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Raising the dead: War, memory and American national identity

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Susan-Mary Grant



The dead, particularly the war dead, play a central role in the development of nationalism, nowhere more so than in America. America's midnineteenth century Civil War produced a recognisable and influential 'cult of the dead', comparable in its construction with similar developments in Europe following World War I. Focused on the figure of the fallen soldier, especially the volunteer soldier, this cult found physical expression in the development of national cemeteries devoted not just to the burial of those who fell in the war but to the idea of America as a nation, in the development of monuments to the dead that, again, reinforced the new national symbolism of the war era, and in the beginnings of Memorial Day, an American sacred ceremony with clear parallels with the later Armistice Day ceremonies in Europe. In all these developments, America preceded the European nations by several decades, making America a valuable case study for the role that the cult of the fallen soldier plays in national development more generally. These men having set a crown of imperishable glory on their own land were folded in the dark cloud of death; yet being dead they have not died, since from on high their excellence raises them gloriously out of the house of Hades. (Simonides of Ceos on the Lacedaemonian Dead at Plataea) The dead in this war - there they lie, strewing the fields and woods and valleys and battle-fields of the south . . . the dead, the dead, the dead - our dead - or South or North, ours all. (Walt Whitman, Specimen Days) © ASEN 2005.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Grant S

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nations and Nationalism

Year: 2005

Volume: 11

Issue: 4

Pages: 509-529

ISSN (print): 1354-5078

ISSN (electronic): 1469-8129


DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8129.2005.00217.x