This year I’ve written several posts on how the First World War has been commemorated: first a set of four on memorials, monuments, and cemeteries in Western Europe; then a recent series of five on commemoration here in Minnesota.
If you missed some or all of the series, you can find the entries indexed here, with sample quotations:
Europe: “Lest We Forget“
An introduction to the series that sets up some of its recurring themes: “WWI memorials are small and monumental, simple and grandiose, dignified and profane. Some (like the smaller surviving battlefield cemeteries) have been in place since the first year of the war. Others did not appear until the 21st century. Some reflect deep religious feeling; others reject the same. Many are the work of the same governments that sent nine million men to their deaths; others result from private initiative, and some of those (like the soccer memorial above) seek to commemorate elements of the story that governments might wish to overlook.”
Europe: Post-Christian Memory?
“…Christian symbols and rituals remained common, but it seemed that Christian belief — or perhaps more, the Christian religious imagination — was losing its influence over the denizens of what many in 1914 had still called Christendom.”
Europe: German Subtlety
“Ironically, it was the ‘victors’ of World War I who had to strive hardest to make the war meaningful; those who ‘lost’ simply tried to grieve.”
“I’m sure that some of those who do find the Kriegerdenkmal see in the sleeping soldier nothing but the image of a long-dead relative, an honorable participant in a tragic but not genocidal war. Others are probably reminded that German militarism did not begin with Hitler. I was mostly glad to finally find it and take pictures before the sun had completely set.”
Minnesota: Duluth’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument
“…there’s none of the muted triumph, angst, or abstract grandeur that you find with European memorials. No, Duluth’s memorial is nakedly patriotic, and a prime example of how Americans responded to the commemorative impulse that quickly followed from the end of what they then called the Great War.”
Minnesota: Victory Memorial Drive
“…the central commemorative element was always intended to be the hundreds of trees shading the parkway, each planted (by a veteran and schoolchild) and about half designated in memory of an individual soldier…. Today, however, I wonder how often the Minneapolites who routinely jog or walk dogs past those trees and memorial plaques find their thoughts turning to ‘the spirit of America.'”
Minnesota: Overshadowed by WWII
“Why are WWI memorials in and near the capital city of Minnesota so small and so subdued? (And why did they arrive so many years after the Armistice?)… I can only guess, but given St. Paul’s large German- and Irish-American populations, I wonder how much enthusiasm there was in the years after 1918 for celebrating a war fought against Germany and alongside England.”
Minnesota: The Brickhouse
“Why would the state’s land-grant university… be a more fitting memorial host than the center of the state’s government? First, many associated with the school had taken part in the war: 125 faculty, 1350 undergraduates, and 2177 alumni entered the military in 1917-1918, with ninety-eight dying (fifty-three in combat)…. But there was an even grander argument to be made, one redolent of the common progressive notion that education and democracy were intimately connected to each other.”
Minnesota: Fort Snelling
“Part of me simply enjoys the fact that, in 2012, there’s still an unincorporated section of Minnesota’s most heavily populated county, and that even 21st century America has its ruins. And there’s a kind of brutal honesty in the sight of the Upper Post — a reminder that, left to their own devices, an innately ahistorical people tend to forget their past (or build around it).
“But as a historian of the World Wars, I do wish that more Minnesotans would recognize that — as they rush to and from their international airport and megamall — they routinely pass the place where so many of their forebears prepared for participation in the two worst conflicts in human history.”