WHAT A SECULAR MONUMENT LOOKS LIKE.

Author:Bardi, Jennifer
 
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What do war memorials look like and what do they symbolize? What shapes do they take, and whom do they represent?

THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS WAR MEMORIAL near Arlington, Virginia

This statue, dedicated in 1954, is modeled on the iconic 1945 photo taken of six US Marines atop Mt. Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The dates and locations of all Marine Corps battles wind around the upper part of the memorial's base. On the opposite side of the inscription (left), is the dedication: "In Honor and Memory of the Men of the United States Marine Corps Who Have Given Their Lives to Their Country Since 10 November 1775." While this leaves female Marines out, a number of explanatory signboards around the monument feature women Marines prominently, along with another dedication to "the Marine dead of all wars."

As physical structures erected to celebrate armed conflicts, war memorials in the modern era more often commemorate and honor the individuals who fought and those who were injured or died in war. Memorials to American war veterans dot the entire United States in the form of statues, obelisks, arches, gardens, fountains, and other structures. National memorials, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, honor all American service members of a conflict (over 58,000 lives lost in Vietnam). Smaller war memorials across the country highlight veterans from a certain town, commonwealth, or state, their names etched in stone, embossed on metal, or otherwise displayed for posterity.

Regardless of one's personal position on war in general or on a specific conflict in which the United States has engaged, one cant help but feel humbled and saddened reading the words and names on a war memorial. Often these displays include epitaphs that speak to the service, bravery, and diversity of those who made the ultimate sacrifice as members of the US Armed Forces.

In keeping with the secular nature of the United States, as guaranteed by the Constitution, the war memorials in this series honor all the individuals to whom they're dedicated. The inscriptions may be interpretive in a poetic sense, and the architectural design may also have specific intent, often to evoke emotion, solemnity, and appreciation. But in no way do they exclude anyone on the basis of creed. As it should be, in no way is a religion incorporated into the message of these memorials.

Unfortunately, this isn't the case with the final war memorial in this series. It towers...

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