Depictions of History

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War has a universal impact on the world: travel to any town or city on the planet, and you'll likely find a stone engraved with various wars that the place has witnessed, and the citizens that they lost. We count our experiences by our losses, and I try to make it a point to look at one of the memorials if I happen to go near one. This past weekend, I came across one of the best ones that I've ever seen, located in Hardwick, Vermont.

Where most that I've seen around Vermont are simple affairs - a polished granite slab, etched with names - Hardwick's is a fascinating one to behold. The names are carved on the back of five blocks, each depicting five of the conflicts of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East (presumably, the current wars in Iraq / Afghanistan). Each panel holds with it a similar theme: a depiction of their surroundings, the tools with which they used, but most importantly, the profiles of the soldiers who served.

In and of itself, the memorial is an outstanding depiction of the evolution of war in the 20th century, without losing the key focus: those who served and died for their country. The tools of war have changed drastically: rifles were replaced with machine guns, while the aircraft overhead have grown ever more faster, flown higher and have served numerous purposes on the battlefield. The terrain has shifted from the ruins of Europe to those of Iraq, from the Pacific islands to Vietnam and Korea. The people, however, remain constant, faceless.

History begins at the personal level. For all of the major reasons for which a war is fought; Axis aggression in Europe, the spread of communism in Asia, or the threat of state-sponsored terrorism, there is the ground level view from the people who served. What I take out of this memorial is the focus not on the politics and reasons for the war, but for the simple reminder that the people who carried out the will of their country shouldered one hell of a burden. Beyond that simple message, it's elegantly executed, a visual story that sums up almost a hundred years of military history at a glance, a powerful image to take in.

Memorials are worth taking a look at, connecting to, because the stories of history are literally set in stone here: not the individual stories, but hard data, showing who really paid the ultimate price, and when.