Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: War Cemeteries in Europe in History and Memory
Abstract: In 1962, Douglas MacArthur gave his renowned speech accepting the Thayer Award from the United States Military Academy. His description of overseas war cemeteries illustrated how they serve as symbols of patriotism, national honor, and military legacy. "The long, gray line has never failed us," MacArthur intoned. "Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country." The commemorative spirit imbued in the images he drew with his words could easily apply to European countries who fought during the First World War and the Second World War. From their inception as graves on the raw battlefield -landscapes of war?through their meticulous designs today as landscapes of peace, war cemeteries figure importantly in collective memory.

This panel aims to present a rich discussion of the history of war cemeteries, one that reads military history through a cultural lens. Since both George L. Mosse's Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (1990) and Jay Winter's Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning (1995) opened military history up to interpretations driven by collective memory, study of culture has become increasingly important to the field of military history. French historians, including Pierre Nora, Henry Rousso, Annette Becker and Olivier Wieviorka filter their understanding of military history through cultural interpretations in order to examine influence of war on French society, as do German historians Kai Kappel and Christian Fürhmeister. Three panelists shall present recent archival research to add to this important field of academic study: Zoë Buonaiuto, Kate Lemay, and David Seitz. Our hope is to continue the significant work that has been done in tracing the central influence the war cemeteries continue to have on both collective memory and military history.
Kate Lemay, Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
Participant's Paper Title: Triumph of the Dead: The American War Cemeteries and Mid-Century Modernism
Participant's Paper Abstract: Today, nearly 90,000 American soldiers killed during WWII are buried in fourteen war cemeteries constructed in Europe between 1948 and 1956. The American Battle Monuments Commission selected prominent American artists and architects to design the cemeteries and created a program of pictorial images, inscriptions and structures that would communicate high ideals of freedom, democracy, and redemption. The ABMC felt that the stunning landscapes of infinite graves, combined with such impressive messages and stately works of art would make unforgettable, ever-lasting reminders of American sacrifice for a European audience. Finally, the ABMC thought that the cemeteries would be platforms for influencing and supporting diplomacy, both in day-to-day use and anniversary occasions.
In focusing on the development of the cemeteries' designs, the paper presents an unrecorded history of mid-century traditionalism and argues that style during this era became political. The shift in taste from traditionalism to modernism reflects how American society was deeply traumatized by war, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the government had no idea about aesthetics and the weight it carries in society. When the ABMC hired prominent American architects, they preferred those trained in the Beaux-Arts, a style they felt would best implement messages of freedom and democracy. When people of only a certain group were hired, however, it became obvious that the jobs were handed out according to preference and not merit. The avant-garde issued a public outcry against the blatant favoritism shown towards traditional artists. The scathing criticism became widely noted, resulting in studies of government and art. A shift began in the power structures of the mid-century art world, resulting in the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts. The long reach of war cemeteries influenced not only collective memory of Europeans, but also the culture makers in the United States?directly influencing how they made culture.
Zoe Buonaiuto, Princeton University
Participant's Paper Title: Commemorating Enemy Dead: The History of the La Cambe German War Cemetery in Normandy, 1944-2004
Participant's Paper Abstract: When defeated in war, how do you commemorate your war dead on foreign soil? For Germany, this question had immediate relevance in northern France following the Battle of Normandy in August 1944. Nearly two hundred thousand unclaimed German corpses lay scattered throughout the region?bodies needing identification, burial, and grave markers. The work of the American Graves Registration Service resulted in 21,000 of these bodies finding a permanent resting place in what is now called the La Cambe German War Cemetery?the largest gravesite of German war dead in Normandy.

The presence of German war dead on French soil had consequences for D-Day commemoration in Normandy, complicating how much?if at all?German loss should play a role in commemorative events. La Cambe's official public opening in September 1961 was the culmination of debates between many stakeholders: local Norman inhabitants, French government officials, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge's (German War Graves Commission), and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the American Battle Monuments Commission, the two other Allied organizations responsible for the care of the war dead. At the crux of these debates was how to create a German cemetery that was sufficiently sacred for mourning German families yet sober enough so as not to offend local French communities that endured four years under the Occupation.

Using American, French, and German sources, I trace the history of the cemetery's design and reception in Normandy. While no German leader has publically paid their respects at the graves as part of D-Day commemorative events, La Cambe nonetheless remains a symbol of postwar Franco-German reconciliation and serves as a foil-site for Allied cemeteries around the region.
Ricardo Herrera, School of Advanced Military Studies
Glenn Robins, Georgia Southwestern State Univ.
Michael Dolski, POW/MIA Accounting Agency
Participant's Paper Title: A Final Resting Place?: The Different Fate of Two U.S. Military Cemeteries
Participant's Paper Abstract: This paper will consider American military cemeteries as sacred spaces and memorials. The process of formation for these types of cemeteries is often strained with resultant adverse implications for long-term viability as memorial sites. Customarily, military cemeteries have developed as ad hoc attempts to meet short-term requirements in the midst of wartime chaos or postwar rebuilding. This paper seeks to explore the commonalities and points of divergence between two American military cemeteries. One, a temporary cemetery erected in St. Laurent, France, during the Second World War, ultimately earned a permanent position amongst the network of U.S. military cemeteries sited on foreign soil. The other, however, experienced a far different fate. This site, a temporary cemetery located in Yudam-ni, North Korea, suffered from hasty construction in the middle of intense combat conditions. Shortly after completion, it fell to enemy control, never to return to the care and maintenance of American forces. While examining the intentions, processes, and ultimate outcomes associated with these temporary cemeteries, the paper will consider the implications for structured commemoration. Stability, security, and spatial control help shape the long-term viability of these memorial sites.

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