The Politics of Mourning by Micki McElya
Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery

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Arlington National Cemetery is America’s most sacred shrine, a destination for four million visitors who each year tour its grounds and honor those buried there. For many, Arlington’s symbolic importance places it beyond politics. Yet as Micki McElya shows, no site in the United States plays a more political role in shaping national identity.

Arlington commemorates sacrifices made in the nation’s wars and armed conflicts. Yet it has always been a place of struggle over the boundaries of citizenship and the meaning of honor and love of country. A plantation built by slave labor overlooking Washington, D.C., Arlington was occupied by Union forces early in the Civil War. A portion was designated a federal cemetery in 1864. A camp for the formerly enslaved, Freedman’s Village, had already been established there in 1863, and remained for three decades.

The cemetery was seen primarily as a memorial to the white Civil War dead until its most famous monument was erected in 1921: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, symbolizing universal military sacrifice through the interment of a single World War I Unknown. As a century of wars abroad secured Arlington’s centrality in the American imagination and more Unknowns joined the first at the tomb, inclusion within its gates became a prerequisite for broader claims to national belonging. In revealing how Arlington encompasses the most inspiring and the most shameful aspects of American history, McElya enriches the story of this landscape, demonstrating that remembering the past and reckoning with it must go hand in hand.


About Micki McElya

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Micki McElya is Associate Professor of History at the University of Connecticut.
Published August 15, 2016 by Harvard University Press. 395 pages
Genres: History, War.

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Politics of Mourning

Although there are many national cemeteries, Arlington is the most well known and the most visited. Its land was confiscated from Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee in wartime, and controversy has followed ever since. Since its establishment during the Civil War, debate over who should be interred at A...

Aug 01 2016 | Read Full Review of The Politics of Mourning: Dea...