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chapter four MONUMENTS AND MOURNING q Q Disagreements over the meaning of the war led to political squabbles as well as widespread controversies over how to memorialize the dead. In local places and private spaces where unrelenting strains of bitterness and sadness festered, neither the traditional language of patriotism and honor nor the dreams of humanitarianism could fully console those who regretted the war’s costs. As a result , a surprisingly strong debate erupted over the type of monuments that would best serve local needs to remember or to forget. There was certainly a strong e=ort to impart a legacy of virtue and respect for the war dead in traditional memorials , and there were extensive e=orts to focus commemorations on the needs of the “living” at the expense of recalling the dead at all. Yet in countless localities , there were also those who appeared reluctant to cede the landscape of memory to those who wanted to simplify the remembrance of the war by invoking abstract images or living memorials. Local citizens who insisted that the loss of those whom Avishai Margalit has called “the near and the dear” be recalled were not prepared to accept the war as simply just or necessary, because they remained haunted by the pain it brought them for the rest of their lives.1 TRADITIONAL MEMORIALS Traditionalism and its abstract images remained prominent in World War II monuments and memorials throughout the postwar era. At American military cemeteries overseas, at the Marine Corps War Memorial, the USS Arizona Memorial , and the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., the veneration of national sacrifice stood above reminders of personal loss. These highly visible national memorials performed well the cultural work of turning the tragic aspects of war into honor and heroism and diminishing the reality of su=ering. Virtue and strength stood above violence and death.2 86 t h e “g o o d w a r” i n a m e r i c a n m e m o r y As it had after World War I, the American Battle Monuments Commission took responsibility for designing and building overseas cemeteries and memorials after 1945. These commemorative sites were constructed in various locations, including Europe, Honolulu, Manila, and North Africa. Designed by o;cials to be “inviolable shrines,” these commemorative projects surrounded thousands of graves and lists of those missing in action with pieces of symbolic sculpture, chapels , battle maps, and even narratives of victorious campaigns from the war. The reality of death could not be masked, but e=orts to justify and honor it were substantial . A key di=erence in the design of these memorials after 1945 when compared to World War I was noted by Ron Robin, who observed that the later sites relied more on symbols and designs that were “modern.” Classical or traditional symbols evoking religious sentiments and the ideal of redemptive sacrifice were still to be found, however. Thus, the cemetery at Normandy contained walkways laid out in the shape of a “Latin cross” as well as customary headstones containing Christian crosses or the Star of David—a far cry from the helmet placed on top of a rifle stuck into the ground that was often used by soldiers in the field of battle to mark the dead. In the aftermath of 1945, however, symbols such as battle maps, narratives of victory campaigns, eagles, and dramatic sculpture indicated that there was now a felt need to center remembrance on actions mounted by the nation itself and on the newfound sense of power that victory brought. Whether the symbols were traditional or modern, the goal was still to transform tragedy into honor and mass death into national pride. At the cemetery near Florence , Italy, an inscription placed into a wall asked that visitors “not mourn with the parents of the dead who are with us. . . . Rather, comfort them. Let their burden be lightened by the glory of the dead, the love of honor.” And at Normandy, in a modernist turn, a sculpture erected to the “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” transformed the legacy of the slaughter at Omaha Beach into the figure of a muscular American youth rising upward into the heavens and transcending the idea of tragedy completely.3 Left out of these colossal memorials to the dead were the countless traces of private recollections that many visitors brought to these sites. Consider the lingering thoughts and nightmares...


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