Each Memorial Day, tourists descend on the nation’s capital to visit memorials and monuments honoring members of the U.S. armed forces who've died defending their country. For the family and friends of the fallen, the act of remembering is daily—as is their grief. This distinction between public acknowledgement and private grief is captured tangibly in the sites on the National Mall.
Often the terms “monument” and “memorial” are used interchangeably to describe the iconic sites in the nation’s capital, but there is a difference. The New York Times recently cited philosopher of art Arthur Danto’s definition to illustrate this distinction: “We erect monuments so that we shall always remember, and build memorials so that we shall never forget.” While memorials are a source of remembrance, monuments seek to celebrate the purpose, the accomplishments, the heroic. They evoke the cause. As the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation campaigns for a site to honor those who've died in Iraq and Afghanistan, its members will likely have to grapple with these definitions in deciding what exactly it should be.
In March, Representatives Mike Gallagher and Seth Moulton introduced legislation authorizing a study and fundraising for a new national memorial. The bill also exempts the memorial from current law, which states that a memorial can’t be authorized until at least 10 years after the war has ended. The Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation is leading the initiative. In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, Andrew Brennan, the founder and executive director of the group, argued that “we have met the historic burden context,” in light of the thousands of those who have died, been wounded, or deal with post-traumatic stress. But memorializing wars while confronting and remembering sacrifice can be a complicated endeavor.