By: Ben Nechmad
The amount of killing and death that occurred during the American Civil War was practically on an industrial scale. There were no graceful or peaceful deaths, soldiers lives were ripped from under them in a hail of bullets and shrapnel made exponentially worse by the new weapons of the time. The traditional views of a quiet death at home were completely disrupted and perverted. I believe that we as the American people were so severely traumatized by this abrupt exposure to death, that it has influenced our view of patriotism and war until today.
Killing and war are not natural human tendencies and can inflict horrible emotional and mental trauma on soldiers as well society as a whole. The Civil War caused soldiers to have no remorse for killing. Drew Faust Writes,
“Soldiers acted with as little concern as if it were not men but “hogs dying around them.” (59)
There was so much death going on that the only way to cope with it was to shut off any emotional response. People became mere objects of war. The only way that 19th Century Americans could come to terms with this inhumanity was to assign glory to the deaths themselves. Faust points out in the “Republic of Suffering” that understanding the way someone passed was a crucial step in the acceptance process of loved ones. Up until the war, it was normal for people to die at home surrounded by family. This was considered a “Good Death” and allowed the family to view their loved one in a positive light during their last moments on earth. The thought of thousands of young American men dying on a field far away from loved ones completely contradicted this concept and death was seen as disgraceful and undignified. Americans were deprived of the ability to process this vast amount of death so, in turn, they placed the very idea killing and war within a noble and patriotic context. Dying in war became the new “Good Death.” Abraham Lincoln turned the soldiers at Gettysburg into martyrs for the patriotic cause of democracy, He said,
that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
What was formerly disgraceful was now honorable. This concept replaced the older notion of death in order to alleviate the trauma that the American public was going through. Civil War monuments were styled in a way that highlighted this honor and are usually overexaggerated symbols of bravery and dominance. While they may have been necessary to alleviate the trauma and pain of the time, I believe that these glorifications of war are not appropriate for public spaces.
We as well, live in an era of traumatizing death and destruction due to war and extremism. We may be farther removed from the killing on a geographical level but modern media has brought the trauma close to home and into our living rooms and palms. The graphic images of death that we are confronted with on a daily basis are enough of a reminder that violence is not something to be glorified or positively remembered, especially on public grounds. It is then, increasingly crucial to reevaluate what we place in our public spaces. Civil War monuments, in the exaggerated way that they are depicted, are no longer culturally relevant. I have the utmost respect for the veterans that have sacrificed their lives for the great democracy we now live in, but I have to acknowledge as an urban planning student and, more importantly, a human being, that glorification of violence and war, no matter how noble the cause is, does not belong in the public spaces meant for all of us to enjoy and grow from.
This is a clear example of a Civil War monuments glorifiying the act of war and practically deifiing the solider. The rider can be seen in valiant clothing as well as on horseback, a traditional pose representing dominance.
The Korean War Memorial is a good example of a healthier and more appropriate remembrance of our soldiers. The men are depicted as ordinary people with even a slight look of fear and anxiety on their faces. This and other more modern war memorials convey the harshness and undesirable nature of war while still respecting the fallen soldiers. If we were to erect future civil war memorials of any kind, I believe they should be portrayed in a realistic and educational manner.