One of the hottest topics during this most controversial and disquieting of summers has been what to to about all those statues of figures who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Many have been removed, but now what? IMHO it’s important to use these symbols to tell the unvarnished story of what they represented when first erected (decades after the war ended) and what they represent today. And boy, is that a loaded question in this era of red and blue states and renewed demands for racial justice. In my recollection, our country has not been this divided since the VietNam era, and our very future is at stake. It’s hard to find reasons to hope…..
This morning I came across an article in one of my favorite websites, Atlas Obscura, which every day posts a digest of the the unusual and often downright quirky places scattered around the world. What snagged my interest this afternoon is their article about what Germany, which has long had their own social and political controversies, has decided how to handle their own monuments that “symbolize racism, antisemitism, and other forms of violence and oppression”. Rather than destroying them, they have established the Citadel Museum in Spandau, in which to display them. There aim is to use them “ to contextualize the past, putting uncomfortable realities on display in productive, educational, and sometimes challenging ways.“
The museum’s message is clear: A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used.
I love this idea, and now my hope is that we can do something like this in several American cities, north and south. These are issues we desperately need to talk about in a supportive environment.
The article goes on to discuss other ways German people are working to confront their own history. Well worth taking a look at here.