a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial

Notes on the Online Memorial Collection

By: Jon Brunberg | posted: 7/19/2016 1:29:33 PM


When you're contemplating the features and functions of contemporary war memorials, it's almost impossible not to take the names of the killed into consideration. In many memorial projects names have become a fundamental, if not the primary, healing element: that which creates an emotional bond between the physical structure and those mourning. The naming of victims ensures that each and every person has been accounted for and recognized. The single name, engraved in stone, or presented in a database is a forceful reminder of the sacrifice of a person. In our era of individualism and democratization they simply seem far more relevant than yesterday's statues of generals, conquerors or emperors.

When I begun to work on the Polynational War Memorial project in 2004 I decided that I would follow that convention and make the names of all soldiers and civilians killed because of acts of war a fundamental part of the design. To fathom what scale such a venture would entail I begun to collect links to websites with lists of victims. It was not that hard to find online memorials for fallen soldiers in English language relating to recent wars. To find websites for wars less covered by the western world, or for civilian victims, proved to be a far more painstaking effort. In those cases reports from human rights organisations or truth-finding commissions turned out to be an invaluable source – and even though they may not be intended to function as memorials, I believe that they can serve that purpose. I gathered all those link in a separate section called "The Online Memorial Collection". As of today the collection has grown to include more than half a million names; every name representing an actual person who was killed in war, either as a soldier or as a cvilian.

Over the last decade things have changed. The internet has expanded. The notion of Open Data have entered the public sphere. But perhaps most importantly, I believe that my mindset regarding these lists of names have changed. The collection has become a more independent part of my project. Furthermore I've come to realize the fundamental importance for human rights and human security that we try our utmost to find out what happened: who was killed, when and where and by whom. These lists are not only there for the sake of remembrance but also as means for securing accountability for those deaths. And those purposes often walk hand in hand. When it comes to a rationale for working with such a project as the Online Memorial Collection I cannot think of any more well thought, articulate and inspiring declaration than the one given by Iraq Body Count. The summary of that rationale in qoutes, if you allow, could be expressed as such:

"War's very existence shames humanity." "There can be no justification for insulating ourselves from knowledge of war’s effects, and it is a matter of simple humanity to record the dead.", and finally: "...all information about war related deaths belongs in the public domain".

It is too early to say how the Online Memorial Collection will evolve in the future, but I have decided to give it extra attention and time this year. Because I believe it matters.


Photos for this article are snapshots of lists that appear in the Online Memorial Collection: see Afghan Death Lists and The Virtual Wall



Part of the series ''The Online Memorial Collection''

A series that examines the importance of names and numbers in relation to the Online Memorials Collection.

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1. Snapshot of the "Afghan Death List" which was published by the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Netherlands 2013.


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2024-01-04 | Updated Donation Page

2023-12-17 | An alarming picture


Number of names in the Online War Memorials Collection



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