The recent controversy about which monuments should stay and which should go have brought back many memories of travels over the years. The first could very well be a visit to Gettysburg during my senior year in high school. The battlefield map remains clear in my mind.
More recently, a trip to Charleston included a visit to the site of an original slave market. A small museum has been created there to ensure that visitors be reminded of that piece of our horrific past.
Across the pond, reminders of Hitler, the Holocaust and life behind the Iron Curtain are prevalent and included in many tours. The day we visited Hitler’s stadium in Nuremberg where he held his rallies was appropriately chilly and rainy.
Standing under the platform where Hitler actually addressed the crowds was a somber experience. Our guide told us that his father’s generation refused to speak about Hitler or the Nazis. His generation, however, has pledged to keep the sites and conversations alive “lest we forget.”
The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial in Budapest, Hungary, to honor the people — mainly Budapest Jews — who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. Words can’t describe how I felt as I stood on the bank of the Danube that day.
So where does that leave me in this current controversy? Conflicted would be my answer. My initial reaction was to keep all of our monuments intact in order to preserve that part of our history. I’ve learned since, however, that many of the monuments in question were not erected immediately after the Civil War. Instead, some were created during the early days of the Civil Rights movement as a means of “giving the finger” — Joe Scarborough’s words — to that movement. I’m now of the mind that we don’t want to make a wholesale decision of removing any monument that might be offensive. Instead, each situation should be reviewed individually to understand the timing and exact message of each monument.
Throughout the process, all people involved should bear in mind the quote by Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”