Today, November 11th, is Armistice Day, the day 91 years ago when the First World War officially came to an end. As an undergraduate when I spent an academic year at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, I was struck by the omnipresence of the World Wars on the landscape and architecture in Britain. Public memorials proliferated: in churches, schools, high streets, shops, public parks, town squares, train stations . . . name a space and somewhere there will be some sort of memorial plaque or monument or dedication to the fallen. Perhaps it was because of my status as a foreigner (one sees more as a visitor than as a resident in any space), but I did come away with the feeling that Britons co-exist with their collective memories of war and loss in a way that Americans, so often, do not. We remember war, sure, but we are uncomfortable facing the reality of violence, preferring instead to depict war as a triumphant enterprise.
One of my favorite memorials from Aberdeen is this mosaic, funded by a woman who lost three sons during the Second World War, all pilots in the RAF. It is located on the King’s College campus in Old Aberdeen, and I used to walk passed it frequently on my way to and from classes, the library, and errands on High Street.
I don’t really have any Big Thoughts for today other than to encourage all of us to take a few minutes in the midst of whatever our regularly-scheduled plans are to reflect on how often humanity is, indeed, inhumane. And how we live with that reality every day — whether we choose to collectively memorialize it or not.