Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

Jan. 23: Monuments to the Unthinkable

Tomorrow (if the library is open) we’ll discuss–in person or virtually for those of you who don’t want to brave the weather–the attached article from The Atlantic:
Monuments to the Unthinkable, Clint Smith (MSN link)

The article explores how the Holocaust has been memorialized, then explores how analogous “unthinkables” in the U.S. (like slavery and the slave trade) have been memorialized.

In discussing the article and the subject in general, my guess is that we’ll cover questions such as the following:

  • How do we (or some subsequent generation) decide what events or circumstances should be memorialized? Or are there no clear criteria and the decision is left to each generation/society at the moment?
  • What is the most sensitive, appropriate way to construct a memorial–especially one remembering past atrocities or other difficult periods of history?
  • Should memorials’ objectives be to educate? To stir emotions? To elicit resolve not to repeat the sins of the past? All of the above? “It depends?”
  • Should historical figures be judged primarily in the context of the norms of their own time, by modern standards, or by a combination of the two? (This is obviously a current point of debate for several historical American figures who were celebrated for decades or centuries but whose lives are now viewed as being more complex than most of us were taught in primary/secondary school.)

The discussion may also head into broader, but related, areas such as:

  • Aside from documenting and memorializing/remembering past atrocities, what other steps are appropriate (such as “reparations”)?
  • If reparations are appropriate, what guidelines should be used to construct the plan? For a given situation:
    • Who should benefit from reparations? (As the links to the past fade over time?)
    • Who should pay reparations?
    • What form and magnitude should reparations take?

I look forward to hearing a variety of perspectives on this complex and, often, emotional subject.

Check tomorrow morning to see if the library is open.

If you aren’t comfortable traveling in the morning’s weather, you can get a Zoom link through the library’s events calendar or by calling library staff.


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