Our nations and communities invest significantly in commemorating and memorializing the tragic events of our past. We hold events to mark anniversaries and erect physical monuments in our cities’ most prominent locations. Why does honoring the past play such a great role our present, and how does this remembrance affect us?
We live in an era that memorializes like none before and seek to create memorials that allow visitors to identify with victims of tragedy. But in portraying victims as just like us, are we paying enough heed to the political and cultural factors that led them to be victims to begin with?
Given his focus on the atrocities of Germany’s past, Alexis Tsipras would do well to consider Greece’s own anti-Semitic history. After all, atoning for the past begins in one’s own backyard.
Present-day memorials have taken on dimensions like never before. They occupy considerable amounts of public space and serve a pedagogic mission. Yet, this focus on shared experiences and public education has betrayed memorials’ primary function: contemplative, private reflection.
The “memory boom” has left Europe littered with monuments, so much so that when we’re not actively protesting them, we look right past them.
The Yasukuni Shrine memorializes Japan’s war dead, including WWII-era war criminals. For this reason, it has always been a controversial memory site. A much greater problem than the shrine itself, however, is the revisionist museum attached to it.
Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and Japan’s Hiroshima Peace Park are surprisingly similar, both in the message they deliver and the architectural means through which they do so. They portray a clear narrative of progression from darkness to light. But history is more complicated than that.