Monday, January 16, 2017

How We Remember War

I'm proud to say that I managed to contribute to this collection of short stories and essays and poems by a group of veterans called Vet Lit: How We Remember War. It is a title that speaks to what it holds and is very important, if you ask me. When I look at most war memorials these days it evokes many thoughts in me.

What is a memorial? To that end, what is a war memorial? And once you get the image in your mind, what should a war memorial be? Is it about the heroics? Or is it about simple remembrance? For many wars, the memorial should definitely not gloss over the shadier parts of the war. And it should certainly not venerate veterans to merely cover up how they were used. For example, as a veteran, I can certainly say a war memorial shouldn't be just about the veterans.

There is, more controversy about this subject than one thinks. I, for example, now see many war memorials as both unimaginative and little more than propaganda pieces that are trying hard to cover up the truth. And this counts even if those propaganda pieces end up being beautiful to look at. And even the right wing here in the US, which I used to be a part of, sides with authoritarian regimes with its love for proud statues. In such moments it's very easy to see how much this right wing of ours has so much in common with the likes of Stalin who also liked to hide "weakness" as he saw it [1].

Just recently I saw a fairly inconspicuous statue that wanted to show women's burden in war (go ahead and check it out, donate some money to it as well!) and that evoked the ire of those who were right wing on matter of war. For some reason they equated trying not to follow their talking points as anti-war. I'm not being fair. It's obvious that they think any mention of any war's negatives is tantamount to being anti-war. Given that some of these people don't stand to gain much from war outside of some tribal emotions, one can only write them off as true fools of the first order. 

But I digress. There's the matter of the statue at hand. I love it. It tries to be more than just another simplistic ode to war and it actually tries to show the burden that it leaves behind. It's not just about the soldiers. It never was, but that people in power want that prop speaks to our way of thinking. Don't agree? Read this book by Ann Jones. It's brilliant. And incisive in the way it looks at the millions of repercussions that arise from war. And yes, women are a large part of that, both here and overseas. 

That being said, I'm glad that the work has been accepted and, once funded, will become a part of Spokane's landscape. We should move away from the more unimaginative war memorials, they do a disservice to both the living and the dead. [2]

[1] In his glorious post WWII marches he would make sure none of the wounded soldiers were shown. And on the matter of these authoritarian statues, I don't think I've seen more idiotic statues in the world, even if the ideas behind them claim to be serious. 

[2] This isn't to say that some people won't gain anything out of them or that they mean nothing to everyone. There are many factors at play here, too many to mention. Still, that doesn't mean that they can't be improved upon. Not only that, but it will be a positive step in improving the civilian-veteran divide (one that is made worse by the thought that the only veterans emotionally pay for wars). 

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