Memorializing War

I enjoyed Washington DC with my family a few weeks ago and have seen most of the famous monuments. We spend time in class looking at the DC monuments during our 9/11 project so I already had certain ideas in mind, but I wanted to see for myself. We went out our first night to see them in the dark.


WWII Memorial at night

The biggest, showiest monuments are right across from the capital and the National Mall: Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and WWII Memorial. They are the pride of our country, centrally located and spanning two miles. These ones are huge and majestic representing the importance of these presidents. The WWII is also “showy” with its central location, fountains, pillars, and lights. Signs ask you not to wade in the pool to respect the WWII vets who are called the “greatest generation.”

Vietnam Memorial at night

Vietnam Memorial at night

On the other hand the Vietnam Wall was dark and hidden and could barely be seen at night. If you didn’t know better one could walk right past it without even realizing it. It is not centrally located. It is in the ground and looks like a “scar” in the hill. The Vietnam War was a national embarrassment and the vets are stereotyped as homeless and alcoholics.

20140628_222203Yet the wall itself has all of the names of those that died that can be touched. It is personal.

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

20140628_215737The Korean War Memorial is my favorite war memorial. It has amazing statues of soldiers walking. It too has a wall, but instead of names it has soldiers pictures engraved into it. It is powerful, yet beautiful in simple ways. It definitely looks sweet at night. The Korean War has been forgotten by many as a minor conflict of small significance.

So we want everyone to see and admire the WWII Memorial. It is a celebratory place of victory over the evil of Nazism and the hated Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But the Vietnam Memorial has a total different feel. It is somber and does not generate a sense of pride.

This is how America tells the story of these wars.

Is it accurate, fair, or helpful?

Are WWII vets better than Korean War or Vietnam Vets?

Did the U.S. have more selfish motives in all of their conflicts? Should we be proud of war?

How can we separate honoring soldiers from glorifying war?

I respect all veterans but wonder if we are doing them a disservice by how we remember both them and their deeds?

Side Note: I also find it odd that there are not large memorials for the Civil and Revolutionary Wars or the veterans of them.

 I am going to do a series about my reactions to a family trip to Washington D.C. These are kind of social studies posts, but they are really about how America portrays herself. So I think they are really about what it means to think critically about citizenship and our “American image and values.

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