Memorializing History?

The angry battles over the propriety of statues commemorating Confederate soldiers, and the somewhat different arguments that regularly erupt over the design of war memorials and the like, are reminders that–as a species–we humans like to erect permanent (or at least, long-lasting) mementos of people and events we consider worth memorializing.

There are probably psychological studies probing the reasons for that evidently widespread impulse, and I thought about what that desire to commemorate might tell us when I read a request from Lester Levine, who regularly comments here. Lester asked me to post the following announcement/invitation to the community that converses (or lurks) on this site.

You are a creative bunch. So, as we all wallow in health and political turmoil, I would like to invite you and anyone you know to deeply immerse hands, minds and souls in an engaging project. It will require minimal artistic skills and “production” time.

In addition to my curmudgeonly comments on this blog, I am Lester Levine, the only person to read all 5,201 entries to the 2003 World Trade Center Memorial Competition. My 2016 book highlights the 100+ most innovative designs submitted. That research forever interested me in the role of memory/memorials in history and culture.

And so, as we approach 9/11/2021, I am struck by how the January 6, 2021 event has also been “named” by its date.. Likewise, I can’t help but wonder about the artistic/intellectual challenge of imagining a physical marker for historical memory. It was not war; there were few killed. Yet, many think the event was a seminal moment for the United States and all that it stands for.
Announcing the “Remembering 1/6 Design Competition”
Opens 8/17/21
Open to anyone, anywhere
Entry format, rules, questions –
Entries due by midnight US Eastern time, 10/22/21 to
Judged by creators of innovative 9/11 memorial entries
Winners announced on 12/6/21

I will be interested to see what the people responding consider appropriate “markers” of that very troubling and ominous event.

I just hope that a hundred years or so from now there are still people around to see whatever monument is ultimately erected.


  1. When I moved to Indiana in 1975’s I was taken aback by the local new outlets obsession to “celebrate” the anniversary of “The Chappaquiddick incident” (Until Teddy Kennedy died). They really LOVE to celebrate shit that happens to other folks. And if somebody who wears a jock strap to work gets SICK —- Holly cow — stop the presses. HUGE NEWS. “Local sports moron gets sick”.
    So with that history, I really wonder how the crazy shit will be remembered in the “R” states.

  2. Love the idea, but it is hard for me to get my head around anything that memorializes the wretched creature Donald J. Trump. He is a gargoyle horrifying anyone looking with un-prejudiced eyes and should never be “memorialized” in any way. No matter what any artistic rendering might be for this event and day, the vomitous specter of Trump and his mindless, incredibly violent and fundamentally ignorant hoard of followers will live in infamy without a three-dimensional reminder of how the 25% of us can be so ugly.

  3. When you say “seminal event,” do you mean how we launched into war with Saudi Arabia over the downing of our World Trade Center?

    Or the part where our POTUS and his administration lied to us with the support of the lapdog media to the American people so they could exact revenge in faraway lands profiting political insiders and the Beltway Bandits?

    Until we have established the unredacted truth about how two aluminum planes demolished three concrete and steel buildings in precisely the same fashion, no plaques or statues.

    I believe the lawyers for the survivors were stopped by Obama from suing Saudi Arabia in an international court because it would open up lawsuits by other countries against us. So, there is no closure for even the survivors who lost family members.

    Maybe we could erect a statue of GWB in Kabul for his vision in reshaping the country into the democractic model of the Middle East that it was as long as we pumped money into it for 20 years.

    Julian Assange told us in 2011 that the Afghan War was a farce – all lies – it was a country where the war profiteers were laundering taxpayer money to military contractors. We silenced him and tortured him while the war criminals stole $2.3 trillion.

    Julian is still in prison, the media, politicians, and war profiteers keep lying, and the Taliban runs the country again. So sorry, Lester, I can’t think of anything appropriate for that site. I can’t even think of an unworthy gesture.

