Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

War Memorials

The student union at Iowa State University is, as at many state universities, also a war memorial. It’s in the name: Memorial Union. The main entrance is what is known as Gold Star Hall, and carved into the stone walls are the names of Iowa State students who were killed in the wars and other military actions the US has been involved in since World War 1. This is a picture of the wall above the doors to the Gold Star Hall.

It reads “A memorial to the six thousand Iowa State College men and women who offered their lives during the world war in the cause of human liberty and free government.”

I’ve walked through here a number of times before on my way to somewhere else–the university bookstore, the food court–but yesterday I saw this part of the memorial, really saw it, for the first time.

These are the names of the ISU students who were killed during the Global War on Terrorism, which started over 17 years ago now. It says something that there are only two names on the list even though the war has been going on long enough for US children born at its start to be entering their senior years of high school, perhaps even going through early enlistment for military service at their next birthday. One thing is reiterates is that, in the US, we only honor our own soldiers in this way. We’ve refused to even number those killed at our hands in this “war,” much less memorialize them

But there’s something else important about this part of the memorial. It’s not permanent. It’s a piece of wood fastened to the wall, and the statement at the bottom, in case you can’t read it in the picture, reads “To be cut in stone after conflict ends.”

When George W Bush gave his war that name, the Global War on Terrorism, I remember thinking (and I was not alone) that this meant perpetual war, because you can’t win a war on a tactic, but you can certainly keep one going against anyone you want to demonize. This image really drove that feeling home for me, because we’re now into our third president since this war started, and I feel pretty confident that this one won’t be ending it, and neither will the one after that, regardless of which political party he or she claims. Because we are the United States. This is who we have been for a very long time, and the people in power have little to no desire to change that. I imagine that, at some point, more names will be carved into that wood slab, but I don’t have to imagine that people in other countries who our government has decided are terrorists or terrorist-ish or just in the way will die, and most of us, even those who do the actual killing. will never know their names

December 7, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment