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imperialism & war

What's in a Memorial?

At Oregon State University, there is currently a proposal to erect a memorial on campus to student soldiers from OSU. The proposal is currently pushing its way through the OSU bureaucracy with a minimum of fuss. This column, published in the OSU Daily Barometer on Friday, May 13th, argues that war memorials mean vastly different things to different people, something that's missing from the current debate.
Since when was adding another war memorial so uncontroversial an issue?

"I think it needs to be something everybody can share," ASOSU President Kristen Downey was quoted as saying about the proposed campus memorial for student soldiers that's currently pushing its way through the OSU bureaucracy.

I find Kyla Johnson's idea that a war memorial can have something for everyone simply due to the fact that we all have family members that have served in the military to be incredibly misguided. Do supporters of memorials like this always assume that the entire student body -- or for that matter, the staff and faculty of OSU -- shares their perspective on war and what memorializing it means?

If we're going to be honoring war here (and a memorial to soldiers of any kind certainly does just that), I want to know what supporters of the proposed memorial, supporters of this latest war in Iraq, and supporters of war in general think the proposed memorial holds for me.

I don't find anything exciting or glamorous about war. I don't get excited at the prospect of ending the life of someone's father, or some mother's daughter, or for that matter, some man's wife, or his son.

That doesn't get me off in the way it does one of my best friends from high school, who recently returned from Iraq, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

I don't need a monument to the fact that his life is going to be forever scarred by things he did when he was 22 years old. I know what war does to people, and I don't see a single reason to glamorize it, especially as long as the American government refuses to even take decent care of what veterans we do have.

I want to know what supporters of this memorial think the innocent men, women, and children of countries like Iraq that have died at the hands of these same student soldiers, whether they are from OSU or elsewhere, are going to get out of a memorial here for student soldiers.

I don't think they'll be very impressed. On the other hand, maybe it's what they've come to expect from Americans: unconscious disregard for the lives of anyone who doesn't speak English.

I want to know what students and faculty who come to Oregon State University from other countries will think of a memorial to our student soldiers who have died. Will those international travelers, for whom OSU is at least a temporary home, feel represented by a memorial that doesn't acknowledge the costs of war for anyone but America, when our tendency to invade other countries means we never bear the worst of the burden?

I want to know what passers-by to this memorial will think: Will they wonder if we memorialize and honor only destruction and death here at OSU? What about life, justice or peace?

We're Oregon State University, a school with a long and rich tradition of many amazing accomplishments that have nothing to do with war.

Why must we fall into the old high-school-history-textbook habit of noting the passing of history through the glorification of people who inevitably kill innocents?

For example, a friend of mine suggested a memorial noting everyone who died in the recent tsunami in Southeast Asia. What about memorializing in some fashion alumni of OSU who have gone on to serve in a great way? Why don't we erect a monument, or plant a tree, to those people who work for peace, not war?

I am not trivializing the lives of student soldiers who have died for a cause; after all, Oregon State's student soldiers are just as much human beings as any other victims of war.

Rather, I want to know why we must single out our losses from all the other people who have lost their lives.

As for the Veterans Committee, if they are really concerned about the lives of student soldiers, I would suggest they concentrate their effort on making sure they come home alive and well, rather than create something that will simply serve to inspire the future death and destruction of people that don't deserve it.

I'm curious to find out what the supporters of the memorial mean when they say it should have something for everyone, when there are so many people for whom war has nothing good to offer.