure at the U.S. Institute of Peace. In these letters and calls, teachers often remind me of articles we studied which they are now using successfully with their students. Others speak of the teaching strategies they learned and practiced under the expert instruction of Dr. John Rossi, of their new interest in following international events closely, and of the rewarding experiences they are having with students who value learning about current, authentic, relevant, and important issues.

Without a doubt, for many of these dedicated professionals, teaching about international conflict and peace has renewed their spirits and fortified their belief that peace is possible. Global education is more than just learning about the world in which we live. Most of all, it is about helping students acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to participate actively in deciding and acting to make this world a more peaceful and just place for all. There can be no higher goal of social studies education.

1McKinley, James C. Jr. The New York Times, September 22, 1996.

2Hoge, Warren. The New York Times, September 24, 1996.

3Schmemann, Serge. The New York Times, September 27, 1996.

4Ideas taken from "The Ethics of Intervention in Community Disputes" by James Laue and Gerald P. Warwick. The Ethics of Social Intervention, edited by Gordon Bermant, Herbert K. Kelman and Donald P. Warwick. Washington, DC: Halsted Press, 1978.

5For more detail, see Lund6Kobrin, David. Beyond the Textbook: Teaching History Using Documents and Primary Sources. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996, 8.

7Basic model adapted by John Rossi from John Dewey (1933). How We Think. Boston: D.C. Heath.

8These and other problems were developed by John Rossi and Mary Soley for U.S. Institute of Peace Summer Institutes for Secondary Social Studies Teachers, Washington, DC, 1992-1996.

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Mary E.Soley is Deputy Director of ACCESS: An International Affairs Information Service of the Fund for Peace in Washington, DC.