Synthesis Essay on Monuments

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Not long ago, a fire broke out at the well-known, visited, and praised Notre Dame Cathedral in France. Thousands of individuals were devastated at the news and thousands of others, including the very wealthy, quickly came to the rescue by giving over one billion dollars in donations to rebuild and repair the attraction. This was found odd, however, as it seems that these individuals—the world, did not understand the history of this place. It’s unknown Notre Dame has been one to harm hundreds of indigenous peoples, non-catholic or non-Christian peoples because of what they did and did not believe in in regards to religion. Even France has had a long history of religious missionary work as they’ve colonized many places, forcing multitudes of people to convert their religious beliefs. Hundreds of years of religious persecution are hidden away behind the glorified stained-glass windows and what people claim to be of utmost importance as eight-hundred-plus years of art, history, and culture. Learning about history is a crucial part of people’s education. It helps them better understand why things have turned out the way they did, who or what they should or should not support, to see a cause-and-effect relationship, to remember those who positively made an impact on the present, and most importantly avoid repeating the same mistakes countries, places, or other people have already made in the past. What’s additionally important is how these people address their mistakes. Similar to a child who’s taught at a young age what is right and what is wrong, they should be able to take responsibility for their actions, own up to them, and apologize to make things right. When it comes to war, a country in the wrong should be able to reconcile with other countries and be able to be seen as trustworthy. They should feel empathy for those they have wronged. Countries and places should resolve their mistakes by reconciling with their neighboring countries, building and leaving the proper memorials, and being able to face their consequential choices unafraid of shame.

On one hand, Germany has been a wonderful example of a country that has taken full responsibility for its actions after World War II. They have liberated themselves from fascism. Their war reconciliation and reparations with not other only countries, but within themselves as well, have regained most of the respect they’ve lost from the world after World War II. They teach their students the long history of World War II and the Holocaust. It’s quite honorable as it takes so much personal will and perseverance to be able to reflect on one’s own mistakes and can oftentimes be extremely torturous. The “Fatherland” has undergone much reconstruction to make up for the physical and emotional damage they’ve caused to others and themselves. For example, Patrick Hein, a professor at Meiji University states that “[Germany] peacefully reconciled successfully with its former victims such as France, Poland or Benelux. All of these monuments in commemoration of the people they’ve harmed clearly show Germany’s efforts to make things right again, and the fact that they weren’t afraid to expose this vulnerable aspect of their country was quite astonishing in the eyes of other countries. Their choice of actions after the war has transpired to be in their favor and has regained the trust of other countries as they have accepted Germany back into the world of trading, foreign policy, and military alliances.

On the other hand, unlike Germany, Japan was less willing to make interpersonal reparations with other countries after World War II. A researcher in foreign policy at Meiji University states, “the unwillingness of Japanese Government officials to admit past wrongdoings, to apologize for coerced war prostitution and to refuse to compensate former slave laborers has put Japan on the frontline of international criticism” (Hein). Japan is a prominent example of what is not acceptable for a country to do after the war. In contrast to conventional explanations, it is argued that different circumstances, influenced by distinct historical and political factors in each country, resulted in different approaches to their history. However, this should be overlooked as cultural and political differences should be set aside when someone has committed wrongdoings. It’s something that countries should not allow to get in the way of making things right. It’s even quite known in numerous Asian cultures that apologies are necessary even when nothing remotely wrong has occurred. Just the mere fact of causing trouble and stress for others is the epitome of apologies in Asian culture. An example is seen and stated by the German national daily newspaper, Die Welt, in the scholarly publication by Patrick Hein:

There is a museum in the southern Kyushu city of Chiran glorifying the kamikaze as national knowing that they were sent against their will to their death-, a museum exhibiting the warship Yamato opened some time ago in the city of Kure near Hiroshima to glorify the military past and the Japanese Government has supported the opening of a center for the study of Anne Frank and the German Holocaust in Japan. Anne Frank is almost worshipped as a saint in Japan. According to her cousin Elias, the Japanese people have adopted the Holocaust because 'they do not like to speak about their own past wrongdoings. (qted. in Hein)

It can be obviously seen here that the Japanese have built monuments and memorials strictly only for their military and in no way shape or form, see anything right in being accountable for their actions from World War II. Also, not only did they harm individuals from other countries, but they negatively affected their citizens too—especially their women. Forced into prostitution to sexually entertain their militant troops, raped, and repulsively taken advantage of. Instead, they found it more favorable to commemorate and honor their military troops. They never felt any need to apologize for not just the trouble they’ve caused in their own community. In stark contrast to Germany, Japan has received less respect and has had quite some trouble with assuring countries that they no longer believe in what they did in the past.

