Every war, great and small, deserves its memorials, without doubt – any occasion in which social or political leaders have asked young men to die for small salaries and smaller, albeit shiny, medals, should be remembered, if only as a warning to a future, saner, generation. For hundreds of years this has been the way of things – young men go off to war, and their elders build memorials to the ones that failed to return.
Small-ish wars may perhaps bring small memorials – there’s at least one dedicated to the nineteen American fatalities from Operation Urgent Fury – whereas, traditionally, larger wars created more and larger memorials.
There are memorials to the American Civil War everywhere – statues and plaques and parks and plinths and fountains, oh my.
When The Great War (WWI) ended, memorials to the far too many young victims of the most brutal conflict appeared in, quite possibly, even more places than for the Civil War.
From 1918 to 1943 or so, it seems you could hardly turn around without running into a memorial to WWI, here in the States. There were the big expensive memorials, of course – and where there wasn’t room, or money, to build one of those, people bolted an artillery piece to a concrete slab in a corner of a park somewhere. Some were undoubtedly American-made, but it seems like the Atlantic, at the end of the war, must have been brimming with transport ships carrying German cannons westward, destined to wind up in parks in small towns across the country.
A lot of ‘em didn’t survive the scrap drives during WWII, of course, and many have disappeared since, as old age, the environment, and apathy changed people’s perceptions of what were increasingly rusty eyesores. That was okay, though, because post-WWII, every town and city with a VFW lodge seems to have acquired, however briefly, a surplus (American) tank, as combination memorial/trophy/conspicuous display of the overwhelming awesomeness of American engineering.
Over time, a lot of those have themselves disappeared, to museums or collectors or, quite often, scrapyards. Fair’s fair, after all; pointing to a Sherman on a concrete slab and saying “that’s what kicked Hitler’s ass, kid” has lost some of the impact it had in, you know, the early 1950s.
Where are the memorials and war trophies for more recent conflicts, though? Where are the rusty T-62s or M-60s commemorating the First Gulf War? After the Second Gulf War we of course set about an ambitious programme of nation-building, and in our typical penny-pinching style all the surviving BRDMs and whatnot wound up serving the New Model Iraqi Army.
And then there’s the Taliban. I suppose we haven’t actually won that war, yet – and it’s hard to deny that a battered Datsun pickup truck is a pretty pathetic memorial to the many who gave their all over there. Perhaps if and when that war ever ends, the thousands of already obsolescent up-armoured HMMWVs and first-generation MRAPs can get demilitarized and stuck on concrete slabs somewhere, but it lacks a certain something compared to a Feldhaubitze 98/09, don’t you think?
In all seriousness, though – nation-building and counter-insurgency conflict without end notwithstanding – whither the war trophies?