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‘I never knew my uncle’

The phenomenon of pilgrimages and postmemory
by
July 2024, no. 466

‘I never knew my uncle’

The phenomenon of pilgrimages and postmemory
by
July 2024, no. 466

Pilgrimages to war cemeteries have long been part of the rituals of Australian remembrance. It is easy to understand why veterans and the parents and siblings of the men who died in war make these journeys. But why do younger generations do so today, more than a century after World War I and eight decades after World War II? These were not their battles, nor their wars. Why do they seek out the semi-sacred spaces of Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemeteries? And why do they weep over the grave of someone whom they have never met?

The American scholar Marianne Hirsch has coined the term ‘postmemory’ to describe the relationship that the ‘generation after’ bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before. As she sees it, the experiences of one generation are transmitted so deeply and affectively, through stories, images, and behaviours, as to seem to constitute memories in their own right.

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Comment (1)

  • This commentary is itself deserving of a review for its lack of critical analysis of the phenomenon. Whatever the sincerity of the descendants, where is the consideration that a renewed interest in war tourism might be a result of the return of militarism as a solution to complex global questions?

    For instance, the statement referring to a concept of a veteran as a, "...notion of a consolidated and unified collective, and a figurative and metaphorical representation of loyalty, service, citizenship, and nationhood..." is best read as careless hyperbole given the calamity.

    "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel", as Samuel Johnson wrote, and I am surprised to see it emerge here unchallenged in 2024.
    Posted by Patrick Hockey
    06 July 2024

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