Memorials to war

I recently visited a War Memorial. I saw the usual things – guns, aeroplanes, uniforms. Lots of exciting photographs of soldiers and fighting.

I was shocked, but not by what I saw there. It was what I didn’t see that shocked me.

Where was the real war?

Where were the dead and dying bodies? Where were the fatally wounded soldiers, missing arms and legs, torn apart, crying out to be eased of their pain, one way or another, when even death would be a welcome release? Where were the displaced, killed and injured civilians who got mixed up in a war they didn’t want, and mostly, didn’t care about? Where was the evidence of extermination and concentration camps, pogroms and genocide? Where were the crying soldiers forced by Authority to kill people they didn’t know, and might well have been friends with in a different situation? Where are the reports of the psychological damage that visits those soldiers lucky enough to survive, many years after they have killed other human beings who were only doing their “duty” to their own country?

If we are to try to stop wars people must be shown the real results, not just the sanitised glory. These are parts of war that should be shown so that visitors see what war is really all about. If it sickens and shocks them so that they oppose war in the future, then it has achieved a worthwhile end.

Certainly, it would shock children and other sensitive people. But they should be shocked. War is not nice. To pretend that war is glorious and somehow a wonderful adventure is wrong. People should face the reality, no matter how shocking.

People should be shocked by war. Perhaps that would stop them doing it.

I see a War Memorial as being a place to show the reality of war, not a Hollywood version of handsome, upright, happy soldiers fighting for democracy, for communism, for capitalism, or for anything else. It should show the misery, the pain, the damage to people and the environment. It should show the suffering.

Such a War Memorial would be a proper memorial to war, and to those who suffered and died in it. It would be a proper memorial to all the wasted lives. One that would, hopefully, teach us a lesson that we would never ever forget.

The War memorials we have don’t teach us anything about the evils and sickness of war. They teach us that war is glorious, exciting, our duty, and is “good”, “right” and “just”. Is this the lesson we want to teach our children?

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