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Monumental Destruction: Condemnation vs. Celebration

Monuments are a curious concept in modern society – just as the victors often write history, those in power are also responsible for determining what is valuable – what is worth memorializing and what should be forgotten. What defines “good” destruction from “bad?”

Although upon first hearing that question one would likely wonder what destruction of a monument could ever be “good?”

Pieces of Berlin wall for sale. Credit: NBC

Pieces of Berlin wall for sale. Credit: NBC

November 9, 2014 was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an event many would argue as a major turning point toward a more unified Germany, more unified Europe, and a more prosperous West – its destruction overall. Few today would argue that the Berlin wall should have remained intact. Yet, will archaeologists hundreds of years from now consider the destruction of the wall a loss of important tangible heritage? Only time will tell. But today, as nations the world over work to have pieces of cultural heritage repatriated to their homeland, it may seem contradictory that we laud the sale or loss of some of these items yet celebrate the sale of others, in particular pieces of the Berlin wall.

On the one hand, the argument can be made for the sale of such a (literally) dividing piece of history in the sense that it empowers a people to reclaim their society and take back their freedoms. However, once this history becomes antiquity will future minds have changed about the sale of this major portion of history? Even decades later, past tourists are returning pieces of monuments such as those at Pompeii – yet at the same time a piece of the Berlin wall can be found on eBay.

On the left: A man uses a sledgehammer to smash a statue of Lenin during a rally organized by supporters of EU integration in Kiev, Ukraine, on December 8, 2014. Credit: The Atlantic. On the right: Members of ISIS purportedly destroy a 3,000 year old Assyrian statue - a widely condemned move. Credit: Aina

On the left: A man uses a sledgehammer to smash a statue of Lenin during a rally organized by supporters of EU integration in Kiev, Ukraine, on December 8, 2014. Credit: The Atlantic. On the right: Members of ISIS purportedly destroy a 3,000 year old Assyrian statue – a widely condemned move. Credit: Aina

But admittedly, Europe is not my forte – so let’s look at an example that may have more resonance with the current era: the toppling of Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on April 9, 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq.

You’ve seen this scene before – from the invaders of ancient history conquering their enemies, to the demonstrators of Ukraine protesting communism today, to the destruction of ancient societies by modern ones – such as the recent campaign of ISIL today. Why is it that we lament the losses from destruction of the ancient world, while lauding the same types of destruction for monuments today?

Perhaps it is the fact that some believe that time can make something valuable.

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Yet, if an object’s worth appreciates with time – are we then undermining the value of our future by not lamenting the destruction of modern history in the same way that we condemn the destruction of our past?

Should we only be condemning the demolition of our past and not our future? Who should determine what is ok to destroy and what is not? These are questions with many answers, and we are looking to you to send us your thoughts!

 

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Here’s some further reading to help you inform your thoughts on the argument:

Tomb Destruction and Scholarship: Medieval Monuments in Early Modern England

Targeting the Symbolic Dimension of Baathist Iraq: Cultural Destruction, Historical Memory and National Identity

Monuments and Memory in Early Modern England

Your piece of the Berlin Wall is not special

Demonizing the tyrant: Saddam Hussein’s image in Spanish news programs during the Second Persian Gulf War

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