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 »

  1. This reminds me of the old country song “More Than a Name on a Wall” by the Statler Brothers. I listened to the song as a teenager in the 80’s and it seemed poignant and noble. Then I listened to it again in the early 2000’s with my 4 year old son who LOVED playing with little plastic army toys. This is when I changed my perspective on the nobility of losing your son to combat and what it meant to be the mother of a soldier. I also changed my mind about encouraging his war games by continuing to provide toys with that theme and started to discuss some of the costs of enlisting.

    As he got older, after the game was over and everyone had changed out of their hockey gear, he was the only one on his team who would go over and personally speak with the players on the opposing team. In the lobby without their team colors they were just two 12 year old boys that in another place and another time could have been friends.

    Every time he did that it surprised me but also worried me because his teammates would question him. “Why are you talking to THEM?” I worried it would make him more of a target than he already was. I don’t know if it did, but now his memes on Facebook show his red state, Midwestern roots and I wonder if he still remembers the names of all those kids he met after they took off their uniforms.

    Comment by themomma7 | December 7, 2018 | Reply

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