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Twentieth Century Wars in European Memory

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Jozef Niznik

In various European countries the two world wars are remembered in very different ways, although everywhere one can find monuments which serve as material objectification of the memory of war. However, such objectifications not only determine certain patterns of remembrance and a specific perception of the past: they also contribute to local and/or national identity and create the basis for attitudes toward the other participants of war. As it happens, instruments of memory live their own life and the meanings they attach to particular events may be changed by historical and political processes. The question remaining in the background of this publication is whether we can «make Europeans» without European collective memory transgressing national perspectives. The memory of war, which inevitably shows the overall absurdity and tragedy of war no matter where and against whom fought, may be the primary candidate for such Europeanization.

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Part I Symbolism of material objectificationsof the memory of war

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Part I Symbolism of material objectifications of the memory of war “Defensive Architecture” and World War II: The Maginot Line in Memory and Tourism Bertram M. Gordon As France was being overrun by the Germans on 11 June 1940, General Maxime Weygand, Supreme Commander of the French forces, told a meeting of the cabinet: “What are the causes of this defeat? Behind the ramparts of the Maginot Line the country went to sleep” (Lazareff 1942, p. 327). The Maginot line, described by one of its historians as “with the exception of the Great Wall of China…the greatest system of permanent fortification ever built and probably the last,” (Kemp 1981, p. 9), consisted of some 48 fortresses and more than 200 casemates (Smart 1996, p. 227). It emerged during and after the war as a symbol of what had gone terribly wrong for France in 1940 (Smart 1996, p. 223). Following the defeat of France in 1940 and in the years since World War II, the term “Maginot mentality” has become emblematic in memory both in France and elsewhere of a head in the sand attitude in which one retreats behind a supposedly impregnable and highly expensive wall, which fails, however, to keep out disaster (Allard 1942, p. 113; Rowe 1959, pp. 14-15; Deron 1996, p. 10; Crane 1998, p. 230). This image of wasteful futility continues in France, exemplified in a March 2011 Le Point reference to the first two years of François Mitterrand’s presidency as representing a...

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