Many, many monuments

The controversy over the Vietnam memorial wall and the compromises that had to be reached for it to be approved for construction struck me as the most interesting part of the readings. Our public monuments are a testament, not necessarily to the war or the event itself commemorates, but to the public’s shared understanding of that event, and how much that event mattered in the consciousness of the public at large. It was suddenly easy to understand how the same country could create a striking monument to the Vietnam War—a war that still inspires great political controversy today—could also create an almost gothic commemoration of the Second World War, a conflict that is known almost as “a good war.”

Events that the public wish to commemorate, and people the public wish to remember, for example George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, get large and well-tended monuments. However events that the public are still divided about, such as Vietnam or Korea, get more introspective monuments. Our monument for World War Two serves to place the U.S. war effort on a pedestal, so to speak. Conversely, the monument for the First World War (by the way, did you know that there is a monument for the First World War?), a war that no one in the United States wished to recall after 1918, lies just off the National Mall, overgrown and untended. I found this dichotomy in the ways that different people and different wars are commemorated very interesting.

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2 Responses to Many, many monuments

  1. Batt says:

    The point you bring up, about monuments helping to create a shared public understanding of an event, is a very good one that relates back to Bodnar’s emphasis on monuments and commemorations as jumping off points to broaden public memory of events. Like many, I wasn’t aware of the existence of the World War I memorial despite having lived in the area for most of my life. Why such a dichotomy between the two World Wars? Do we really want future generations to think we are trying to cover something up, or are efforts like the one described in class, of the clean up of the memorial, ways in which we try to make up for past mistakes regarding our reflections on various historical events?

  2. mkelly says:

    I agree with Eric on the points that he brings up, your thoughts compare to the Bodnar readings that we did in the beginning of class. It is almost as if the monuments are more for the public to ease their minds than commemorating the loss of the soldiers or what ever the specific monument compares to. The memorials seem to at times make up for what America did wrong. Through Bodnar and his interpretation of the Vietnam War that definitely seemed true that monuments at times cover up mistakes and are there to ease the minds of the Americans that feel guilty for what happened.

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