In this timely book, which neatly combines history, art criticism and travelogue, Lowe examines 25 monuments to the Second World War spread across three continents ... Lowe is a fine guide to these monuments because he feels the moral force — for good or bad — of each site he visits. Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial to all those who have died in battle in the past century and a half, appals him, not just because it honours the brutal Kempeitai military police, the equivalent of the SS, but also because the attached museum denies any war guilt: it blames the Chinese for the Japanese invasion of China, the Americans for Pearl Harbor ... Not all monuments are of a quality that merits this careful scrutiny, but Lowe ends with a warning against tearing any of them down. Doing that simply drives history underground. Better perhaps to find an alternative home for those that offend us. Memento Park in Budapest, with its Cold War relics, has been mentioned in recent weeks. Lowe visits somewhere similar at Grutas Park in southern Lithuania, where communism’s tyrants have been rendered banal.
[Lowe's] descriptions and explanations are always thoughtful and evocative, sometimes controversial ... it would be wrong to give the impression that Lowe’s book is iconoclastic. For all his reservations about our statues and memorials, he concludes by urging that we should not hasten to topple those that suddenly seem displeasing ... Lowe’s sensitive, disturbing book should be compulsory reading for both statue builders and statue topplers. Too many memorials of all kinds seek to promote deceits or half-truths. While recognising their imperfections, however, we should be readier to indulge these than are some modern protesters.
Among the many revelations in Keith Lowe’s new book is that the great second World War memorials across the globe are rarely, if ever, a simple tribute to those who served, suffered and died. The monuments are as much representations of our identities and ourselves and of the ways we choose to use and abuse history ... Lowe’s book went to press before the current wave of anti-statue protests, but he notes of previous similar events that 'tearing down monuments does not solve our history; it simply drives that history underground. While a monument still stands, it will always need to be confronted, discussed'. The way to deal with out-moded monuments is, rather, to move them, contextualise them and/or ridicule them, as the Lithuanians did when they despatched Soviet-era statuary to a 'Stalin’s World' theme park ... it is a compelling and fascinating read.