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On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

Edited By Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro

How, in the twenty-first century, can we do commemoration better? In particular, how can commemoration contribute to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction? In this book, a global roster of distinguished writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, military veterans and scholars debate these questions and ponder the future of commemoration. They include the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, the award-winning novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, and the human rights lawyer and Gifford Baillie Prize-winner Philippe Sands. Polemics and reflections together with poetry and creative prose movingly illuminate a subject that speaks to our common humanity.

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The Costliness of Commemoration (Maggie Ross)

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maggie ross

Anglican solitary and medievalist Maggie Ross writes that commemorative silence is uncomfortable, but also an opportunity for self-reflection and self-forgiveness.

[In commemoration] we re-present memory, and by it transform our selves.

— Carol Harrison

Commemoration in the wake of war or other disaster is an act of memory that offers us an opportunity to give birth to something other than death. This is a conundrum that every human being must confront and resolve. We are left undefended before the horror of the immediate, named event, yes, but far more before what is unnamed, that is,, the entire human tragedy. It is perhaps primarily for this reason that some people find problematic the mandated silences that are often part of commemoration.

These are people who often have very little silence in their lives, and indeed do everything they can to avoid it. Even a two-minute silence is uncomfortable; two minutes is long enough for superficial interior chatter to die down and unwelcome and painful memories to arise. These memories confront us with the fallacy of thinking that the dreadful acts under scrutiny were committed by someone else, in another place, in another time; that the dead are ‘out there’ and not residing within us; that someone else was at fault.

But these appalling memories are necessary to face and to integrate even as they reveal to us that we our selves, simply by being human living among other...

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