Amal Chatterjee
8 min readAug 22, 2017


Monuments to glory

Source : Google photo

All nations have the desire to glorify their heroes and their leaders. This is a very ancient practice that shows the gratefulness toward a person for his or her contribution to enhance the greatness of a nation and its people.

You will see a great number of statues strewn around ancient sites of the Roman empire some intact and most broken or headless because no one cares for them anymore although there was a time when the kings and queens paid homage to such persons by erecting their statues with great fanfare and expense.

Some were of their ancient Gods and Goddesses that have fallen out of favors because they were replaced by new religions that showed no reverence to them and neglected them. Some were vandalized by the common people while other such statues ended up in the corridors of museums around the world. Some heads of theses statues were rescued and piled up in the warehouses of great museums because of shortage of space to display them. Some statues carved out of the mountainside long long time ago were blown up by the intolerant jihadists like in Bamyan the statue of Buddha or smashed to pieces in the museums of Mosul and Palmyra that the whole world condemned.

You can gawk at their craftsmanship and how beautifully the ancients chiseled them out of pure white carrara marbles with remarkable resemblance to the real person. In those days there were no cameras to capture the image of a person so an artist was called to make a painting or a sketch from which the artisans then carved out a statue.

But not all such statues were made to display in public places or forums because the people revered them. Some were ordered made by the kings and queens to glorify themselves so you will still see them in Abu Simbel in Aswan, in Karnak, in Thebes, in Rome, in Athens and elsewhere with broken nose or other parts but still largely intact after thousands of years.

The new pharaohs who did not like their predecessors often ordered their statues to be destroyed or mutilated out of spite and had their history on the temple walls chiseled out to be replaced by their own glorified history. This has been going on since ages and still continues today. One man’s hero is another’s villain so the definition of a hero varies according to who is doing the defining and the political condition prevailing.

We now see in India the clamor for a temple of Nathuram Godse who assassinated Gandhi because millions think of him as a patriot and want to show their respect. Similarly Germans have honored Stauffenberg by naming a major boulevard in his name because he tried to assassinate Hitler, failed and was shot by the Gestapo.

Hindus have their temples full of statues of their Gods and Goddesses often covered in gold and adorned with jewels while the Christians make statues of Jesus, Mary and the saints to adorn their places of worship. The statue of Jesus the redeemer in Rio on top of a mountain is a spectacular one but there are statues and grottos all over the world. The great statue of Buddha in Kamakura is world famous .

But today I will write about the non-religious aspect of statuary that we see everywhere that were erected as a monument to someone the people considered great who gave their lives for the nation for a great cause. If you go to Washington D.C., you will see the great Mall leading to the Lincoln memorial at the end where his huge statue sits looking at people though his marble eyes. On the walls all around him are his words chiseled into the marble for people to read. Lincoln gave his life so that the blacks could be free.

Then at the side of the pool, you will see the monument of Thomas Jefferson not as grandiose perhaps as that of Lincoln but still quite impressive. Now a huge statue carved in white marble adorns a square in the city to show nation’s respect to Martin Luther King. His birthday is now a national holiday there.

While there is nothing wrong in erecting a statue or a great memorial for a great person by a nation, we now see the resurgence of various hate groups that come out in force often heavily armed to defend the symbol of slavery in the name of General Lee or Stonewall Jackson and clash with protester who want to remove such symbols of their shameful past. These hate groups that are white and still believe in their racial supremacy proudly wave the confederate flag everywhere and attack anyone who disagrees with them. One lady died very recently in such a clash in Charlottesville while protesting against racism in the United States. I can understand if it happened in 1850 but today this sort of hate display while the rest of the world has long moved away from slavery and racism is not understandable.

People want to remove all symbols of the shameful past from every town square in the country but some groups disagree and say that these symbols are a part of their history and heritage so must not be removed.

Expanding the same logic, let us now see why in other countries people want to forget the past that brought shame on their nation. I remember the park in my hometown in India where I used to play as a child. There is a beautiful marble monument at its center that has steps on all four sides leading to the center where a tall marble pillar with four sides sits. On each side there used to be the carved faces of Queen Victoria, King George V, Viceroy Minto and the fourth one I can’t remember with great words chiseled into the wall that we used to read and try to remember. After the independence, all such statuary were removed and dumped into a heap somewhere and forgotten. No one protests the removal of the symbol of colonial subjugation of India by the British.

