If I had set out to plan a monument over the relentless suffering and inherent meaninglessness of war, I could not have devised a better way to show it than the endless rows of exactly similar small white gravestones of Arlington Cemetaries.
The first thought that enter your head is the sheer scale of the madness: almost half a million people are buried here. The second thought, how the wars never end. They just begin a new section, spreading from the Civil war to the First World War to the Second World War to Korea and Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq, adding new white tombstones as time pass by. The third: how anonymous the soldiers honoured here feels. And yet I think people come to Arlington Cemetary and think instead of the greatness of the military, which is perhaps most crazy of all.
While I walked underneath the oak trees, looking out over more small white tombstones, reading the name of a private or a sergeant every now and then, I wondered what it would be like to be buried here, one of a half a million people, being for ever defined by the war that killed you. On the other hand, at least you’d rest among people who knew exactly what you went through, instead of being for ever surrounded by clueless civlians.
I have always been moved by the monuments for the Unknown Soldier. During the First World War, British Reverend David Railton saw a simple grave on the western front, marked only by a rough cross with the pencil-written “An Unknown British Soldier”. The idea of a monument for the tens of thousands of soldiers who died unidentified spread across the world. In the Uk, “The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior” was created at Westminister Abbey, and in France “La Tombe du soldat inconnu” was placed at the Arc de Triomphe.
And in the US, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier resides at the Arlington Cemetary. The inscription: Known but to God.