Throughout history, monuments have been erected to commemorate victories, honor powerful leaders, or serve as the symbol of a movement. However, when the victory was gory or unfair, the ruler corrupt, and the movement immoral, the monument becomes uncomfortable and alienates the people who did not benefit from the event depicted. Especially as populations become more socially aware of this phenomenon over time, there are calls to remove certain monuments. However, as a monument is closely equated with history, it is dangerous to simply remove the past instead of understand why it can be unsavory.
Uncomfortable monuments are important to understand for the same reason is is important we learn about history. Granted, monuments certainly should not exist for the purpose of honoring a genocidal ruler or an unfair, bloody battle. Similarly, history should not be taught in favor of immorality. However, if we simply removed all such monuments, we may forget that events that like this did happen, and were not okay. The presence of these monuments reminds people of injustice and incites action against its repetition. People are driven to understand immorality and work to prevent it, just like history is taught in part to teach a moral lesson based on the mistakes of our predecessors.
For example, the monument at Bolzano commemorates Mussolini’s transition to dictator and the Italian annexation of South Tyrol, Austria following World War I. This “Monument to Victory” has been a point of contention between German and Italian people living in the area, because for years the monument still served as a symbol of Italian superiority. Before the monument was renovated, it simply perpetuated national divisions and caused ethnic tension. This shows the negative impact uncomfortable monuments can have if the reason for the discomfort is not formally addressed.
The growing discontent with this monument was eventually addressed. The monument was not simply removed, though. Instead, Schnapp and his team built a museum underneath the monument and altered it slightly. This informs visitors of the dark history behind it instead of simply destroying it. This also bridges the gap between the two feuding groups, as one gets to keep their monument but information about its corruption is included to appease the other group. Similarly, history should be taught including this moral lesson. Unlike a monument, history cannot be removed. All that can be done to counteract negative historical events is to teach about them.
Monuments are important because they capture significant moments in history, even if those moments are not incidents that many want to remember. The “Monument to Victory” at Bolzano is an important example of this. Monuments are also especially important because they often signify turning points in history, revolutions. The discontent with many monuments prove that not all revolutions entail progress. A revolution in this case is defined as a dramatic change, whether that be regressive or progressive. However, these revolutions can be made progressive if they are renovated like the one in Bolzano was, and be made to teach a moral lesson.