The following article examines monuments of historical depictions of fallen heroes. The ‘National War Memorial’ in Canada and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in the United States were selected to demonstrate how landmarks have been used to commemorate fallen veterans. Vernon March planned the ‘National War Memorial,’ which is located in Confederation Square in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, Ontario. The monument stands 21 meters tall, with a 3 meter wide, 8 meters long, and 2.5 meters deep arch at the apex. The memorial was built with over 500 tonnes of rose-grey Canadian granite and 30 tonnes of bronze. On top of the arch sits two 5.3 meter high figures which are symbolic of peace and freedom (Ferguson 27). The ‘Vietnam Women’s Memorial’ was designed by a Mexican sculptor by the name Glenna Goodacre. The memorial is a multi-figure bronze monument in the form of an all-round sculpture; it is 2 meters tall and weighs well over 1 tonne (Hagopian 506). Both monuments follow the modernism style movement. Few monuments have recognized civilians as heroes; the ‘National War Memorial’ and the ‘Vietnam Women’s Memorial’ monuments are some of the few monuments that have recognized the fact that civilians had a role to play in helping the soldiers achieve success. As such, the primary focus of this essay is to show that these two monuments are different from others in that they have acknowledged civilians as fallen heroes.
The ‘National War Memorial’ depicts servicemen and women from all branches of the Canadian forces walking in unison through the arch; behind these servicemen are nurses, medical corps, Royal Canadian engineers and stretcher bearers who represent the civilians involved in the war (Ferguson 27). The ‘National War Memorial’ reflects the social and cultural identity of its day since it has incorporated the themes of peace, freedom, and unity. When analyzed from the standpoint of the social and cultural identity of its day; the soldiers and civilians emerging from the arch represent a “coming of age” of Canada as a country following the end of the First World War. Canada was in pursuit of stability and an end to the conflict in the world; Canada achieved this and was included in the treaty of Versailles negotiations and the creation of the League of Nations (Ferguson 33). The figures at the top of the monument, representing peace and freedom support the interpretation that Canada had finally achieved peace and stability hence its birth as a proper nation, “coming of age.” The monument was erected in remembrance of the soldiers and civilians who gave their lives to help Canada achieve peace and freedom.
The ‘Vietnam Women’s Memorial’ also reflects the social and cultural identity of its day when Americans began recognizing that civilians who took part in the war suffered psychologically due to what they saw during the war. The monument depicts three women, presumably nurses, attending to an injured soldier. One nurse is praying; another is looking to the sky as if seeking a sign from God while the other is comforting the soldier (Hagopian 506). It took Americans several years to realize that even the civilians who went to war also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorders just like the men who fought in the war. The realization that civilians also suffered from the effect of war shaped the social and cultural identities of future art which now sought to acknowledge the role played by civilians in wars; hence their entitlement to commemoration as fallen heroes (Hagopian 143). The ‘Vietnam Women’s Memorial’ was therefore erected to commemorate women civilians who took part in the Vietnam War.
The two monuments mentioned above are similar in that they have both recognized civilians as heroes of war. Also, both works have made use of bronze sculptures. In addition, both works represent their cultural climate; the monument in Canada represents the peace and stability that Canadians enjoy while the memorial in America highlights the fact that it is a land of the free where women are accorded equal consideration as men. The only difference between these two works is in the fact that they were influenced by the traditions and ideologies held by the people who built them. The Canadian culture was that of peace, freedom, and unity; the theme of unity can be seen since the depictions of soldiers and civilians are moving together hence highlighting unity (Ferguson 27). Peace and freedom are represented by the two figures on top of the monument. The American monument was influenced by the society which wanted both men and women to be recognized for the vital role they played in the Vietnam War (Hagopian 143).
Both works have influenced the contemporary expression of the theme that civilians also deserve recognition as war heroes. For example, Britain has recently erected a monument ‘Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial’ which has acknowledged civilians as fallen war heroes. This sculpture consists of two Portland stone monoliths weighing more than 30 tonnes and a thick Bronze medallion at the center of the two stones. The medallion has sculptural relief depicting, on one side members of the armed forces and civilian workers on the other side. The monument, therefore, recognized both soldiers and civilians as fallen heroes during the Afghanistan and Iraq war.
In conclusion, many of the monuments erected in commemoration of fallen heroes do not recognize civilians as heroes. However, the understanding of the vital role that civilians have played in wars has influenced contemporary art; this is true especially for art designed to commemorate fallen heroes. Governments, as well as artists, now understand that they have a responsibility to acknowledge all fallen heroes including civilians. As a result, new monuments, such as the ‘Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial’ in Britain have acknowledged civilians as fallen heroes.
Ferguson, Malcolm E. O. Canada’s Response: The Making and Remaking of the National War Memorial. Ottawa, 2012. Print.
Hagopian, Patrick. The Vietnam War in American Memory: Veterans, Memorials, and the Politics of Healing. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009. Print.