Monuments of war
Without history you have no nation; without monuments you have no history. Watching the West teaches the importance of memories about the values, which make up a nation as established in their history and therefore their existence and national values. These values have been imbibed into the culture, rooted as they are in what the patrons call their traditions, repeated in a thousand small ways, handed over from generation to generation thus strengthening their nationalism, which defines who they are.
Civil War in Britain is well documented and celebrated. The whole of the ritual of Black Rod, the relative position of Parliament to Royalty etc. is that United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, whose queen reigns but does not rule, where the grandees of the country sit in the House of Lords but where the power is in the House of Commons. The Government of the day announces its programmes in the Queen’s speech. To hear the Queen the members of the House of Commons go to the House of Lords but to enter that chamber Black Rod knocks at the door three times to announce the arrival of the Commons, thus reenacting a custom that started with Cromwell and Charles. I.
Civil War in US – the Lincoln memorial was built to commemorate the life of Abraham Lincoln, the Republican President who went to war to end slave trade and slavery. The Northern State of the US had outlawed the slave trade but the Southern States – South and North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, etc. still wanted to continue the practice of slavery and slave trade. Lincoln believe that article 1 of the US constitution – that all men are born equal in the sight of God and had the right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness – the war was won by President Lincoln and the centre of Washington has this massive Lincoln memorial, with the names of all those who lost their lives in that civil war engraved in the memorial: also in the middle of the US capital of Washington the reflecting pool, the Lincoln Hall nearby, being overlooked by the Houses of Congress – all are historical monuments defining American Independence and commitment to freedom. In Philadelphia, the home of the founding fathers – Benjamin Franklin, William Penn, George Washington are monuments immortalizing the US war of independence from Britain, there is Liberty Bell, the original drafts of the constitution of the United States among other things emphasizing the principle of no taxation without representation. These are the stuff and epoch of the United States – they are captioned in monuments and buildings where US citizens continually tell the stories to their children, enforcing the order of the US. The scene of the decisive wars against Britain and the decisive war against secession are preserved for all generations to see the building blocks of the American nation so that its ideals, values become immured in the people, emphasizing their nationalism.
Arlington cemetery for example, was set apart to bury those who made supreme sacrifice in active duty. Arlington is a monument to American heroes: it houses the body of President Kennedy and the everlasting light his life had lit in the American psyche. Washington also has the Jefferson memorial.
The War of Independence in US, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – all these countries have monuments commemorating their soldiers’ contribution in the First and Second World War. More monuments of World War II are strewn all over Europe and the United States – historical epochs are commemorated because such ceremonies are the feedstock of nationalism. US citizens’ are indeed the greatest tourists of their own country, the same can be said of Britain and French as they walk through their own histories as represented by statutes, monuments, parades, museums – all aimed at defining their own nationalism and place in history.
Just last month the battle of Sommes and the Sommes memorial were celebrated by the UK and France as usual, attended by the Royal Family and the Queen, the President of France, Royalty of Holland, Belgium and others. Sommes is represented in a beautiful garden, cemetery, landscaped beautiful to force thinking of what Sommes was as a decisive moment in the 1st World War.
The Battle of Britain, the Normandy Landing are other memorial days and ceremonies aimed at searing the spirit of nationalism in the people; encouraging them not to forget and inspiring them never again to allow a similar occurrence.
Every year Europe celebrates through ceremonies and monuments of V-day celebrations – bringing in the United States and other allies; so important that even those defeated, Japan and Germany observe it. The museums – the war museums – further strengthen the bonds of nationalism.
The Auschwitz memorial and museum in Germany document the Nazi atrocities in trying to wipe out Jews, what is now historically known as the Holocaust. Also preserved are the final resting place of Adolf Hitler and his wicked gas chambers built to gas all Jews. Other monuments are the cell of Adolf Hess who died in prison for his genocidal acts. The genocidal war in Rwanda is commemorated in the museum of Skulls in Rwanda as a reminder of the hated war between the Hutu and the Tutsi – the war ended in the forging together through that hell of the Rwandese.
Dr. Patrick Dele Cole is a former Ambassador to Brazil
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