Landscape Life in general Oil Painting Outdoors/Landscape Painting Plein Air

Cemetery Painting on Memorial Day & War Euphemisms

View of Benicia from Alhambra cemetery

Oil on panel, 9×12″ (larger)

On Sunday I painted at the small, historic Alhambra Cemetery in Martinez, where we had an amazing view of marshes and Benicia across the Carquinez Straits. An elderly Japanese church group and their pastor were  holding a memorial service for the fallen soldiers buried there but didn’t mind us painting among the graves. Since the residents were buried between 1851 to 1999, I’m sure they “fell” in many different wars.

War Euphemisms
I hate all the euphemisms used about war that gloss over the the sacrifices and suffering. The two that particularly irk me are “in harm’s way” and “fallen” soldiers.

When I hear politicians talking about soldiers “in harms way” I can’t help but thinking, “Yeah, and you sent them there!” “In harms’ way” is in passive voice which removes all responsibility from the phrase. It sounds as if they just ended up there by accident, like “I was taking a walk and found myself on Harms Way when I meant to be on Walnut Way.”

The same is true of “fallen soldiers.” No verb or anyone taking responsibility there either. The soldier just accidentally wandered onto Harms Way and then, Oops, down he fell.

G.I. Joe
When my son Cody was in Kindergarten he desperately wanted a G.I. Joe lunch box. We were walking through the supermarket and he saw them on the shelf and started whining and begging for one. I grabbed the plastic box, showed him the explosive picture on the cover and began ranting: “You see this? That’s a bomb going off! You see this G.I. Joe guy? That bomb is about to kill him and tear him to shreds! That guy has a mommy and his mommy is going to cry and cry forever because her little boy got blown up by a bomb. And no, I’m not going to buy you a lunch box with a picture of someone’s little boy getting killed on it!”

I still have my “War is not health for children and other living things” pendant and poster from the Viet Nam war, which destroyed so many of the boys I knew in high school. I feel such sadness and compassion for the soldiers and their families whose lives are being destroyed by our current war.

This isn’t meant to be a political blog so I’ll stop my rant by offering a prayer for peace and for healing for all those who are suffering because of war, regardless of which war or what side they’re on.

About the painting and the site: To get into the cemetery you have to first stop by the the Martinez police department to pick up the key to the entry gate which is kept locked. Although I ran out of time and hadn’t fully developed the bottom 1/3 of the painting, the sky, or the water, my other plein air group members said they liked it as is and to leave it, so I did. What interested me about the scene and what I wanted to paint was the pinky-golden hills and I was actually happy with the way they turned out — a first for me and hills.

I’m learning to appreciate and treasure the smallest passages that succeed in my paintings, even if the painting as a whole doesn’t work. They give me hope and a glimpse of successful days to come.

14 replies on “Cemetery Painting on Memorial Day & War Euphemisms”

Oh! I feel the same about the way war is bandied about. Several years ago, a women’s group in Australia produced a dish towel, printed with:

“It will be a great day for our schools when they get the funding they need and the Air Force has to hold a cake stall
[bake sale] to buy a bomber.”

I think your unfinished painting is a poignant statement.


I love what you told your son … finally a mother who “told” it like it is. I’m pissed about the deaths…… unnecessary!!! My heart breaks for mothers who now have no son because of this stupid decission to “fight” and “kill”.


Thanks for the colourful painting and the good story. Amen to your sentiments about soldiering. They are gallant men and women who go, get maimed, killed or psychologically damaged, but those who send them ought to face up to their criminality.


Nice painting Jana. Very effective in its simplicity. I agree with the “soft” wording of things (Very funny the way you put it, “I found myself on Harms Way…”) It’s similar to people saying that someone has “passed” instead of “died”, making death the unspeakable and avoidable.


A lovely and poignant painting, Jana, and the colors
fit the scene and subject so movingly. It’s sad and
disturbing what our soldiers and citizens of a war-torn
world have to go through.


HERE HERE JAN!!! I couldn’t agree more. I’m going to be printing out your descriptions of those two phrases…what a perfect description. Thank you for expressing yourself! I am a child of the Vietnam war too..and feel the same way. It’s all about responsibility..and I don’t feel the current leaders take any responsibility! I also feel that if the leaders actually had to get out there and fight..there would be no wars! My own opinion.

Cemetaries are wonderful places to reflect and think..they usually are covered in beautiful flowers, trees and shrubs. Thank you for posting your painting and your views.


Crivitz, WI


I think there must be a connection between being someone who paints as honestly and beautifully as you do and your insistence that the right words be used for things.

I was very impressed by this painting — it’s something that seems to have a lot of emotion in it, without any sentimentality and also, the colors of the hills are just right. I think you are really on to something here. I missed your show last year, but I really, really hope you’ll have some of these oils to show at some point because I would love to buy one.


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