Sunday, February 09, 2014

Who Gets the Statue?

Last month I read a very interesting and thought-provoking article by Peter Singer titled A Statue for Stalin. You can read it here if you're so inclined.

In the article, Mr Singer noted that statues of Josef Stalin are popping up across Russia, as he is credited with leading Russia (the Soviet Union, at that time) to victory in World War II. Stalin was, however, also a brutal dictator who presided over the murder of millions of Russians as a result of his policies and his paranoia, divided Europe, and was personally responsible for decades of misery and terror in Eastern Europe, not to mention Russia. The underlying question posed by Mr Singer's article was this: why is it acceptable to erect a statue to Josef Stalin, and not to Adolf Hitler?

On the surface, this might seem like a dumb question. Adolf Hitler was one of the most horrifying mass murderers in history, and more than any other single person was responsible for the outbreak of World War II, during which Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union and committed ghastly atrocities throughout Europe. Hitler was responsible for millions of deaths, but so was Stalin (and so was Mao Zedong, but we won't discuss him at the moment) ... and yet there are statues of Stalin in Russia (and even in the United States - the article points out that there is a bust of the Soviet dictator at the National D-Day Memorial in Virginia).

So, why is a statue of Stalin okay, but one of Hitler not?

One obvious answer is the simplest one: Hitler lost. Because history is written by the victors, it's the loser who gets short shrift. Had Germany prevailed, we'd probably see statues of Hitler all over, and none of Stalin. Another answer is that the Soviet Union (Russia, now) has a need to be able to view its tortured history in the best possible light ... which is easier, since it was on the winning side.

All this leads to a larger question: who gets the statue?

Washington, DC, is full of statues honoring people that are long forgotten ... obscure quasi-heroes (and, less frequently, heroines) who were famous for reasons that have been lost in time. Someday, there will be efforts made to erect statues to and name things for the "famous" people of our era - but who will they be? There's a larger-than-life statue of Ronald Reagan greeting people arriving by car at (of course) Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. My daughter works at the Reagan Building. We frequently drive on Virginia Route 234, part of which is known as the Ronald Wilson Reagan Highway*. Who else merits a statue?

I don't think there's a single current member of Congress - of either party - worthy of having anything more than an outhouse named after him (or her). Our military heroes often turn out to have feet** of clay (consider the dismal fate of one-time hero General David Petraeus). We have no statesmen worthy of the name.

Who gets the statue? Our heroes nowadays are more down-to-earth ... they're policemen, firefighters, and the selfless people who work at the local level to make things better. But they don't get statues very often. Virginia names a lot of bridges and stretches of road for state police officers who have died in the line of duty, but aside from a sign at the side of the road, they're pretty much forgotten.

In the end, people with agendas and deep pockets will ensure that their preferred people are suitably honored with heroic statues, national holidays, memorial highways, or national landmarks. None of them will be as unworthy as a Hitler or a Stalin, but few of them will be real heroes, either. We aren't making many of those any more***. And it's sad.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* The GOP wants to make sure that the deification of Ronald Reagan continues ad infinitum, even though he'd be a pariah by today's Republican standards.

** Or other parts.

*** If you're interested, go back and read my post from August of 2012 titled, "Another Word for 'Hero' for some related thoughts.


Duckbutt said...

Political parties have use for deceased heroes. They cause no problems for present-day mischiefmakers.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Why not make a statue of some ordinary, everyday person who did good things. In N.O. we have a statue of Molly Marine, honoring the women marines on World War II.

Paris has a statue honoring single girls.

Big Sky Heidi said...

How about a statue to the Unknown Stripper. Preferably in Moriatry, NM or Ardmore,TN

Moriatry is allegedly where strippers go to die.

Seriously, honoring brave soldiers, firemen, or police officers is a nice gesture.

Anemone said...

Why not honor a dog, like the Japanese did in Tokyo?

Mike said...

We have a new bridge in St. Louis. The Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Or as it will probably be known as 'The Stan Span'.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

County and Parish names have also been ways of honoring people.