Legitimacy of death: national appropriation of the fallen

Uzelac, Gordana (2019) Legitimacy of death: national appropriation of the fallen. Nationalities Papers. ISSN 0090-5992 (Print), 1465-3923 (Online)


Many influential theorists of nationalism see war as a social conflict that to great extent homogenizes and unifies the nation. Nowhere is that unity more clearly expressed than in war memorials and cemeteries. This article will consider the example of Britain and the USA in the aftermath of the WWI in order to examine how the state legitimized its ownership of the bodies of its dead soldiers. It will argue first, that in an internal dispute, when all sides share a normative ideology, nationalism cannot offer an effective basis for legitimacy. Second, it will show how in the aftermath of WWI, the bodies of the soldier dead were not symbols. In order to transform a dead body into a symbol, this article concludes, the body first has to be ‘de-individualized.’

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