  4. For some reason, I woke up this morning with a verse from “Desiderata” running through my mind. I Googled the meaning of the word and found the meaning, something needed or wanted, to fit the blog today. Statues and memorials have different meanings for different people for different reasons. Personally, my view of those Confederate statues and who they memorialize are that they were Americans attempting to leave the Union, not overthrow it. They were welcomed back into the Union by President Lincoln with no criminal charges filed. Their reasons for wanting to leave the Union actually describes the underlying reason for the beginning of America. Removing those statues (the Confederate flag is a different matter) will not remove their part in history or change history as it unfolded before, during and after the Civil War. The fact that Reconstruction continues today brings an interesting question; how will our “Memorializing History” be written for future generations? Where will Donald Trump’s name (and maybe that naked statue) be placed in the annals of history?

    By the way; Trump has now stated that “the Taliban are great negotiators and strong fighters”, will this add to his popularity? Probably so.

    “You are a child of the universe,
    no less than the trees or the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

    Those lines from “Desiderata” could be telling us that we are facing Karma today for the years of ignoring Climate Change and the part we continue to play in Global Warming. Those who continue to defy and protest against wearing masks and refusing to be vaccinated appear to be facing their own Karma…but infecting and dragging others along with them like an incomplete abortion. Our children are now paying the price; will we be “Memorializing History” with what we are living with today? And someone has now started a deadly rumor to use horse worming medication against Covid-19.

  5. As I read this I immediately envisioned a statue of Lincoln, very similar to the one at the Lincoln monument. Except that Lincoln has his head bent over and buried in his hands.

  6. I envision a Pantheon of Domestic Treason: panels dedicated to Shay’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the War of the Southern Rebellion, the Ludlow Massacre, Murders during the Civil Rights Campaign, Oklahoma City Bombing, World Trade Center Attack and the Trump Treason. Just a thought

  7. Ahhh….this will require a much stronger morning brew than I usually make, as well as a stronger evening cocktail than I usually make. The kernel of an idea immediately popped into my head but it’s not complete.

    Todd, as usual, is smack on the point. Our foreign policy has largely been on cruise-control set by Cheney/Bush for 20 years and was geared to topple governments around the world in countries that posed a threat to American “interests” and manufacture crony-capitalist oligarchies labeled “democracies” and deeply indebted to their U.S. counterparts.

  8. I wonder how many of our memorials are dedicated to those who fought in a war? To me, it’s as if we are creating sacred monuments to Ares, the god of War. Even people of the monotheistic faiths have fallen to the seductive power of Ares i.e. the Crusades, jihadists, Israel’s treatment of Palestineans, and then of course, there was Hitler and the Nazis. July 4th and Memorial Day also memorialize those who died fighting to establish and/or defend our country. Even Indy has its share of war memorials.

    I am deeply humbled by those who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that I could live in a country that guarantees us civil rights in a democratic republic. I am also deeply troubled and saddened by the terrible loss and destruction, the crimes against humanity.

    Violence and war are problems not solutions. Some would say it’s a necessary evil.

    What would happen, I wonder, if we started creating peace memorials to those who waged peace? How about memorials to those who have died trying to save Mother Earth, the mothers who stood to get answers in Argentina after many of their children disappeared, Clara Barton who created the American Red Cross, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Susan B Anthony, the founder of MADD, Joan Baez? How about putting them on a memorial of the Tree of Life?

    I have always believed that who and what I focus upon needs to be carefully chosen because usually my behavior is preceded by thoughts and feelings. The values I embrace are deeply impacted by what I memorialize. I do not wish to memorialize Jan. 6th nor will I ever forget it just as I have never forgotten the moment when I was told JFK had been killed, where I was the moment the planes hit the buildings on 9/11. The capitol police who defended the capital have been honored with the highest award from Congress. It is an honor they should have received.

    I turn now to make a gratitude list and to honor those who embrace love and peace.

