Friday, February 18, 2005

Missing the Point: Hitler's Playground

Some Jewish groups are upset at the opening of a new luxury hotel and resort at a location where Hitler had a resort which was sometimes also the location from which the German government was run during Hitler's reign.

I'm sorry, isn't this the sort of thing they should actually be celebrating? All too often we commemorate a tragic location with a "tribute" to victims which just ends up serving as a reminder to everyone of what evil someone was capable of.

Instead, Bavarian officials have allowed redevelopment to occur, excising the remnants of Hitler's stay. Even the US Government used the area as a resort after World War II before turning it back over to Germany. The new luxury resort re-establishes the area as a vacation spot as it was before Hitler's time. Hitler becomes an unfortunate blip on the radar. While his actions (and not just his) were indeed evil, they don't inadvertently become celebrated by keeping the land off-limits. Now, if the resort had a monument to Hitler, or used the location's connection to its past as an advertising feature, trying to target Neo-Nazis as potential guests, that would be one thing. But it sounds more to me like the resort is saying "It's a new day and we choose to embrace the future."

I mean, you have to. If we build a monument to every tragedy, locking up the real estate forever with a plaque or a statue, we ultimately don't honor those killed so much as give a permanent place for the evil people to visit -- who might be inspired to one day do something worthy of their own.

That's what bothers me about when some guy walked into a McDonalds years ago and shot a bunch of people. They tore down the McDonalds, built a new one nearby and turned the old location into a park or something. Sure, it may have been determined that maybe people might not want to continue frequenting the old one, even if fixed up, but in time, they would have. A nice plaque at the restaurant and money to the families might have been better spent. Or the World Trade Center. Instead of saying "Yeah, some idiots did something bad here, but we're moving on because they have not deterred us," I feel like we're saying "Hey world, next time you're in New York, stop by and see where a guy living in a cave in Afghanistan was able to convince a bunch of crazy followers to hijack planes and kill our people." While we visit out of morbid curiosity or actual reverence, or for the next 60-80 years to pay tribute to relatives who we actually knew, how many Islamic fundamentalists dream of someday going to New York to see a triumph permanently enshrined?

I mean, what's next, a giant concrete statue of an SUV at the Glendale Transit Center, surrounded by 11 glass replicas of train seats in a semi-circle facing away from it with a little garden and a fountain? It would make the surviving family feel better for a little while, but just reminder all train passengers that they could die on their way to work, and prevent family from moving from the area because of the guilt that they wouldn't be able to regularly visit the memorial.

If I'm ever killed by someone evil, I don't want to be part of some permanent "tribute." Plant one or more trees, spread my ashes around the trees to help them grow, and send some money to my college to get the stream running again into the pond. They can put my name on a plaque there if they want, a symbol of something good, not a reminder of something bad.

Because in time, my family would move on... not because they didn't care, but because you have to. Don't forget history, but don't create permanent reminders that can be so broadly interpreted as a success for champions of evil, either.
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