Memorial too large

Wandering around London, I was struck by the size of its memorial: They are many but small, sprinkled through the life of the city. A memorial to women in World War II is in the middle of a road but with its bronze uniforms hanging on a stone wall, it speaks eloquently. Statues of heroes are lifesize.

Like everything else, we make our memorials big — too big, I think. When I went with my son on a class trip to Washington, we saw all the memorials and they are impressive (especially the new FDR memorial). But they are so big. It turns Washington into a city of death, almost.

Now New York is finally going to build its 9/11 memorial. But it has grown too big. It’s not the cost — which is now estimated at an incredible $1 billion. It’s the overpowering way this too-large memorial will be too big to be part of life. The NY Post called for shrinking the memorial sometime ago and I am coming to agree and even to wonder whether it should be at the site or elsewhere.

  • http://silkcharm.blogspot.com Laurel Papworth

    This bloglet was so good you had to say it twice hon? Yay! :P

  • http://www.skin-live.com/ sam

    MEMORIALS SHOULD BE BUILT IN SUCH AWAY THAT THEY DON’T OBSTRUCT CIVIC AMENITIES , AND , ARE RELEVANT TO THE SENTIMENTS OF THE PEOPLE. ERECTING AMONUMENT FOR MERELY POLITICAL GAIN , OR , FOR MAKING APOLITICAL STATEMENT IS NOT ENOUGH .

  • http://robertdfeinman.com/society Robert Feinman

    The previous biggest disaster was the fire and sinking of the ship General Slocum in 1904. The plaque on the island in the East river marking the spot is unreachable.

    The survivors put up this marker in a Queens cemetary:
    http://www.general-slocum.com/0photogallerych10.htm

    Seems about the right size to me. Why the families of the victims have been able to take over the entire issue of the rebuilding of the site is beyond me. It is not “hallowed ground” or a “cemetery”. It is the site of a disaster which has now been cleaned up. I don’t want to appear heartless, but they really don’t have any special “standing”. What happens at the site should be a matter of interest to the general public and not influenced by the emotions of the distraught families.

  • http://www.kukaburra.com Paul Saunders

    I whole heartedly agree. Following – well actually not following as i had planned already but it actually coinsided with – the recent talk i attended of Jeff Jarvis here in London at the guardian i created a blog. Kukaburra is new and live and begging for some attention.
    Back to the reason for my post though… London does have many memorial, small but very significant. Is it not the way for America to out do everyone else? Or is it that us Brits are just more subtle about things?

  • http://www.remembersarowiwa.com polly

    just been in NYC from London and paid a visit to ground zero… but also and fantastically to the Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City (more on that later). To me, the most moving memorial in NYC to 9/11 that i saw is the 100,000 daffodil bulbs which someone told me were donated by another country and were flowering all over central park. a brilliant idea…

    in terms of scale, I just think that the WTC memorial should have some humility about its aesthetics in the light of other genocidal world events such as srebrenica, rwanda, hiroshima, darfur … and perhaps one could mention the erasure of Fallujah from the face of the earth…? The point for me is about showing insight into the wider context…

    the irish hunger memorial is stunning however – totally arresting and moving in that context of harsh concrete, sheet glass and tower blocks. If only the English would have the humility to acknowledge their role in the irish famine genocide. but that’s the trouble with empire – can’t seem to acknowledge its damage to others, only its own glory or its own fallen.

    have a look at http://www.remembersarowiwa.com for a project addressing these issues

  • http://redstapler23.blogspot.com Suebob

    Absolutely.

    I think part of this memorial fever is the impact that the Vietnam Memorial – the Wall – had on us emotionally. Everyone who sees that FEELS it so strongly that now we want to somehow duplicate that emotional impact for every tragedy.

    We want to substitute the stimulation of emotions for genuine emotion – this is our curse as a modern society that has everything filtered and sorted for us. Is it worth over a billion dollars to stir up our emotions? This memorial isn’t really about memorializing anything. It is a theme park of death.

  • Poncho Villa

    Haha, check this out -> http://www.veryliberating.com

  • Toblerone2

    Looking at an artist’s rendering of one of the “reflecting absence” pools, and reading about how they will spend thousands of dollars just to keep the water from freezing in winter, I can’t help but think what a wonderful ice skating rink the pools will make in January.

    A memorial should be just that, a place to reflect and remember. Move the freedom museum somewhere else, it has little to do with what happened here.

    See the wikipedia entry for “World Trade Center Memorial” to see the image.

  • Taeyoung

    The Cenotaph, in London, is what a memorial should be. Future generations brought up on nothing but Hitler-histories may not recognise it for what it is, but for the present, it doesn’t need names or conceptual gimmicks to get its point across. It just sits there, and you know what monstrous death, suffering, and sacrifice it symbolises.

