Mixed memories

How do we honor those who lost their lives in the military? My whirlwind trip to witness my daughter’s high school graduation in the U.S. coincided with Memorial Day, a holiday devoted to remembering those who have died, especially in war. Wars generate winners and losers. Honoring “the greatest generation,” the Americans who fought in World War II, along with all others who have worn a military uniform comes almost without thought in the U.S. I have marched in celebratory parades many times. To honor the Austrians who have fallen in lost causes remains more problematic. In Salzburg the communal cemetery near my apartment includes a more subdued monument to war dead from both world wars. In another part of town sits a more recent statue dedicated to the Trümmerfrauen, women of the rubble, who had to rebuild (without men in many cases) in the aftermath of massive bombing and other wartime destruction. I am torn. Commemoration and learning from the past take different forms. Decrying the Nazi past unites nigh to all. But for my students in Austria, remembering the war means taking the lessons beyond history to the present, challenging ethnic prejudice, militarism, and excessive displays of patriotism. They apply these to the rule of might that allows search without warrant, shooting on another’s shores, and the continuation of Guantanamo. They question what I see on display for Memorial Day.

3 thoughts on “Mixed memories

  1. Joan Denman says:

    Interesting to learn about the Trümmerfrauen. Do you know of other countries who honor the women left behind?

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