Sites of war and conflict, symbolizing collective loss and representing significant events in the history of a community, nation, or the world are sometimes elevated to the status of “heritage.” The same is true of monuments or other kinds of memorials erected to remember those conflicts. Battlefields, bombing targets, military encampments, locations of naval engagements, and places associated with terrorist attacks speak of human tragedy and acts of violence; perhaps because of this, their interpretations are inherently subject to conflict in themselves, or at least to varying points of view. This issue of Change Over Time examines heritage produced by acts of destruction and our efforts to understand the complex narratives and gestures of remembrance that these sites represent.
Commemoration is embodied in physical sites (with or without vestiges) either on sites of conflict or at a distance and may also include interpretive panels or exhibits. Commemoration may also be observed through acts such as ceremonies and rituals. Some commemorative memorials integrate vestiges into their presentation. The hulk of the USS Arizona, sunk during Japan’s December 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor; the skeleton of the domed exhibition building that marked the zero point of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945; the stabilized walls of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry, a victim of the German Luftwaffe’s November 1940 blitz; and the “Survivors’ Stairs,” the last remaining element of the World Trade Center following its destruction on September 1, 2001, are all good examples of bringing visitors into contact with the physical reality of the sites.
Sites without physical remnants of the original conflict provide places of reflection to honor and recall sacrifices of another time. Washington, D.C. (and its immediate surroundings), provides a wealth of celebrated examples of war memorials: the famous U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, with its portrayal of the flag raising at Iwo Jima; the longawaited World War II Memorial; and architect Maya Lin’s haunting Vietnam Veterans Memorial, near the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. Many others, both in the United States and elsewhere in the world, perform similar functions of remembering conflicts far away from the homeland or site of actual engagement.
Commemorative acts and rituals serve as embodied forms of remembrance that…
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