Musings: War & Memorial

Vietnam Veterans War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC USA

by LJ Frank

What is new about war, death and the memorials? What hasn’t been said, recorded and unrecorded? 

IN the USA there is Decoration Day that officially began on May 30 in 1868 and was a commemoration for the fallen solders of the Civil War on both sides. It was an opportunity to decorate graves mostly with flowers. For a number of people Decoration Day was not only a day of prayerful silence but a quiet tribute for loss and grief – and a wish to never visit the hell of another war.

With the rumors and councils of war came the sentiment that too many have died ~ the stirring of young men’s and women’s blood by reckless, proud voices.

IN 1918 came the proclamation 1445: “Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That, it being a duty peculiarly incumbent in a time of war humbly and devoutly to acknowledge our dependence on Almighty God and to implore His aid and protection, the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, respectfully requested to recommend a day of public humiliation, prayer, and fasting, to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity and the offering of fervent supplications to ..”

Though much has been written about the day it was a tradition that became a Federal holiday – Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) in 1970, to grieve and honor, primarily those who served in the military and died in the performance of their duties.  

Perhaps the most poignant (and anti-war statement) memorial about the cost of war is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design by Maya Lin, a 21-year-old college student at the time. In her book titled Boundaries she writes: “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a geode. I envisioned it as an object not inserted in the earth but as part of the earth, a work formed from cutting open the earth and polishing the earth’s surface, dematerializing the stone to pure surface creating an interface between the world of light and the quieter world beyond the names.”

The effect was and is profound. The list of humans on the polished black granite who died fighting for a suspect political cause about domino theory that was later proven false. 

How do we process war?

A good example is the documentary – The Fog of War (2003) 

War is ancient as are memorials and tributes with heroic statues designed to show courage and admiration for those who die in battle. The opposite is true. There is no dignity in killing another human being. The reality of the battlefield is horrific. The carnage, bloodshed, depravity and butchery despicable. The loss of life is without honor. 

Yet memorial days are good for business, from flowers to flags to hot dogs and beer. And more to the fact, war and its memorials are big business from arms manufacturers and suppliers to banks that loan the money to pay for the cost, the list is only limited by the human imagination for war and the spoils perceived to be inherent in such incivilities to each other is perhaps grafted into human evolution. Follow the money is ancient. Eloquent language about courage, honor and love of country and way of life and the enemy are predominant in such speeches. For those who fight the battles a different story emerges.

In memorial we name places and buildings and erect monuments …we honor war as much as we do its victims while voicing war as Hell. We make deposits in accounts around the globe while quietly arming each other for the next battle. Fortunes are made at whose expense. Our decorations and memorials are an attempt to assuage our grief and loss while the mechanisms and tactics to fight the next battle and next war are made in war rooms. 

For the moment at hand, we may realize that the individual in the grave has already experienced his and her apocalypse. Like all death we seek closure to that which appears to refuse closure until the hour is too late.