Big memorials like the a proposed Eisenhower memorial in Washington D.C. and the Ground Zero memorial in New York City are big deals, but what happens when more local memorials fall into disrepair due to lack of money and attention? Stars and Stripes looks at the tough times facing smaller memorials:
The corroding monument has challenged the community to maneuver a delicate question: How do we honor those who have served when memorials deteriorate and finances are tight?…
The National Trust for Historic Preservation waged a 2 1/2-year fight to restore the aging Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., when some people proposed replacing it. Far less disagreement surrounded a decision to update the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco after a powerful earthquake in 1989.
In Greensboro, N.C., residents have been grappling with what to do with the city’s own decaying tribute to the soldiers of World War I…
In Michigan’s upper peninsula, the Wakefield Memorial Building once stood as a grand structure overlooking a lake in Wakefield, an old mining town. The memorial, built in 1924 to commemorate the sacrifices of World War I soldiers, was expansive, including a banquet hall, meeting room and theater.
By the 1950s, the community couldn’t afford the upkeep of the building and sold it to a private owner. Over the years, there were attempts to renovate the structure. But it was deemed too expensive and by 2010, the building was demolished.
Sociologists have written some interesting pieces about the creation of memorials, like the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington D.C., but this story suggests another approach to memorials: the middle-life and end-life of memorials. What happens when the generations that built the memorials are long gone? What happens when a community decides it has other financial priorities? What is the expected lifespan of memorials or, in other words, what is the half-life of memorials? It could also raise some interesting questions about how local memorials and memorial events should be. How many individual communities commemorate these important events and are there regional, social class, and racial differences in which communities build and maintain memorials?
A West Point faculty members discusses a ritual performed by civilians when they encounter members of the American armed services:
These meetings between soldier and civilian turn quickly into street theater. The soldier is recognized with a handshake. There’s often a request for a photograph or the tracing of a six-degrees-of-separation genealogy: “My wife’s second cousin is married to a guy in the 82nd Airborne.” Each encounter concludes with a ritual utterance: “Thank you for your service.”…
The successful reincorporation of veterans into civil society entails a complex, evolving process. Today, the soldier’s homecoming has been further complicated by the absence of a draft, which removes soldiers from the cultural mainstream, and by the fact that the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have little perceptible impact on the rhythms of daily life at home.
Whether anyone ever spat on an American soldier returning from Vietnam is a matter of debate. The sociologist and veteran Jerry Lembcke disputed such tales in “The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.” Apocryphal or not, this image has become emblematic of an era’s shame, and of the failure of civilians to respond appropriately to the people they had sent to fight a bankrupt war.
The specter of this guilt — this perdurable archetype of the hostile homecoming — animates today’s encounters, which seem to have swung to the other unthinking extreme. “Thank you for your service” has become a mantra of atonement. But, as is all too often the case with gestures of atonement, substance has been eclipsed by mechanical ritual. After the engagement, both parties retreat to separate camps, without a significant exchange of ideas or perspectives having passed between them.
The writer goes on to suggest that this ritual is better than some alternatives but is ultimately a “poor substitute” for needed larger discussions about how war affects individuals who fight in them and how society should respond.
I wonder if anyone could uncover when this ritual began and then became the norm. The article contains the opinions of several soldiers regarding the ritual and it would also be interesting to hear comments from citizens who have said this. Rituals don’t develop because they are pointless: I suspect civilians feel they are doing something good on their end, even if they may be unaware of how it is received on the other end. What percentage of civilians would approach a uniformed soldier if presented the opportunity? Does the usage of the phrase differ by political background and/or support for certain military actions?
In the end, is there anything that a civilian could say in a casual interaction that would adequately address all the complicated issues involved? And is this ritual evidence of what some have suggested is a growing gap between those in those who are in the military versus those who pursue other opportunities?
The case against David Hinkson included prominent testimony from a man claiming to be a decorated war veteran. The problem: the witness’ claims about killing men and being decorated in combat were false.
All lies. Mr. Swisher had never seen combat, had killed no one and had served without distinction. The document was a forgery. Mr. Swisher has since been convicted of lying to federal officials, wearing fake medals and defrauding the Department of Veterans Affairs of benefits for combat injuries.
But the jury knew none of this, and with Mr. Swisher’s testimony it convicted Mr. Hinkson of soliciting three murders. He was sentenced to 33 years for those crimes, along with 10 years for tax evasion, and he is serving his sentence in the maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo.
The New York Times uses this case to illustrate a larger question: just how different is testimony from a veteran in court? According to veteran’s groups, jurors respect military service and put more faith in testimony from veterans.
Culturally, being a veteran does seem to confer certain respect from other citizens. Think of instances where veterans are applauded, perhaps at a sporting event, church, or civic gathering. Serving in the military is equated with bravery, courage, and patriotism.
But do these qualities necessarily translate into providing true testimony or acting legally or morally? Not necessarily. In cases where the credibility of witnesses matters, it seems like being truthful about decorated military service would matter – if it didn’t, there would be no reason to lie to claim one was a decorated veteran. It sounds like it will take some work to translate cultural ideas about veterans as honorable citizens into court proceedings.
While time spent in the military can be cast as a good stepping stone to a career or an education, a new study in American Sociological Review argues that veterans who spent time in combat had damaged job prospects for the rest of their lives.
According to Businessweek:
“Veterans who saw combat started their work lives at a relative disadvantage that they were unable to overcome. Soldiers exposed to combat were more likely than non-combat veterans to be disabled and unemployed in their mid-20s and to remain so throughout their worklife,” Alair MacLean, an assistant professor in the sociology department at Washington State University Vancouver, said in an American Sociological Association news release.
MacLean and colleagues analyzed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a long-term survey of individuals and families conducted annually since 1968. The researchers focused on veterans and non-veterans who would have been between the ages of 25 and 55 in any year between 1968 and 2003…
Combat veterans had higher rates of employment than the other groups in the initial years included in the study but had significantly higher levels of unemployment in most years after 1975.
All in all, evidence of the toll war can exact from those who fight it.