  9. Todd and Patrick; “The alleged Saudi role in the September 11 attacks is the idea that the Saudi Arabian government was connected to the September 11 attacks in the United States. The 9/11 Commission Report, formally named Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, is the official report of the events leading up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and is available to the public for sale or free download.

    The commission has concluded they “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded [Al Qaeda]” to conspire in the attacks,[1] or that it funded the attackers and the “report identifies Saudi Arabia as the primary source of al-Qaeda funding”.”

    And Iraq was not hiding nuclear weaponry when George W. and Cheney declared that war to avenge 9/11. George W. later admitted he had received the report that no nuclear materials or weapons were found but decided to disbelieve the investigative report. Cheney, to avenge one of the investigators and authors of the report, “outed” his wife Valery Plame as a CIA agent, endangering her, her husband and their entire family.

    “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  10. BIG THANKS to Sheila for wrapping the “Competition” in ideas and history. Some great ideas already suggested. Turn them into entries! Not looking for artistic skills, only brains and imagination.

  11. Good blog. post today. Just a few thoughts: memorials either commemorate those that died, or those that were victorious. Only one person was outright killed in this event and that was an attacker, so maybe in this case democracy was victorious.

    Maybe we create bronzed versions of the electoral collage ballot boxes?

  12. I find it one thing to have a statue of Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, it was a battlefield where he commanded Confederate Troops. Statues of Confederate Generals and Politicians away from the battlefields is quite another. The way I look at it the Confederate Generals and Politicians were no different from Benedict Arnold- Traitors to the Union. The “Cause” of the Confederacy was the preservation of slavery.

    Our own American Taliban attacked the Capitol building. Our DC and Capitol Police bravely resisted instead of running. What exactly would appropriate to memorialize the DC and Capitol Police??

    Any memorial to the DC and Capitol Police would probably resisted by the New GOP as the context, the reason for the defense of the Capitol Building would have to be a part of the memorial, i.e., attempted coup by the Trumper’s.

  13. Monotonous, Benedict Arnold wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the Confederates. He did what he did because the Continental Congress had proven to him that they lacked the skills necessary to govern. He couldn’t imagine that the crown wouldn’t be a better option.

    For my idea of a way to memorialize 1/6, picture this: A giant outhouse surrounded by MAGA hatted, gun toting patriots. Caption: We finally got the government we want!

  14. The Civil War or The War Between the States? Was the war fought over secession or slavery? It may depend upon whether you are perusing such matters as written by either a southern or northern historian in many cases as the lingering hostility between north and south persists. I am of the school that holds that it was a civil war and was fought over slavery.

    As perhaps the oldest if only an occasional contributor to this blog, a WW II vet who remembers a few GAR members from the Civil War, I can attest to the views of those who write today of the blessings of peace. Wars not only kill and destroy; they also with their hatred and waste of resources keep us from progressing by the misuse of such negative waste and state-sponsored
    direction to kill others. Worse, wars “won” rarely accomplish their (stated) purpose.

    Why, then, have a war? Are we domestic victims of flag waving and propaganda, the very horrors we ascribe to a Goebbels and a Hitler? Was the Spanish-American war fought over sugar or the blowup of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor, and by the way, what was the Maine doing in Havana harbor? Protecting our “national interests?” What were our “national interests?” Was the Mexican War fought over anything other than expansion/manifest destiny in our march from “sea to shining sea?” Differing historians offer differing explanations to such queries.

    Looking ahead, what happens to our choice of shifting alliances in the Arabian Gulf when the demand for oil tanks (as it will shortly)? Shall we align ourselves with the Saudis? Iraq? Iran? I would not be surprised if we aligned with Iran. Impossible? Not at all. Who would have thought that we would come up with a Marshall Plan for Nazi Germany, or (after Pearl Harbor) rebuild Japan, now both staunch allies. As the old saying goes, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

  15. A January 6th memorial? OK: A statue of TFG (the former guy), bloated face, holding onto the prison bars behind which he stands. Done.
    Apparently many, if not all of the statues “commemorating” the Confederate “heroes,” were put up many years after the Civil War, for the purpose of intimidating Black Americans, right up into the 1920’s, I believe.
    Some memorials seem to relate to bona fide history, and some, imho, serve to further national mythology.

