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of Nanjing memorial in China also relies on skulls and human bones to shock<br />

its visitors. By contrast, the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan uses life-size<br />

wax figurines of small children. Portraying the moments after the atomic<br />

flash, the flesh on these children drips from their arms, much like a<br />

melting candle. In the War Remnants museum in Saigon, curators display<br />

actual dead babies, floating in clear glass jars of formaldehyde. Their<br />

tiny deformed bodies are meant to be a warning — and a condemnation —<br />

against the US government’s use of the dreaded Agent Orange. Closer to<br />

home, American museum directors have also resorted to such methods when<br />

constructing their exhibits. At the National Holocaust Memorial in<br />

Washington, visitors enter a large room filled with old shoes. A poem on<br />

the wall reads:<br />

We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.<br />

We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers<br />

From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam,<br />

And because we are only made of fabric and leather<br />

And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire. 1<br />

The use of such graphically violent symbols has all the subtlety of a<br />

sledge hammer.<br />

For those committed to peace, truth, and reconciliation, how should we<br />

feel about war memorials? Do they promote reconciliation, or are they<br />

counterproductive, producing feelings of disgust and even anger? Like me,<br />

the Vietnamese-American Viet Thanh Nguyen has asked many of these same<br />

questions. Nguyen warns that war memorials are themselves implicated in<br />

power politics. Those with access to power — including politicians, film<br />

producers, and well-funded curators — continually seek to dictate the<br />

parameters of historical narrative and public memory. But power, Nguyen<br />

cautions, “even when carried out with the elevated intention of justice,<br />

incites rebellion from those below and suppression from those above.”<br />

Continuing, Nguyen argues, “As fraught as engaging with power may be, one<br />

must confront it and hope that one can manage it, and oneself, ethically.<br />

Our use of power must be done with the full awareness of our own humanity<br />

and inhumanity, our capacity for both good and bad.” 2<br />

What should a war memorial look like? How can we picture peace if we<br />

remain committed to graphically portraying past violence? How do we account<br />

for unequal power relations in the construction and maintenance of war

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