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Memorials commemorating war arouse a wide range of responses from pious devotion to outright hostility. They also mean a wide variety of different things - from an exhortation to die for one’s country to a warning that war will only be avoided in future if its horror and suffering are not forgotten. Some also point to many memorials' actual or potential for justifying war and thus contributing to values which will make a future war inevitable. These differences and controversies have a long history.

In the 1870s, for example, John Bright (MP and campaigner for the repeal of the Corn Laws) told his son that the Brigade of Guards memorial to the Crimean War in London was a commemoration of a crime. Some 170 years later the unveiling of a memorial to

Arthur Harris, chief of RAF Bomber Command caused a controversy across Europe from London to Dresden.

In between those dates monuments commemorating war and associated activity have given consolation to some, and endless opportunities for justifying war and promoting war to others. For some they were the focus of opposition to war.

The cenotaph in London was defaced in protests at UK and
US bombing of Iraq. The 'message' - not in my name - was quickly removed.

Walking around London we can see many statues of generals, politicians, monarchs and Empire builders. Taken together they physically embody the British nationalist mythology with its colonies and conquests. Their largely unnoticed integration into the everyday life of the city shows the ‘naturalness’ of the values and attitudes they represent. It is only when we tamper with the symbolic power of these inanimate objects that their role becomes apparent. The minor redecoration of monuments on May Day 2000 touched on one of the cornerstones of the ideology of the British state - the nature of the First and Second World Wars.

The superficial damage to these monuments such as the graffiti message on the Cenotaph generated an excess of political and media outrage. Far more than the racist attack the same day on a care worker – a living being not a block of stone, who was doused in chemicals and set alight.