Lisa Budreau on the politics of remembrance,
Following Armistice Day, the U.S. government took charge of the identification, burial and memorialization of American service members who died overseas. Secretary of War Newton Baker gave American families options. One was burial in American cemeteries to be built in Europe.
Another was to have the war dead brought back to their own communities.
“What the government didn’t expect was that the majority of Americans would choose to have their war dead brought home,” Budreau said.
One unintended result was that the remains’ return to families across the country, and the ceremonies that ensued, inhibited agreement on a single narrative that could articulate the meaning of the sacrifice.
“Commemorations are meant to unify communities, stir our collective memories and validate the sacrifices that were made,” Budreau said. “But the democratic process responds to the wishes of its citizens and cannot, by its very nature, readily contribute to an enduring national remembrance.
“I think we are still struggling with finding meaning in the ambiguity of the war’s death and suffering.”