02 April 2011

Requiescant in pace (not war): Vandalism in Waltnut Hill Park

While on a glorious sunny and breezy walk through Walnut Hill Park today (soundtrack by Elvis Costello variously solo, with the Attractions, and with the Brodsky Quartet), I was met with the disheartening sight of vandalism at the WW I memorial in the rose garden atop the park.  Scrawled on the obelisk and its base, in blue spray paint, are the words "peace not war" and a peace symbol.

Clearly the idiot person who sprayed this doesn't understand that a war memorial doesn't celebrate war but rather soberly commemorates the human cost of such conflicts.  That the aforesaid idiot person thinks (and I use that term very loosely) that a fairly cliched baby-blue spray painted slogan is, in any way, a bold political or philosophical statement shows how little (s)he knows.

While I heartily agree with the basic sentiment, its execution, placement, and the hardly-unexpected reaction to it suggests a thoughtless act of desecration rather than a profound cry for peace.

Whoever you are, grow up.  And protest the wars productively.


  1. "a war memorial doesn't celebrate war"
    I think that this statement is ahistorical, out of context, given the ways in which war memorials are built and subsequently used in this and other societies. In my experience such memorials are used to celebrate and to promote war. The memorial in question is to those "who gave their lives to their country." After a war in which many soldiers were reluctant draftees, a war in which many soldiers or their families had voted for the peace candidate who ran successfully on the slogan of having kept us out of the war, this use of the verb "to give" is hardly honest and does not suggest a monument constructed simply as an expression of mourning. "To their country" is an interesting phrase given that not everyone in their country wanted that blood gift, given that not everyone in their country profited from the war. Where is the war memorial that thanks soldiers for "giving" their lives to arms dealers, oil companies, etc.?

    "Commemorates the human cost of such conflicts"? Not in general--only the cost to the town or country in which a monument is constructed; rare indeed is the war memorial that commemorates the soldiers on both sides, the civilians, the rape victims, . . . .

    Although I spent a large part of my life protesting war, I still do not know how to do so "productively." While I agree that spray painting is not likely to be very productive, I don’t know what is. Electing anti-war candidates in 1916, 1964, 1968 (with a secret plan to end the war), or 2008 does not seem to have been very productive.

    I agree that the sprayed slogan is "clichéd," but so is the war memorial. Each of these can invite us to analyze, to dig beneath the clichés to the historical, cultural, political, i.e., human, issues beneath the monument and its recent addition. If analysis ensues, perhaps both the stone structure and sprayed slogan can be productive.

    By the way, one of my great-uncles, my grandfather's favorite brother, was killed in the great war, the war to end all wars, the war to make the world safe for democracy. His memory is not honored by the New Britain memorial; one of those whose names is written there might well have killed my great-uncle who was fighting for his kaiser and a country that would soon attempt to eliminate his relatives. Let us not forget, but let us not forget the entire context of the war, the entire cost of the war. The memory of war, like war itself, isn't always as neat as a sterile phallic pile of stone, not always as tidy as a "present arms," a folded flag, or a paper poppy. What more appropriate to a war fought with chemical weapons than a can of spray paint? War itself is the ultimate vandalism.

    but not one inclined to use flights or entrails of birds to authorize war.

  2. Auspex, while admittedly I'm being ahistorical, I'd argue my attitude toward such monuments is far more commonly held now than yours. (And I'm pretty sure that our spraypainter didn't have the gas attacks of the War in mind when choosing his "artistic medium.") Even with the towering obeslisk, a kind of heroic monument that isn't being designed now, the surrounding plaques of names of every New Britain man who was killed in the War makes it very hard to be anything but reflective of the human cost.

    And THAT'S the important thing now, NOT who raised the money to build it then (and it wouldn't surprise me at all if the $ came from industrial capitalists who benefited from the war's increased demand for all sorts of hardware), but what it means and who "enjoys" it NOW, many of whom have lost a loved one or know of those who have lost loved ones since the "War to end all wars."

    I think you'd agree that the best way to protest anything is not to deface something else (or at least not to deface something that is so tangential to the decision-makers of said policy (Walnut Hill Park AIN'T the Pentagon, after all)...or, if simply making a point is all that matters, why not spraypaint "Save the Environment" all over the trees of your favorite forest?