Opinion

Mount Soledad Cross: Memorial or Monument?

Mount Soledad Cross: Memorial or Monument?

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently found the cross on Mount Soledad unconstitutional. Cross or not, the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial doesn’t measure up to traditional definitions of memorials. When Congress appropriated the land in 2006 they called it “a historically significant national memorial” and “a tribute for over 52 years to the members of the United States Armed Forces who sacrificed their lives in the defense of the United States.” However, what sits atop Mount Soledad is intrinsically local and much more confusing.

According to Professor Marita Sturken of New York University, memorials exist to remember those who sacrificed their lives for a particular set of values, while monuments signify victory. Both frame a particular historical narrative or, when official, provide closure on a specific conflict or the sanctioned history of a war. The Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial does not meet these criteria.

According to remarks made by Chairman and CEO of the Mount Soledad Memorial Association William Kellogg at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial Ceremony 2010, only 30 percent of those named on plaques glued to Soledad’s walls are dead: The majority of the people honored there are still alive.

Unlike the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial whose presence changed perceptions of that war, the Mount Soledad site does not frame a historically important national narrative or provide closure. Nor does it sanction official history, unless it is the history of exclusionary behavior by the village of La Jolla.

On the contrary, its narrative is most easily read as that of a self-financed commemoration of the biggest business in town: the military. It is a celebration by and for a politically, economically and culturally dominant class of citizens similar in some ways to commemorations for important groups in other cities, like auto workers in Detroit. It is the representation of the names on the memorial that prove this point.

University of North Carolina Professor Carole Blair studies memorials and writes, “The names of the dead are our representatives, those who died under the sign of a public good.” Names are the heart of a memorial, which is why the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor lists the names of all 1,177 men who perished with their ship. Our government memorialized the crew as representatives of that attack and, in doing so, presented these sailors as representatives of the sacrifice any one of us could or would have made to defend our country.

It’s difficult to see such a representation in the “memorial” atop Mount Soledad because even though the names found there signify service, they represent a private and not public presentation, originating out of an honoree’s desire for personal recognition, membership in a special club and the ability to pay. Commemorative plaques are only added to a wall if they are purchased.

There are now over 2,700 plaques on the walls of the memorial. Each presents the resume of an individual veteran. Few died in combat. Many served in peacetime or in non-combat roles. Some honor units; a handful honor women. Seventy percent of those whose names appear are still alive. Taken together these details expose a contradiction identifying the memorial as a tribute to the living more than a memorial to the dead.

Professor Sturken says memorials honor sacrifice. There is no doubt military duty involves sacrifice; any member of the armed forces is at greater risk of being put in harm’s way than an average civilian. But to be honored on Mount Soledad doesn’t require any more sacrifice than an honorable discharge and money. Plaques are available for sale to anyone with both. Our government is not honoring the service of those named on plaques. Their service is being honored by their families, friends or themselves. The Memorial Association even pitches a Mount Soledad commemorative plaque on its website by stating that purchasing a plaque gives a veteran the opportunity to “tell the story” of their service.

Furthermore, on the Mount Soledad Memorial no distinction is made for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Service members killed in action receive the same treatment as those who simply bought a plaque.

An appraisal of the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial reveals its deficiencies and makes one wonder why it was conceived the way it was. The answer is that it was built to save the cross from legal decisions ordering its removal, and not to memorialize service personnel. If planting an orange grove or building a skate park around the cross was the best legal strategy for saving it, the defenders of the cross would have done that instead.

What stands on the hilltop is a physical manifestation of a legal strategy and not a traditional memorial as its sponsors would like you to believe, although it makes good on one academic point: It is a monument to victory, a victory for the old guard of San Diego, whose desperate attempt to save their identity and maintain their political power through the presence of a cross on public land has resulted in a flawed memorial that cheapens the sacrifice made by those who actually died for our country. The decision of the 9th Circuit Court offers an opportunity to make it right.

Bob Stein lives in University City.

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24 comments
Geoff Page
Geoff Page subscribermember

I've watched this debate since 1977 and I never heard the information presented here about the plaques. The whole war memorial thing was a cooked up sham. The cross needs to go and I think Bob stuck the final pin into the fabrication that this was a war memorial. Thanks, Bob.

GeoffPage
GeoffPage

I've watched this debate since 1977 and I never heard the information presented here about the plaques. The whole war memorial thing was a cooked up sham. The cross needs to go and I think Bob stuck the final pin into the fabrication that this was a war memorial. Thanks, Bob.

Scott Baker
Scott Baker subscriber

I'm a native San Diegan and attended sunrise services here on Easter mornings back in the mid 50's. This has always been a site for the practicing and promotion of the Christian religion and only with the threat of removal did the war memorial idea come about. Although no longer a Christian, I like the idea of a war memorial there, but it ought to be a symbol that every veteran fought for, the flag of the United States. Take the cross down and put a large US flag in it's place. Then you'd have something that every true American would appreciate. Long live the USA!

starcrwzr
starcrwzr

I'm a native San Diegan and attended sunrise services here on Easter mornings back in the mid 50's. This has always been a site for the practicing and promotion of the Christian religion and only with the threat of removal did the war memorial idea come about. Although no longer a Christian, I like the idea of a war memorial there, but it ought to be a symbol that every veteran fought for, the flag of the United States. Take the cross down and put a large US flag in it's place. Then you'd have something that every true American would appreciate. Long live the USA!