  16. Ho, ho, ho…as a regular reader, I am not surprised to see that the majority of ideas expressed here would not be accepted under the rules – entries must be non-partisan and non-ideological – sorry, folks…the aim is to create something that will be a meaningful memory for a 12 year old tourist in 2041.

  17. How about Bezos’ phallic rocket painted orange on a pedestal resting on the backs of statues of screaming Hispanic children?

  18. More specifically:
    A wall of bricks, 3 to 4 deep, with a barred prison window, about 5 and a half feet up the wall, and Trump’s bloated face, in bas relief, between his little hands clutching, or holding, those bars.

    This is non-partisan, non-ideological (Ok, so maybe not a bloated face), but a statement that there are, and need to be, consequences for traitorous behavior, from whatever side of the political divide.

  19. “…from whatever side of the political divide.” Which makes extra sense, since Trump is not really a factor of the political divide. He is not a Republican, but a con man, from the outside, who has all too easily manipulated the Republicans, who happened to be ripe for the picking.

  20. Having read through all of the comments so far (8/23 -1:20pm) some observations:

    There is the old African saying
    “When elephants fight the grass gets trampled.”
    You can bet the fight was started by an ivory trader.

    How do I memorialize the deaths of soldiers who thought they were fighting for freedom but it was actually only for corporate revenue?

    We seem to build war memorials so we don’t have to do anything real for the surviving soldiers and “civilians”.

    Throughout history veterans have been paraded, hailed, statued and then, to use the contemporary term, “ghosted”. We want them to disappear after the job is done. I suspect that it is because we are afraid of the efficient killers we require and have made.

    Is there a statue of General Grant at Gettysburg?

    Following Robin’s notion – statues of slaves breaking their chains at every statue of a confederate.

    Kinda like Peggy Hannon’s notion.

    Kinda like Over It’s post

    For January 6 we will have to wait to see if the nation survives.

  21. Lester, it’s painfully difficult to memorialize an event in which we weren’t attacked by strangers, but by our neighbors. Maybe a statue of Lady Liberty in tears would be appropriate.

  22. Why would we want to memorialize one of the most shameful events in our history, a self-inflicted one, at that? I rank it right up there with other shameful events that have happened in my lifetime. The McCarthy hearings, the Watergate break-in, the Rodney King riots, internment camps, indigenous children in assimilation institutions, forced sterilization of those considered “waste”, the 9th Ward during Hurricane Katrina, the Chicago Democratic Convention riots, the pipeline protestors’ treatment, separation of children from their families at our border, too many to continue to list. All of those things and more need to be included in our history books as object lessons to keep from us from repeating them. Acknowledgement is not the same as memorializing, IMHO.
    Memorializing implies commemoration, a showing of respect or celebration, hardly what we should be doing about that shameful day in our history.

  23. JD,

    WADR, monuments/memorials can/should provide a unique “teachable” moment when done effectively. Would you have destroyed the Hiroshima Peace Monument, the remainders of concentration camps, etc.?

  24. Lester – I like your idea and it has unleashed many creative responses here.

    I just think it is a bit premature. We still don’t know who won.

    We survived that battle, but the war is far from over.

    OTOH – Picasso did create Guernica in 1937, and the Republicans lost. It wasn’t given to Spain until 1981 after a real constitutional monarchy was established. So design away people.

  25. I like the bronzed ballot boxes. They symbolize the fact that Congress DID
    finalize the election, and the rebels lost.

  26. I am overcome with all the great comments here. I have nothing I can add except: why would we memorialize anything with statuary unless we also budget for pigeon dooky removal?

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