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Essay/Term paper: On wartime and postwar commemoration

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World War

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Commemorating the actions of those who served in World

War I took many forms in its attempt to ease the suffering

and losses inflicted by the war. The creation of memorials

served several purposes and with time, the meanings

associated with them changed, as did the purposes with

which they served. Support groups were formed to aid

those in need whose lives became radically changed by the

war, and in an effort to commemorate their service.

Without aleving the pain completely, commemoration

served to ease the tremendous burden of guilt, sorrow, and

responsibility to those whose lives were now changed


World War I memorials generally fell into three separate

categories based upon the time of their creation. The first

type of memorials were those which were created in the

years preceding 1918. These memorials scattered the

landscape and were created and developed at the

community level. The erection of commemorative

memorials to the war served as a unifying symbol of the

community spirit and as a centerpiece with which to rally

around. They also served as a physical statement against

those who may offer dissenting opinions as to the

communities involvement in the war effort. The moral high

ground was thus established in the symbolism of a united

effort. They also served to support the community's brave

young men who were off fighting gallantly for the security

and preservation of it's ideals and in essence the community

itself. Local memorials also served to inspire and motivate

those who labored in industry dedicated to the war effort.

It created a sense of purpose and a realization that what

they were working for had a larger meaning and purpose.

Local war memorials also served as

rallying points for the enlistment of soldiers. The statuesque

soldier brazenly dashing to war was accompanied with

listings of locals who had enlisted. This inspired even

greater enlistment while creating a public record of scorn to

those who chose to ignore their "duty."

As the war continued past a glorious moment and quick

victory, the memorials took on more of a role of a museum.

The collection of combat memorabilia increased.

Photographs, books, and art describing the war continued.

Descriptions of the weapons of war and the style of

warfare that was taking place on the front lines was

requested, however in order to preserve the dignity of the

war, a good deal of censorship was practiced. Accounts of

the brutality were circulating back to the homefront through

letters and personal accounts of those who had returned.

Government regulation of the memorials however,

determined that in order to maintain support for the war

and to quell opposition to the countries war efforts, the

memorials would not portray an accurate description of

what was happening to the local communities fallen sons in

far away lands.

In the decade following Armistice, the second set of

memorial arose with less of a heroic bias. These memorials

tended to be oriented around churches and civic sites. The

meaning behind these memorials was entirely different from

those erected during the war. There was no longer a need

to rally support for enlistment and production for the war

machine. The grieving families now became the center of

attention as a desperate need for explanation and

justification of their losses required attending. The

communities, after enduring such losses, also needed to find

justification. The evaluation as to their accomplishments in

war with relation to their losses was difficult to weigh in

favor of the war. The losses were paid for both in lives and

resources. The living was then given the chance to honor

the dead at the memorials, while provided an opportunity

to pay their respects. An unspoken silence, a bowed head,

or a fought back tear were all signs of the indebtedness

with which the living had in honoring those who gave all in

preservation of a way of live. The two themes of war being

both noble and tragic tended to be included in almost the

entire second category of memorials. A physical memorial

with which a family member could touch or read their loved

one's name provided a necessary step in their grieving

process. The ability to let go of those lost was essential in

their mourning process, so that they could come to grips

with the fact that they were in fact no longer one of the

living, and had passed on. A sense of finality could be

achieved with the visiting of these memorials. With a loved

one being killed for ideals in such a far land, and in many

cases never returning for a funeral at his home, the family

needed some form of permanence to accept the reality of

the fallen soldier.

The final type of commemorative memorial were the war

cemeteries that were erected for those who returned home

as fallen soldiers. Regardless of differences in religion,

soldiers died, and having fought together, many were

buried together. Many different styles of monuments were

developed as centerpieces for the cemeteries, or in the

case of the Cenotaph in London, the absence of the

cemetery or bodies. The lack of adornment with religious

ornamentation became extremely popular. There was a use

of apparently basic structures that were characteristically

void of the patriotic schemes of previous memorials.

This somber reflection with which these were designed to

portray is conveyed without any glory of accomplishment,

nobility in giving of one's life, or testament to hardships


For those veterans who returned injured, reintegration into

society was often difficult if not impossible. If the injury

were severe enough, the lack of sufficient medical

technology often prevented complete recovery. Those who

were fortunate enough to recover completely were then

faced with the challenge of retraining and reintegration into

the workforce. If one's previous skills were not obsolete,

obstacles such as the government's neglecting to cover the

costs of rehabilitation served as barriers to reintegration.

The amount of soldiers returning with debilitating injuries

was so vast that the Army could not support them all.

Special interest groups fought to commemorate the

sacrifices endured by rallying support for the disabled,

however often the best source of assistance was one's

family. In millions of households, people took up adopted

kin in the support of those who returned. Sacrificing

money, time, and effort got many through where the

government could not provide the adequate support that

they needed.

The families of those who did not return were equally


Approximately three million of the men who died in the

war, left wives and children fatherless and with little means

for survival (Winter 46). War pensions were extremely tight

and provided wives with an amount that was less than the

average wage level (Winter 47). With the broad

acceptance of war pensions by widows, a welfare state

was established and was then accepted as more of a right

than a privilege. The amount that

they did receive was barely enough to survive and then

became significantly less with increases in inflation and the

lack of adjustment to their pensions.

In conclusion, in commemoration of those who served in

World War I, those left behind created monuments and

support networks to aid those left behind. From the

monuments during the war to rally support and elicit

volunteers to join the armed forces, to the cemeteries and

tombs created post-war to recognize their loss, the

majority of the commemoration of the soldiers was oriented

toward those who did not fight. The monuments to the

dead served to aid those grieving and help with the

acceptance of their loss. Very little post-war

commemoration celebrated those who survived. Armistice

Day parades honored veterans, however the tremendous

loss, which the country endured with the decimation of a

huge segment of the male population, left little room for

celebration. Families were destroyed and widows and their

orphaned children suffered. Disabled veterans, who did

return found little commemoration due to the government's

inability to rehabilitate, treat, reeducate, and retrain. The

sheer numbers of the "Army of the Dead" who returned

from World War I left scars that were not easily healed.

With commemoration to those who gave their lives,

communities struggled to recover from a devastating period

of loss.


Winter, Jay. Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning. The

Great War in European Cultutal History. Cambridge:

University Press, 1995.


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