Melissa Whipple
Melissa Whipple subscriber

I was born in La Jolla in 1952. The cross was there before the so-called "war memorial". The "war memorial" was put there to try and save (justify) the cross. A cross is a Christian symbol. That is a fact. It is not a neutral symbol representing all slain or living soldiers. However, the options for reconciliation of this issue are not only limited to 1) remove it completely or 2) leave it as is. I think a compromise is in order. If the cross bar arms were removed, a nice monolith would remain. This would provide the military with the memorial they want and provide the Christians with a story of sacrifice because the cross was modified to achieve a lasting peace .

Time Out
Time Out

I was born in La Jolla in 1952. The cross was there before the so-called "war memorial". The "war memorial" was put there to try and save (justify) the cross. A cross is a Christian symbol. That is a fact. It is not a neutral symbol representing all slain or living soldiers. However, the options for reconciliation of this issue are not only limited to 1) remove it completely or 2) leave it as is. I think a compromise is in order. If the cross bar arms were removed, a nice monolith would remain. This would provide the military with the memorial they want and provide the Christians with a story of sacrifice because the cross was modified to achieve a lasting peace .

Bill Ingram
Bill Ingram subscriber

The "manifestation of a legal strategy" was brought forth by the people who cannot accept life as it is and was. Much of the information presented was "hearsay" with few facts that pertain to the cross. Where does it say that you have to die to be appreciated by the people of the USA. Also, just because you may not like some of the art along the Harbor Drive, purchased by your tax dollars, you might infer that some of it may look like some type of Satanic or other symbols. I see there are a few telephone poles around that kind of look like crosses, disguised with wires hanging from them. Let’s get all these things out of our sight. Let the trials begin

Chili Willy
Chili Willy

The "manifestation of a legal strategy" was brought forth by the people who cannot accept life as it is and was. Much of the information presented was "hearsay" with few facts that pertain to the cross. Where does it say that you have to die to be appreciated by the people of the USA. Also, just because you may not like some of the art along the Harbor Drive, purchased by your tax dollars, you might infer that some of it may look like some type of Satanic or other symbols. I see there are a few telephone poles around that kind of look like crosses, disguised with wires hanging from them. Let’s get all these things out of our sight. Let the trials begin

Keith Taylor
Keith Taylor subscriber

Roger Hedgecock said if they actually tore it down he would chain himself to the cross. I hope the time is approaching when we can solve two problems at once. Get rid of the unconstitutional tribute to a myth. Get rid of disgraced former mayor who making all the fuss over it.

Keith Taylor
Keith Taylor

Roger Hedgecock said if they actually tore it down he would chain himself to the cross. I hope the time is approaching when we can solve two problems at once. Get rid of the unconstitutional tribute to a myth. Get rid of disgraced former mayor who making all the fuss over it.

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton subscriber

I really don't think we should have to make this about hate. I am a great admirer of Jesus, who advocated for love, understanding and hope. But I think it is really important that when the government is involved, no particular religion is favored. The way I think about it is that if it favors mine today, then what about when it favors another? This cross is a symbol of the Christian religion.

myearth
myearth

I really don't think we should have to make this about hate. I am a great admirer of Jesus, who advocated for love, understanding and hope. But I think it is really important that when the government is involved, no particular religion is favored. The way I think about it is that if it favors mine today, then what about when it favors another? This cross is a symbol of the Christian religion.

Mark Schaeffer
Mark Schaeffer subscriber

It's been years since I first saw it but I will remember it as the Mount Soledad Easter Cross, even though I have backed away from that faith.

Mark Schaeffer
Mark Schaeffer

It's been years since I first saw it but I will remember it as the Mount Soledad Easter Cross, even though I have backed away from that faith.

Chris Wood
Chris Wood subscriber

To me it is a peaceful symbol of remembrance of those who have passed through San Diego on their way to war and should not be the subject of a... “crusade”.

Chris1
Chris1

To me it is a peaceful symbol of remembrance of those who have passed through San Diego on their way to war and should not be the subject of a... “crusade”.

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton subscriber

I believe in the separation of church and state and that many government actions such as the Mt. Soledad cross are a slippery slope. This has nothing to do with hating Christians and everything to do with avoiding preferential treatment for a particular religion. The majority does not rule; the constitution rules, and the intent of the original framers seems clear on this point. As I understand it, the cross was put on government land and the memorial was tacked on to try to justify keeping it on public land.

myearth
myearth

I believe in the separation of church and state and that many government actions such as the Mt. Soledad cross are a slippery slope. This has nothing to do with hating Christians and everything to do with avoiding preferential treatment for a particular religion. The majority does not rule; the constitution rules, and the intent of the original framers seems clear on this point. As I understand it, the cross was put on government land and the memorial was tacked on to try to justify keeping it on public land.

Steven Baratte
Steven Baratte subscriber

This is one of the best articulated cases against the cross atop Mount Soledad. Well written and researched. For those with revisionist history, this is a great reality check of all the political and legal shenanigans (at what costs?) that have been perpetrated upon the people of San Diego. Thank you, Bob.

sdpseudonym
sdpseudonym

This is one of the best articulated cases against the cross atop Mount Soledad. Well written and researched. For those with revisionist history, this is a great reality check of all the political and legal shenanigans (at what costs?) that have been perpetrated upon the people of San Diego. Thank you, Bob.

Bob Stein
Bob Stein

Ms. Zimmerman: The 70% number is the reciprocal of the 30% number stated earlier in the piece. Bill Kellogg used the 30% number while speaking at the 2010 Soledad Memorial Day ceremony. I was there. I heard him. He used it in the context of pitching plaques for purchase. His inference being, you don't need to be dead to buy a plaque. Only 30% of those here are actually dead. I found this fact stunningly revealing and further evidence of the legal game being played on Mount Soledad.