(Image by Ken Sprague)
Drive through any small town in Western Australia and you will find a war memorial. Usually located in the main street or centre of town the memorials record the names of men from the town and surrounding area who died in the various wars in which Australia has participated- WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam.
But what is striking is how little these memorials tell us about the horror and brutality of war.
As Chris Hedges writes in his latest piece in Truthdig, war memorials, whilst they pay homage to those who died, also dignify slaughter and perpetuate the old lies of the honor, glory and dignity of war.
Hedges whose column is published on Truthdig every Monday knows all about the horror of war. He spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He has written nine books, including “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009) and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003).
Hedges is a writer of great power and not for the fainthearted or the politically disinterested. His piece starts with this:
"War memorials and museums are temples to the god of war. The hushed voices, the well-tended grass, the flapping of the flags allow us to ignore how and why our young died. They hide the futility and waste of war. They sanitize the savage instruments of death that turn young soldiers and Marines into killers, and small villages in Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq into hellish bonfires. There are no images in these memorials of men or women with their guts hanging out of their bellies, screaming pathetically for their mothers. We do not see mangled corpses being shoved in body bags. There are no sights of children burned beyond recognition or moaning in horrible pain. There are no blind and deformed wrecks of human beings limping through life. War, by the time it is collectively remembered, is glorified and heavily censored".And Hedges continues:
"War memorials are quiet, still, reverential and tasteful. And, like church, such sanctuaries are important, but they allow us to forget that these men and women were used and often betrayed by those who led the nation into war. The memorials do not tell us that some always grow rich from large-scale human suffering. They do not explain that politicians play the great games of world power and stoke fear for their own advancement. They forget that young men and women in uniform are pawns in the hands of cynics, something Pat Tillman’s family sadly discovered. They do not expose the ignorance, raw ambition and greed that are the engine of war.
There is a burning need, one seen in the collective memory that has grown up around World War II and the Holocaust, to turn the horror of mass murder into a tribute to the triumph of the human spirit. The reality is too unpalatable. The human need to make sense of slaughter, to give it a grandeur it does not possess, permits the guilty to go free. The war makers—those who make the war but never pay the price of war—live among us. They pen thick memoirs that give sage advice. They are our elder statesmen, our war criminals. Henry Kissinger. Robert McNamara. Dick Cheney. George W. Bush. Any honest war memorial would have these statesmen hanging in effigy. Any honest democracy would place them behind bars".