Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11 by Harriet F. Senie
University of Oxford Press, 2016. Trade paperback, 261.
Senie states her case early in this scholarly work: it is now common to create memorials that focus on the mass loss of human life in order to reframe the tragedy. By doing this, the surviving victims and families of all victims often use the memorial as place to honor those lost in the event and the United States as a whole uses the memorial as a way to reframe the event in a way that promotes “secular or religious triumphs.” Many of these memorials are one-sided, telling the victim’s side of the story. Both those who caused the event and the history surrounding the event is not usually depicted. With this shift to honoring loss of life over wartime sacrifice, it appears that the definition of a memorial has changed since the Baby Boomers were teens.
Memorials to Shattered Myths follows the traditional academic format. Bookended between an introduction and a conclusion, there are five sections covering four specific memorials and the newer idea of immediate memorials. The first section discussed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the latter three covered the memorials build in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing, Columbine Shooting, ad 9/11. The second covered the immediate memorials. In each case, the history of the event is presented first, followed with discussion about how the memorial came into being and its design elements. By starting the the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Senie shows how the shift began when the veterans of the war began the campaign for the memorial and how this action and the memorials architectural and design elements influence the memorials to follow. Throughout, her writing flows easily and it will not present any struggle to non-academics.
Overall, there are a few other trends worth mentioning about this work. First, Senie does connect the memorials to more than each other. She mentioned European and earlier American memorials which provided design inspiration and provided a short backstory to these. Also, as she covered each finished memorials elements, Senie does so in a way that is “tour guide-like.” This is enhanced by the photos of the finished memorials and allows the readers to “visit” without going to the actual memorial site. Also, there are photos of the sites before and during the tragedies mentioned. Lastly, Senie stressed the shift to honoring victims over those who willingly sacrificed themselves for their country. There is no doubt Senie believes that it is not a good idea to do so as it lead to a cultural shift towards the focus on “me, me, me” over the older “nation first” mentality that tied the country together for two hundred years (less the Civil War). And Senie does make a good case. Thus, this work would make for a good book to debate in a book club or humanities course.
Do you think you will read this book? Whether you chose to or not, what do you think of Senie’s thesis? Is she right? Or is she wrong?
One final warning, one may relive memories of the tragedies as they read. I know I did with 9/11, but I was too young to really remember Oklahoma City or Columbine.
I was offered this book for review by FSB Associates.