I thought about the Confederate monuments controversy while hiking in Austria recently. Although you would hardly know it from the rolling green hills and tidy, prosperous houses whose window boxes brimmed with geraniums, this area was part of the Third Reich only a few decades ago. Not just because it had been taken over by Nazis in the Anschluss, but because many Austrians sympathized with Hitler’s ideology.
My husband and I were walking among the ghosts of those who had fought for his horrendous vision, just as Confederate soldiers had fought to preserve the horror of slavery. Thankfully, they lost their wars. They also lost homes, loved ones, and often their lives.
Real and grievous pain needs to be acknowledged without glorifying causes that deserve to be lost. How do we dignify the suffering of the victimizer without demeaning their victims or creating false equivalencies?
As we hiked into the tiny town of Strobl, on the tip of the beautiful, mountain-ringed Wolfgangsee, we came across a war memorial unlike any we’d encountered. It was a statue of a seated woman, her head bent in sorrow. One of her hands holds a golden olive branch. The other rests atop a huge belly whose swollen contours suggest both pregnancy and a military helmet. Baby or soldier? It is impossible to discern, except to know that it is mothers’ babies who are served up endlessly to the maw of war. At the base of the statue is a simple square etched with the years of the two world wars.
The Strobl memorial stands in sharp contrast with the symbols that have become the focus of heated debate: military “heroes” enshrined in bronze, Confederate flags, and swastikas Defenders of these despicable icons claim they merely commemorate lost forebears or are innocent emblems of heritage. But this disguises, even exalts, the bloody evils of that heritage.
The sorrowing mother of Strobl does no such thing. She is instead a somber reminder that there are no winners and losers in war; no glory, but only sorrow.