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Best Monument

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Those of you who knew me as an undergrad know that I’ve seen a lot of monuments in my day. Hell, my senior thesis was basically a study of monuments and memorials around Richmond. But I’ve also seen my fair share in Atlanta and Boston, Arkansas, Florida and wherever else there are side-of-the-road plaques or town-center obelisks that people usually walk right past.

But yesterday in London, I discovered a new favorite. Right outside the Marble Arch coach/bus pickup there is a striking memorial to animals that died in war:

The somewhat unusual subject matter (unknown horses don’t usually get the same amount of granite as an unknown soldier), coupled with the high drama of the structure makes it a great monument. First of all, it is a monument to “all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” Lets take a look at that sentence. First, it smacks you with the fact that not only did these animals die, but they died along with soldiers. Maybe they died next to the soldier. Maybe they provided comfort to a soldier during his last moments on earth.

Secondly, an era which produces a monument to animals seems to me like it would be a particularly ecumenical era–one that would not care to only memorialize British animals. So we are reminded that animals died under the banner of different flags as well. However, I am somewhat troubled by the fact that this is only a monument to British and allied animals.  If, as the granite tells us, these animals “had no choice” then surely it should be a monument to non-allied animals as well.

Moving on: Though the bas-relief letters say “ANIMALS IN WAR”, the inscription underneath reminds us that animals have died in both wars and campaigns, which, when you think of it, is probably no surprise. But its good to be reminded of it anyway. Even smaller military missions, or perhaps just “expeditions” of sorts produce both animal and human casualties.

Finally-and this is my favorite part of the monument–the last portion of the inscription tells us that this is a memorial to working animals that have died “throughout time.” Now, those of us who think about wars probably have a pretty ready image of World War I or World War II, or possibly Vietnam in our heads. But these wars probably represented conflicts in which the fewest amount of animals were killed. The phrase “throughout time” makes viewers harken back to olden times in which humans were less reliant on technology and more reliant on animals for transportation. It forces viewers to create an image of something they’d probably never considered before: the amount of animals slaughtered during pre-industrial wars.

Then, to the side, there is the standing-alone phrase “They had no choice.” Now, I cannot speak for everybody, but this sentence made me think of two things. First, on the most superficial level, sadness for animals that suffered during war; and, more broadly, how people fail to consider–and indeed, are likely simply unable to consider–the non-human consequences of their actions. Secondly, that short phrase made me think that this monument was not only for animals, but could also be interpreted as an allegory, or a proxy monument, to people who had also “had no choice” in going to war and in dying in war.

Now, this monument is surely not understated, but I do like the image of the two saddled mules walking into the abyss and, presumably to their death. And as one of the few monuments of its kind (and certainly the only kind I’ve ever seen), why should it be understated?

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Written by dailyquotidian

July 12, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. aww, I probably would have cried. there’s a dog and cat cemetery in Paris, and I’m seriously considering going.

    natalie

    July 17, 2008 at 7:16 pm


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