Indianapolis, Ind. — The capital of Indiana is a great American city, and it has more war memorials than any city other than Washington, D.C. The mother of all war memorials is the Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Located in the center of downtown, it’s only a few feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty.
Two sides of the four-sided base of the monument are dedicated “to Indiana’s silent victors.” They list the number of participants and the number dead from Indiana for the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican–American War, the Civil War, and the Spanish–American War (the monument was dedicated in 1902).
The South is often mocked for the alternative names it uses for the Civil War, such as the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression. The North, however, doesn’t always call it the Civil War, either. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument calls it the War for the Union. A nearby statue of Indiana governor Oliver Morton says he was governor during the War of the Rebellion.
The other two sides of the base of the monument are intense and chaotic sculptures. They are both based on the Civil War, the most intense and chaotic of American wars. One side is “War,” and the opposite side is “Peace.” Both feature Lady Liberty at the center, reminding us that our obligations as Americans in war and peace are the same. They don’t seek to tidy up war into something simple to look at. They’re honest and immaculately done.
The “War” side contains what might be the only acceptable depiction of the Confederate flag: It’s under Lady Liberty’s foot. She holds forth the torch of liberty, reaching out towards the viewer with her battle face on. A cavalryman is riding into battle behind her, arm outstretched with saber in hand. A dead soldier’s arm hangs over the edge of the sculpture, reminding us that while freedom is glorious, it isn’t free.
The “Peace” side also has Lady Liberty with an outstretched arm, but she holds an olive branch and the American flag. Her arm is more relaxed, but still sturdy, and her expression is serene. Victorious soldiers are following her. There’s a freed slave with a shackle falling off his arm. The newly minted freeman is ignoring everything else going on around him and looking straight up at Lady Liberty. He knows the benefits of peace better than anyone, and he knows exactly where to look.
Pictures alone can’t do the monument justice. If you are ever in Indianapolis, make it a priority to see it yourself, and give yourself enough time to really soak it all in.
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