This essay suggests several ways to think about changing modes of commemoration of World War II in light of the arbitrary nature of calendars, the reasons we give to justify war, the role of bodies, and, the way we frame memory and history. It proposes an exceptionalist reading of the war and links its singular attributes to the unusual trajectory of its memorialization and commemoration. Finally, it turns to Mircea Eliade’s theory of “eternal return” as a conceptual framework to reconsider the relationship between the uses of history and memory in modern commemorative practices.
For many Americans, World War II has become entrenched, solidly and nostalgically, in the national narrative as “The Good War” fought by “The Greatest Generation.” Increasingly, and disturbingly, this formulation appears to have won acceptance even by an American minority group grievously oppressed by its own government—Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated in American concentration camps. This essay explores the trajectory of this journey from the historical moment in World War II to current struggles of memory and history within and beyond the Japanese American community.
Do we ever get used to the feelings of loss? Time supposedly heals all wounds. Does it really? Or do we take that time and take that loss and turn it into something else, something that takes the shape and the form of our loss. Is this perhaps the source of the deepest art? Is it the art that actually gives our lives meaning? There are clearly feelings that are beyond comprehension. It is these feelings that are put into the music, poetry, painting, photography, prose, and theater that enrich our lives, and that are addressed in this book. The women in “Daughters of Absence” all have one thing in common: as daughters of Holocaust survivors they have found a strong voice through their work. For these creative women, their work has been both life force and life saver.