The central park the size of the New York Central Park had a life-size statue of Victoria sitting on a throne with a scepter in her hand and a broken nose under a huge marble cupola but one day the statue was removed and dumped somewhere unceremoniously. The place has remained empty ever since.

All the names of the roads and boulevards that had British names like Hewett, Canning; McPherson etc. have been removed so the new generation does not know who they were. This was done deliberately by the government so that people can put that part of the inglorious past into the dustbin of history and move on.

There used to be a statue of General Gordon on a camel in Khartoum that was removed and transported at a great cost to England where he is still respected but the Sudanese want to forget their colonial past. Now you will see a great mausoleum of Mahdi in Omdurman just across the Nile who had raised a fanatic army to kill Gordon and establish Islamic rule to Sudan. When Gen. Kitchener came back to take revenge a few years later, he hanged a whole lot of people including the brutal Khalifa but Mahdi had conveniently died in the meantime so his bones were dug up by the British and scattered to jackals.

So someone’s villain is other’s hero hence the mausoleum of Mahdi. The history of many nations is replete with such monuments. In Germany, Hitler is not remembered this way but there are still die hard Hitler fanatics who wear Swastika bands on their arm and give Heil Hitler Nazi salute as if Hitler was such a great person. They are fewer in number than before but they exists and come out in force to beat up poor black immigrants or anyone who is foreign.

The question is why some people behave this way when the whole world has moved away from the past that brought only shame. They teach history to children in a very selective way so some of the infamous deeds against the blacks or the native Americans are expunged from the text books. This is done deliberately so that people will not learn about the slavery or the mistreatment of the blacks in the hands of KKK or other hate groups.

But the hate groups exists today and KKK was never banned so they form chapters in various parts of the country even today and shout Heil Hitler in the name of freedom of speech. Beating up innocent Black people is still a sport in some parts the local policemen are eager to practice.

If you go to Ulan Bataar which is the capital of Mongolia, you will see a great statue of Genghis Khan in the center glorifying a butcher who perhaps killed several million innocent people in the name of expanding his kingdom. Yet the Mongols are proud of this infamous man. Similarly if you go to Samarkand, you will see a great statue of Taimur who was responsible for so much bloodshed but people there glorify his butchery.

Alexander is similarly honored in his birthplace of Pella in Macedonia although even his army got sick of the massacre and wanted to return home.

I think there is a tendency to glorify and romanticize the Genghis Khans of this world so that the history will look kindly on them hence the statues but does it really change the facts? Does it really change the fact that slavery and ill treatment of blacks was morally, ethically and spiritually wrong? Since when the cold blooded massacre of innocent Native Americans, Incas, the Aztecs or anyone anywhere was right ? Since when the glorification of tyrants who killed millions was right?

There is a road in Delhi called Aurangjeb road that was recently changed to Abdul Kalam Boulevard but you should have seen the protests that some Moslems made. Aurangjeb was a very cruel king who forcibly converted Hindus to Islam and destroyed hundreds of Hindu temples yet some Moslems think that he was great and his name from the road should not be removed.

There was a time when Lenin and Stalin were the heroes in the communist Russia so they put up their statues everywhere but most of them have been brought down in the new democratic Russia where they do not revere Lenin and Stalin.

The tyrants always put up their own statues but people once free of the tyrant waste no time to bring them down and hit them with shoes like in Iraq. People who have the moral ascendancy over the minorities and hate groups have the right to vote in a government that represents them and their values. This is true in all countries where people practice democracy. This is not the case in the United States right now but the time will come when the majority will rule there and a truly representative government will be chosen by the people.

So I think that days of tyrants, despots and Kim Jong Uns of this world are numbered. One day their statues will also come down and be broken into rubble by the oppressed people who will then replace them with their own heroes who suffered in the hands of tyrants.

Noriega, Suharto, Shah of Iran, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Mobutu etc. have all been relegated to the dustbin of history and their self-glorified statuary removed but some people never learn and stick to the past as if they were always right and the whole world wrong.

History has a way of righting the wrong committed by a few people so someday a new Mandela will be born somewhere to bring justice to all. That is the hope we all live on because without such hope there is only despair. I do not wish to live in a world full of despair so I hope like millions of others.