War memorials are a commonplace in the countries I have lived in: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, The United States of America, Canada and Australia. Lots of wars spawn many war memorials and all the countries I have lived in have long histories of warfare; sometimes fighting alone, sometimes fighting as allies and occasionally even fighting against each other.
There are essentially two kinds of war memorial; those that simply commemorate the fallen and those that glorify some individual participant. I would shed no tears if all the countless statues of generals and their horses were consigned to cemeteries and museums or even broken up. Their histories, glorious or otherwise, will live on in rival history books written from this or that point of view.
The memorials to the fallen are an altogether different matter. When new, these enumerations in stone serve as a community’s thanks for the sacrifice of the individual soldiers and their still grieving families. As a war fades into history and slips beyond living memory these lists of the dead become fitting reminders of the terrible cost of war.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. not only honors service members who died in service in Vietnam/South East Asia, it honors too all those U.S. service members who fought in the Vietnam War, and those service members who were unaccounted for (Missing In Action) during the War.
Less well known than the Washington Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a memorial to the fallen in Australia’s wars. King’s Park in my adopted home town of Perth has a conventional Cenotaph in stone and marble but a less obvious, yet infinitely more touching memorial is the park itself.
Avenues criss-cross the park, but look a little closer. At the foot of each tree, lining those avenues, is a simple plaque. Each plaque honors an Australian soldier who didn’t come home. Look even closer, look at their ages so many didn’t even make their 20th birthday.
Most war memorials barely move me but this one does, even now as I write this. So you can keep your statues of generals and perhaps consider giving every soldier a tree. You will need a lot of trees though, there are a lot of trees in King’s Park.