“There’s no point in burying a hatchet if you’re going to put up a marker on the site.” Sydney Harris (1917-1986); American Newspaper Columnist
I came across this quote and it got me thinking about whether memorials to tragic events are an act of reconciliation or an act of hubris. Whenever there is a national tragedy there often follows some sort of memorial to it. Growing up in a place of historical import, one could turn in any direction and find a plaque affixed to a building, or freestanding signage, marking the location of some significant moment in American history. As we move through history the markers for events seem to be getting bigger, and more loaded with meaning.
There’s no statue in Pearl Harbor. Rather, the USS Arizona itself became the memorial with a visitor center bridging it. There is a semi-circle of Hokie stones on the campus of Virginia Tech. They’re small, but the number of them, and the landscaping around them gives the site a larger feel. Lower Manhattan has two giant reflecting pools on the footprints of the World Trade Center buildings.
The point of erecting a memorial is helpful when it reminds us of the fragility and sacredness of life, and points us towards forgiveness and reconciliation. But what happens when those images are better at conjuring up resentments for wrongs done to us? At what point do memorials go from softening our hearts to hardening them? When we say that we will not forget an event, I wonder what part of the event we’re talking about: the people who suffered, of the people who did it to us. I wonder whether our contemporary memorials support the grace of reconciliation or sharpen unresolvable resentment.
What do you think?