Additionally comparative, Germany is quite critical in making sure their monuments and memorials are made as best as they can be. The “Fatherland” rigorously puts a great deal of effort into remembering those who have perished at their hand. No matter how many monuments are built, however, doesn’t go to show the true intentions or true meanings of these memorials. As it is a very sensitive subject, even the slightest bit of offense can receive an impactful, harsh amount of backlash—especially if the monuments have lost their meaning and true purpose. This caused the introduction of counter-monuments into Germany. For example, James E. Young addresses in his scholarly publication, “Germany's vanishing Holocaust monuments,” the efforts in Germany to commemorate the Holocaust. Young brings up the controversy and backlash Germany gets for every single monument they put up and how their monuments have become “a facile kind of pathos” (Young). He evaluates Germany’s monuments and memorials and concludes that some are purely superficial—completely ignoring the true meaning of a monument and its memorial to the Holocaust. Additionally, he brings up the topic of “counter-monuments” that have come up in Germany as well. An example of a very prominent counter-monument in Germany is the “Square of the Invisible Monument” or “Platz des Unsichtbaren Mahnmals.” Jochen Gerz, a conceptual artist and professor, had his students take cobblestones from the old home of the Gestapo during Hitler’s Reich, and engrave the missing names of the Jews from cemeteries. The stones, however, were not placed upright but faced down instead so that no one knew they were there. Young states, “The memorial would be invisible, itself only a memory, out of sight and mind...we who visit these monuments might begin to rethink our own relationship to them and the memory they would embody.” Gerz’s vision and ideas for the counter-monument keep alive the idea and purpose of a memorial: to keep alive memory and allow those in the present and future to remember. The idea of a memorial is taken for granted today as there are tons of monuments and written information for people to easily access. It causes those to misunderstand the true purpose of a memorial. These counter-monuments challenge the idea of regular monuments, whose information is taken for granted and unappreciated. They’ve dedicated themselves to making the Holocaust remembered and never forgotten and to correctly and respectfully honor the victims at their hands. Every monument, at every turn, is endlessly scrutinized, explicated, and debated. This is as it should be, as Germany’s past ideologies and morality are what brought millions of innocent individuals into harm’s way.

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One of the things that makes a monument of quality is the way it provides information. In another scholarly article “As support grows for ditching confederate statues, some colleges begin to remove theirs,” written by Adam Harris, discusses the controversy of taking confederate statues down versus preserving them. Harris addresses both sides of the controversy and gives multiple real-life examples of both cases. He merely gives facts and asks “But does the association of the monuments with white supremacy mean that they should be removed?” The United States has one prime example of an excellent and well-executed monument. The first is the Lynching Museum created by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). In an article written by the Journal of Pan African Studies, “The equal justice initiative: memorial and museum,' prior to the opening of this museum, it is stated that the memorial will include a long history of the disenfranchisement of African-Americans by white-supremacy laws, their mistreatment, and the most detrimental aspect of racial terrorism: lynching. The memorial also names over four thousand names of lynched victims in America and has collected soil from lands where the act of lynching was carried out. The United States has an incredibly terrible, long, excruciating history of racism. It even goes so far to today as America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and it’s mostly full of African-Americans. It has rarely talked about segregation lynching and justice for the African-American people. These subjects seem to only take up a tiny amount of space in students’ history textbooks. Instead, the confederacy is often times romanticized. That’s why it is so crucially important for these monuments to withhold this information, provide more, and not let the past be forgotten, or remembered in a negative connotation.

Finally, shame is a feeling that is hard to bear and cope with, but is something countries should be able to face. Japan is an example. The Asian country couldn’t bear the thought of reconciliation, accountability, and apologizing. Similar to Japan, it may be the reason why the United States is taking down Confederate monuments around their country. How can they face and look at statues that glorified their days of slavery? Similar to Germany, Young states in “Germany’s vanishing Holocaust monuments,” “What then of Germany, a nation justly forced to remember the suffering and devastation it once caused in the name of its people?” By this question, he questions Germany’s self-indictment. Connecting it to the removal of America’s confederate statues, the actions have caused a continuous controversy on whether removing them is the right thing. Lawsuits and heated public debates filled the news in New Orleans, North Carolina, and Charlottesville over the issue. For instance, Charlottesville is “home to a statue, commonly known as Silent Sam, that stands as a monument to hundreds of Chapel Hill alumni who served in the Confederate Army” (Harris). This statue was found controversial as it was a potential safety threat to those around it. They found a lifeless statue dangerous. It’s as if America has confined itself to two coping strategies for its past choice of slavery: silence and denial. Another example of this is the streets in New Orleans named after slaveholders such as Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay (McWilliams). Sure, Andrew Jackson did own slaves in the past, and condoned the act of slavery, but to what extent will these past slave owners be held accountable for for the past? What will changing street names or statues of these individuals really do for the people in America let alone African Americans? A professor of history at Texas State University states, “Taking those statues down was a bad idea because they reminded white people what was done to us. We are not educated' (McWilliams). What the author means by this is that the feeling of shame is something that Americans are not prone to feeling when it comes to slavery. Later on in the text, it’s stated:

We haven't been taught how to confront the troubled history and legacy of slavery in a way that demands our sustained discomfort and puts us at risk in public space. True, by wishing the statues away, we justifiably honor the crushed feelings African Americans experience when living amid monuments that once honored slavery. But less justifiably, by wishing these statues away, we also ease the guilt of many progressive whites who, for altogether different reasons, also hate looking up to Lee, Jackson, and, dare one say it, Mr. Jefferson. (McWilliams)

McWilliams deduces that the removal of these statues only strips away one, thin layer of the whole picture. Some individuals will say that removing these statues helps African-American communities heal and stay safe, however, what they fail to consider is that it merely sweeps the problem under the carpet. Racial bias and bigotry will still exist, and the uneducated people in America will still believe in these individuals. An alternative approach to this would be to have these statues, places, and monuments, carry information that allows people to see fully, the history of that monument or statue—not just the sugar-coated version. Otherwise, it would all just be covered up, disregarded, or forgotten. A prime example of white supremacy not being able to let go, being uneducated about slavery and the never-ending racial injustice in America are the populated Confederate monuments in North Carolina (Wahlers). Wahlers factually states:

North Carolina enacted the Heritage Protection Act ('HPA') in July 2015, less than two weeks after the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House. This law severely restricts the removal, relocation, or alteration of any monument or 'display of a permanent character' located on public property.

This further proves the racial bigotry in America as the only purpose of keeping the Confederate flag there in their eyes is for heritage and preservation. They seemingly don’t care about the long history of that flag. Even in the United States justice system since slavery was abolished, black persons who were incarcerated in the eighties and nineties were forced to pick cotton still. Without the feeling of shame, there would be nothing to motivate these individuals to make the situations for others better and overall improve countless lives.

The people should truly know about what intentions their government has in the present. They need to reevaluate and reflect on their ethics and values to keep and preserve or to discard and destroy the buildings, places, and monuments we have today. They need to truly understand the depths of the history of these places, and not just eliminate or keep it merely for political or aesthetic gain. They need to acknowledge the true histories of these places in order to know what they should be preserving or destroying. The prominence of racism, bigotry, and injustice will only manifest and grow. All of that energy can most definitely be used to expect more out of Notre Dame for example. They could, in fact, use their million-dollar donations to give the world more exposure to its dark side of history of religious persecution and missionary work. The small choices and impacts can really encourage individuals from other countries, from all over the world to demand and expect more from their courtrooms, their leaders, their classrooms, and most importantly each other. The choices of these countries to make reparations for their mistakes will alter the narrative of their country’s systems. The education of more and more individuals can finally get them to be prepared to set their foot down and say that there is no longer any tolerance for mistakes already made in the past.

Works Cited

    1. Harris, Adam. 'As support grows for ditching confederate statues, some colleges begin to remove theirs.' The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1 Sept. 2017, p. A28. Academic OneFile, Accessed 4 May 2019.
    2. Hein, Patrick. 'Patterns of war reconciliation in Japan and Germany. A comparison.' East Asia: An International Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 2, 2010, p. 145+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 4 May 2019.
    3. McWilliams, James. 'SHAME, AND 'THOSE' MONUMENTS.' The Hedgehog Review, vol. 20, no. 1, 2018, p.
    4. 12+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 4 May 2019.
    5. 'The equal justice initiative: memorial and museum.' Journal of Pan African Studies, vol. 10, no. 1, 2017, p. 413+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 4 May 2019.
    6. Wahlers, Kasi E. 'North Carolina's Heritage Protection Act: cementing Confederate monuments in North Carolina's landscape.' North Carolina Law Review, Sept. 2016, p. 2176+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 4 May 2019.
    7. Young, James E. 'Germany's vanishing Holocaust monuments.' Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, vol. 43, no. 4, 1994, p. 412+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 4 May 2019.
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