  • http://ruthcalvo Ruth

    My favorite memorial in D.C. is the Taft carillon : http://www.aoc.gov/cc/grounds/art_arch/taft.cfm.

    And don’t think they celebrate death, but life.

  • Austin Mike

    At Texas A&M University, a former military academy which still has a cadet corps among its 70,000 or so students, there is a memorial to former military cadets who lost their lives in battle. It is a granite block about 6 feet long and 4 feet high with brass nameplates for the dead, and their class years. There is also a more modern memorial to the 12 sudents who died when the bonfire they were working on collapsed. This memorial consists of a Stonehenge-like circle with each student memorialized individually, in detail., covering about an acre.

    I had the honor of visiting each with a former student, and retired military veteran, who simply pointed out that he knew many of the men whose names were on the former memorial, and had served with some of them.

  • http://greenteth.blog.co.uk/main Ian Thorpe

    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings
    Look on my works you mighty and despair.

    Hmmmmm.

  • http://www.unilagfaces.com Caleb A. O

    Wait till September 11, 2006 and see what we would showcase on this topic because we have enough people that have one or two experiences during that period. You can call me if you wants facts or just check out my website and see for yourself.

  • hey

    London’s monuments and memorials are somewhat smaller than they would be in the US, thanks to the method to pay for them. The monuments were paid for by public subscription, thanks to the VERY limited taxation system of the English Crown up until the 20th century.

    For victories that left Britain little damaged, great memorials were built, considering their limited finances, while for the two great victories in the 20th century, Britain was crippled for decades (it never did recover from WWI, and took decades to recover from WWII). This was then exacerbated by the great move to the Left that was more interested in class war than in memorializing the dead of the aristocratic struggles of the Wars. So the memorials for the recent conflicts seem understated.

    For people who know the history of London and Britain, there are many stupendous memorials on an immensely grand scale. Trafalgar Square, with its anything but life size sculpture of Nelson; Admiralty Arch, memorializing Queen Victoria and acting as a gate between The Mall and Trafalgar Square; Victoria Memorial, the large white and gold circular sculpture in front of Buckingham Palace; Constitution Arch/Wellington Arch, celebrating the Duke of Wellington at the end of Constitution Hill between Hyde Park and the grounds of Buckingham Palace; and The Monument, 202 foot column in The City memorializing the Great Fire.

    The Monument, while on a stupendous scale itself, is but one small part of the memorial to the fire. Christopher Wren was commissioned to build 50 parish churches, which are widely celebrated for their elegance and artistry, along with building St. Paul’s from the rubble of Old St. Paul’s. Few of the Wren churches survive, thanks to the bombings of WWII, and one who doesn’t know their provenance or that of St. Paul’s would likely dismiss the majesty and drama of memorials in London.

    The one great memorial in London that demonstrates the bathos that it is capable of is the wretched memorial to Diana. It is rather a monument to the short term power of Earl Spencer and Mohammed Fayed that forced through an ugly, ill-conceived, over grand memorial on the grounds of Hyde Park.

    Just a bit of pedantry to highlight that while the WWI and II memorials are very reserved and understated, this is not the typical style of London.

    As to what would be an appropriate memorial to 9/11: something glorious, martial, imposing. $1B seems a bit much, especially for an excercise in negation. A rather appropriate memorial would be a series of 911 foot tall flagpoles permanent US bases in Kandahar, Riyadh, Jeddah, Gezirah (Sudan), Jalalabad, Waziristan, and all of the hometowns of the 19 attackers. A “Memorial Forward” approach that is rather more Imperial than the US is now taking. But I have a rather Roman attitude to these sorts of things.

  • Caitlin S.

    I agree fully with your opinion that American memorials are too large. I recall visiting Washington DC as a 12-year-old, thinking to myself “Wow, the Lincoln Memorial is huge!” That is where my thought process ended and I’m pretty sure where most other people’s do as well. The size of the Lincoln statue did not cause me to reflect any deeper on the great things that he did for our country. I feel that many memorials could have been made smaller and they would still evoke equal if not greater sentiment. If people are distracted by the mere size of a statue, the objective of the memorial is lost. A memorial’s job is to celebrate heroes and the lives of victims, not to show off an artist’s capacity to construct the world’s highest glass tower or the largest granite bust.
    Also, I feel that enormous memorials can sometimes be in bad taste. If a statue is too prominent, it is no longer personal. After all, would you find it tasteful if upon losing a loved one, a friend opted to hang up a large sympathy banner in lieu of sending you a card?

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