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The Illinois Spanish American War Memorial, Veterans Advocacy and the Politics of Forgetting
2015 Conference on Illinois History (2015)
  • Dylan Burns, Utah State University
When the last troops depart and the veterans come home, how is war remembered? Sure, for the first few months Veterans lives are mired in parades, medals, and countless celebrations. After the celebrations, it is perhaps natural that as Veterans return to their previous lies that they keep in touch and form groups to keep the memories of the fallen and the returned alive. As war fades into memory, history becomes the activities of the patriotic, memorials and organizations are created as custodians to the memories, the memorials and the principles of the fallen and returned. Even after all the witnesses to history pass, the memorials stay as reminders for what it means to be a member of the American community.
What is the purpose of a war memorial? In some cases, a community might wish to remember those who have fallen. In other cases, it might serve as a reminder, not of the individual lives lost, but to warn the future about mistakes of the past. In most cases, these memorials serve as permanent and solid reminders of loss founded and maintained by those who returned. The question becomes all the more complicated when a memorial recalls a war whose loss of life, eventual diplomatic or military impact, or scale is overshadowed, covered up, forgotten or ignored. How and why we remember insignificant wars, tell historians about the context of the building and the role that larger political or national narratives play in remembrance.
Essential to the maintenance of Imagined Communities, is a strong desire for historicity and collective memory. Of this trend in national identity, Anthropologist Benedict Anderson write “it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.”[1] Such is the case with the Illinois Spanish War Memorial located across Monroe street from the State Capitol. Consisting of a large bronze “Liberty” or “Victory” figure flanked by servicemen, perched upon a large, engraved marble pedestal. While the war is remembers may be forgotten, and its veterans long passed, it services the imagination of American national community. The Spanish-War Memorial stands as the only remaining war memorial on the grounds of the Illinois State Capitol. Founded and built by the now defunct United Spanish War Veterans, a deeper exploration of this particular moment American history and veterans advocacy.

[1] Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities, Verso: New York, 2006. Pg. 7
  • Spanish American War,
  • Illinois History,
  • Illinois
Publication Date
Fall 2015
Springfield, Illinois
Citation Information
Dylan Burns. "The Illinois Spanish American War Memorial, Veterans Advocacy and the Politics of Forgetting" 2015 Conference on Illinois History (2015)
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