a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial



Lest we forget. But who?

By: Jon Brunberg | posted: 11/9/2014 1:19:47 PM


In her book Frames of War - When is Life Grievable? From 2009 Judith Butler examines a topic which has been at the forefront in so many debates in the last decades of military interventions, one which could perhaps be summed up in the following question: why is it so difficult not to be selective when it comes to compassion for the other?

While globalization has become a part of our daily life as consumers and producers of goods and services, the concept of nationalism seems to play a huge role, still, in the politics of war and defence and apparently also for the commemoration of the fallen. When I started up this project ten years ago it was with a sense that the world was about to change and that the time was right to imagine the concept of a war memorial that used the notion of individuality as expressed in Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. in combination with an inclusive, global perspective in regards to commemoration.

With that vision in mind I must agree with Jonathan Jones criticism of the public sculpture/memorial titled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red which is currently being prepared at the Tower of London for the commemoration of the centennial of the outbreak of the ”Great War” – a work which will consist of 888,246 ceramic poppies, each representing a British fatality in the first world war.

It is deeply disturbing that a hundred years on from 1914, we can only mark this terrible war as a national tragedy. Nationalism – the 19th-century invention of nations as an ideal, as romantic unions of blood and patriotism – caused the great war. What does it say about Britain in 2014 that we still narrowly remember our own dead and do not mourn the German or French or Russian victims? The crowds come to remember – but we should not be remembering only our own.

Allow me instead to present another poppy field that moves beyond the national domain and includes all wars since 1900; one in digital bits and pixels rather than ceramics. In 2013 the graphic designer Valentina D’Efilippo won a honorarble mention at the Kantar Information is Beautiful Award for a data vizualisation based on this website´s list of wars. Yesterday D’Efilippo and the programmer Nicolas Pigelet released an interactive version of her design based on the updated list. Not only is it a rich and stunningly beautiful interactive guide to the wars of the last century up to today: it will undoubtedly give you the chance to percieve the human cost of the first World War in a wider perspective.


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1. Valentina D´Efilippo´s poppy field design (2013). Published with permission.


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Number of names in the Online War Memorials Collection



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