Prisoners of History: What Monuments to World War II Tell Us About Our History and Ourselves

St. Martin’s. Dec. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781250235022. $29.99. HIST
Monuments reflect values at the time they were erected, but, with time, values change. On the 75th anniversary of the close of World War II, Lowe (Savage Continent) looks at several monuments in 16 countries, from the United States and Britain to Russia, Slovenia, Germany, South Korea, China, and Japan. Among the monuments included are statues, shrines, tombs, a whole ghost town, an amusement park, and a continent-wide hiking trail. Asking readers to reflect on who is considered a hero and who is considered a martyr, Lowe’s narrative analyzes artifacts such as a monument in Budapest that ignores Hungarian complicity in killings and slights the real victims, Hungary’s Jews. The Peace Statue in Seoul shows a seated woman, a “comfort women,” one of thousands forced into prostitution by Japanese forces. The statue faces the Japanese embassy in Seoul, witness to an infamy never fully acknowledged by the Japanese government. In evaluating a Lithuanian amusement park where a statue of Joseph Stalin is a tourist draw, Lowe wisely lets the monuments speak for themselves, but what he says is uniformly insightful. Maps and photographs add context.
VERDICT An insight into World War II that will appeal mostly to military enthusiasts and those interested in social history.
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