Remembering

This Sunday November 11 is Remembrance Day marking 94 years since the end of WWI. It seems like a good time to reflect on how people are choosing to remember and connect.

Empirical observation suggests that Australians are attending ANZAC Day ceremonies in greater numbers. According to tour operators more people are traveling to overseas battlefields such as Gallipoli and the Western Front. It has also been reported that war tourism is booming in Sri Lanka.

As I’m writing my friend Tim will be taking his boots off somewhere in the PNG jungle after another day trekking on the Kokoda Trail.

Locally literature and documentaries about Australians at war are finding a growing popular audience.

Peter Fitzsimons has sold over 250,000 copies of his 2004 book Kokoda.

Last year Channel 10 screened the documentary Tour of Duty – Australia’s Secret War about the conflict in Afghanistan. The program was a top 20 show on free to air television for its premier broadcast and Ten’s third highest rating show of the day drawing almost 600,000 viewers.

The ability to engage through online resources such as the nominal roles made available by the Australian War memorial has opened opportunities to find out more about family members that served and Australia’s military history generally.

Veterans’ organisations are also finding new ways to reach people interested in reflection, remembrance or just connecting.

Veterans Affairs Canada has established a virtual war memorial that provides “information about the graves and memorials of more than 118,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who served valiantly and gave their lives for their country”.

In the United States there are a number of veterans’ groups that tour replicas of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. If you happen to be in Monroe, Louisiana over the weekend head down to the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum to check out the Vietnam Travelling War Memorial.

Its competition, The Moving Wall, has been making its way through Mid-West and Southern states since June.

On a more ambitious scale, artist Jon Brunberg has been working on a proposal for a Polynational War Memorial since 2004.

The idea is to create “a global war memorial that will commemorate all who died in all wars since World War II, and for a global organisation that will work with education, negotiations and data collection. The memorial will include more than 10 million names of soldiers and civilians”.

Brunberg says he will be working on the project for the remainder of his artistic career.

When I started on this series about commemorating war I was aiming to cover all the bases. I’ve barely scratched the surface.

How and why we choose to remember and what resonates with each of us is a vast and complex subject. It ranges from the deeply personal to the overtly public, shallow box ticking to considered reflection, granite to bronze, virtual to actual.

As a few people I spoke to said when we started to plumb the deeper layers – “there’s a PhD in that”.

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