Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: To Honor Their Service and Sacrifice: Federally-Sponsored Commemoration Efforts and the American Veteran
Abstract: Professor Samuel Hynes articulated the idea that modern states produce "myths of war" in order to simplify complex events into manageable narratives. Using a variety of institutions and cultural mediums, societies reduce war to good or bad, necessary or meaningless, to cope with the terrible costs that war imposes. Even before peace occurs, we begin constructing narratives around wars and those who fight them to determine how they will look in public memory. The creation of history and memory is a battle that continues in the public arena long after troops leave the field.
This roundtable considers federal government efforts to honor veterans through three commemorative projects: the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the American Battle Monuments Commission, and the Department of Defense Vietnam War Commemoration. Panelists will discuss the political context leading to the creation of each organization and explain their specific missions. They will explore the ways that the missions overlap, identifying some patterns and implicit biases within federally-sponsored commemorative projects. The panel will initiate discussion on how such organizations have contributed to dominant narratives in the American public's understanding of military history and the tensions within state-sponsored commemoration between objectivity, memory, and political expedience. Participants will consider the public reaction to these commemorative efforts, pondering the ways in which these receptions have reflected larger themes in the evolving American political landscape. While these commemorative efforts will invariably draw criticisms, participants contemplate the best ways to reach intended audiences and conduct commemorative efforts appropriately and responsibly so as to avoid propagating false collective memories of historical events. The panelists also hope to engage the audience on ways to improve the projects for veterans, their families, the public, educators, researchers, and public servants.
Sarah Barksdale, Department of Defense
Andrew Ringlee, Department of Defense
James Wright, Dartmouth College
Eric Marr, American Battle Monuments Commission

College of Arts and Sciences

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University of Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky 40292

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