Monuments

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The wave of demands for removal of monuments offensive to some, got us to thinking about wantonly destroyed structures we have encountered. Some years back,on our visit to Varanasi, India our guide took us to Sarnath on the outskirts of the City. The site of Buddha’s first discourse and for centuries a major Buddhist Center, at one time there were 30 monasteries and 3000 monks. Unfortunately, at the end of the 12th century it was sacked and destroyed by invading Muslims. Our guide, a Muslim, strangely gave us a quick orientation and disappeared for a couple of hours. We roamed the ruins left after the destruction and thought it sad members of one religion could wreak such havoc on the revered places of another.

Sarnath Ruins

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The Dhamekh stupa was all that remained standing, probably because it was simply to massive to destroy.

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It’s only now with the confluence of current events that we may have gained, if not enlightenment, maybe some understanding. For many Americans their conception of Buddhism is formed by the memories of the Beatles with the Maharishi Yoga speaking of peace and love. Reading of Buddhists slaughtering Muslims in India’s adjoining neighbor  Myanmar (Burma) comes as a shock to many. Thinking back to our Muslim guide’s sudden disappearance, we now realize it just might have been because he was unwelcome at this site of Muslim destruction. Even over centuries people just don’t forget such horrors. Even if Muslims thought they were doing god’s work then or the more recent Monument destruction by Isis and the Taliban, no one could possibly think this is going to bring people together. In fact it’s a great way to form lasting enmity.

Monuments of any type can give us a sense of place and the history of that place. For this reason, Archeologists decry destruction of any monuments from statues to any building, structure, or site that is of historical importance or interest. They help us to know the story of humanity even when we don’t particularly like what we find. It is one thing to repurpose a monument, say a religious building or site, rather than destroying it. Some Churches in Spain were converted by conquest to mosques only to be converted back to churches when fortune changed. They remain to tell their story to scholars and tourists alike. The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul for nearly a thousand years  was the greatest Greek Orthodox Church. With the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Muslim Ottoman Turks it was converted to a Mosque and remained one till 1934, when under Turkish president Kemal Atatürk, Hagia Sofia was secularised and turned into the Ayasofya Museum. Had it been destroyed this building of great historical importance would be lost forever and one more unrelenting reason for Christian resentment towards Muslims. Today it remains a magnet to travelers of all stripes, enriching our lives and the Turkish Treasury.  Preservation often literally enriches. What place wants fewer monuments to display and draw tourists?

The Hagia Sophia

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Even the painful needs to in some part to be preserved lest we forget. The Berlin Wall is surely painful to Germans, yet here is part of it preserved so we may never forget.

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While in Berlin one will find the Monument pictured at the beginning of this post. If you don’t recognize the people depicted, they’re Karl Marx & Friedrick Engels, authors of the “Communist Manifesto.” Along with Marx’s “Das Kapital,” they provided the Economic Philosophy  provideing the intellectual under pinning of some of the greatest human disasters in history.  For example, the Marxist Stalin caused the famine among small land holders in Russia,, known as Kulaks, that cost an estimated 7,000,000 lives. Not to be outdone, the Chinese Marxist Mao Zedong caused an even greater human tragedy with his “Great Leap Forward.” A lower-end estimate is 18 million dead, while extensive research by Yu Xiguang suggests the death toll from the movement is closer to 55 million. Marx & Engels provided the intellectual cover for these monsters. Further horrors in their name such as those in Easter Europe still extend around the world from China to Venezuela. Look again at the Berlin Wall and remember.

Knowing what their writings have wrought, we can understand the resentment to such a monument of the wide populace that suffered under Marxism.  In fact, our first reaction was revulsion. Shouldn’t these feelings be acknowledged by removal or destruction? In today’s climate one might think so.  Yet, is it short-sighted to let resentment rule today at greater cost to tomorrow? We thought of a person whose resentment could have understandably ruled his life. Discriminated against for his color and imprisoned for his actions to gain freedom, this individual couldn’t be blamed for wanting to destroy every vestige of his oppressors, but he didn’t. Instead he informed us,  “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” He went on to say, “It is easy to breakdown and destroy.  The heroes are those who make peace and build.” We’ll follow Nelson Mandela’s words with the hope when families the world over approach monuments such as a Statue of Adam Smith in Edinburgh or those of Marx and Engels in Berlin, and the children ask “who is that” their parents answer as fully and truthfully as possible. Each monument has a story to tell.

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