5 Monuments to Failure That Are Still Standing
Statues and other architectural commemorations usually stand to signify one of two things: Either a happy statue that commemorates some crowning achievement, like a country’s independence or a Super Bowl win, or a memorial statue, which are much more of a bummer. Scattered across the globe, though, are monuments that fall into a third, much more complicated category: celebrating bad people and failed movements.
Here are five monuments to failure still standing today…
Statues of Napoleon
There’s zero argument to the fact that Napoleon might be one of the most recognizable figures in history. If you make it into Bill & Ted, it’s a testament to making it into the general public’s base historical knowledge. Note to those seeking a legacy: Wear a funny hat, it helps. A central part of that story is the fact that, despite military victory, Napoleon eventually got roundly spanked and sent packing.
The thing about a warmonger, even one with a fairly good win-loss record, is that a whole lot of death follows them. To this day, in France, he’s a heavily divisive figure, seeing that some people don’t appreciate celebrating a national hero responsible for over a million French deaths. Regardless, in places like Rouen, you get to see him rearing up powerfully astride a horse even while people boycott the anniversary of his coronation.
La Cambe Cemetery
Generally, a cemetery filled with soldiers who died fighting for their country is an unassailable, honored place of memory. The sort of place filled with flowers and silent salutes. You’re going to see a whole lot less of both at La Cambe in France. That’s because La Cambe is a cemetery filled with fighters that died during the famous battle of Normandy, but on the wrong side.
The whole “give your life for the good of the country” chestnut hits a little sour when the man you were fighting for was Adolf Hitler. Plenty of families with relatives in the cemetery probably spend a lot of their time trying not to remember their military service. Sure, you’ve got to put them somewhere. I mean, it’s not like you can just dump them all in a big hole and leave them there. Though, they famously had no problem with that. It might be the only cemetery in the world where you’d see someone pissing on a grave and think, “Attaboy.”
Statues of Oliver Cromwell
Of all countries, it maybe isn’t entirely surprising that controversial statues remain in England, the global king of “not wanting to make a fuss.” You’d think, though, that at least out of a semblance of self-respect, they might not want to have big, proud metal Oliver Cromwells around their country. First off, Cromwell is famous for killing thousands of Irish in cold blood.
Now, no one’s really shocked that England’s capable of waving that away, but he also famously deposed two British monarchs. Given that monarchy is like, their whole thing, you’d think they wouldn’t want everyone staring at a guy who managed to kick two of them off the throne. Obviously, crown-bearers are back on top, and yet, Cromwell is still poking around in cast bronze. I’m just saying, there’s mixed messages in having statues of a guy who you posthumously charged with high treason, dug up, performatively re-executed, and desecrated the body of.
So Much Confederate S**t
Probably the most thoroughly discussed, in absolutely grating fashion, is the continued existence of so much Confederate bullshit in the United States. Whether it’s the stars and bars on a beer koozie or a giant statue of Robert E. Lee, the country has bestowed an incredible amount of honor on its most famous losers. Self-proclaimed barroom historians are quick to exclaim that it’s an important part of our history, something we have to make sure not to forget.
Which would make a little more sense if throwing a tomato at one wouldn’t get you a wired jaw. Ah, so you’re flying a confederate flag off the back of your pickup truck in order to remind everyone of the great mistakes of American history, and as a warning not to repeat them. Next you’re going to tell me you’re rolling coal to visually illustrate the environmental effects of fossil fuel dependence.
Fallen Monument Park
The question is, obviously, what exactly do you do with a statue that has grown morally stinky over time? The argument that you can’t forget your history, even if usually weaponized for the wrong reasons by people whose brain has a friction coefficient approaching zero, there is a real point in there somewhere. One country seems to have actually come up with a pretty decent solution, and that country, somewhat surprisingly to me, is Russia.
In Moscow, there’s a sculpture park known as the Muzeon Park of Arts. Inside are all manner of Soviet statues and relics. After the fall of the USSR, the remnants deemed to have value were brought there to be displayed in the environment that most other controversial bits of commemoration lack: one of context. Of course, some people still refer to the park as the “Park of Fallen Heroes,” which throws some mud on the whole endeavor. Maybe we’re just going to have to start carving “Bad Guy” into plaques.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.