If you encountered that gravestone in a cemetery, would it move you to file a protest? Or to start an advocacy group dedicated to having the marker removed or taken down?
There are two such gravestones marking the resting places of German prisoners of war in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, and another one is in Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Salt Lake City. They are located among the graves of American veterans, some of whom fought against Germany in World War II. A retired colonel visiting his Jewish grandfather’s grave at the Texas cemetery saw one of the markers with the swastika symbol, and his complaint moved the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which obviously does not have enough on its plate, to demand that the Veterans Administration “do something.”
Apparently in the throes of a strong attack of common sense and possessing functioning ethics alarms, the VA’s National Cemetery Administration has responded to the protest by stating that it “will continue to preserve these headstones, like every past administration has. All of the headstones date back to the 1940s, when the Army approved the inscriptions in question.”
Mike Weinstein, the founder of the MRFF and a former Air Force officer, deeply feels the pain of having to allow buried soldiers have the emblems of the nations they fought for on their headstones, and is apoplectic about the decision. “It’s intolerable,” he said. “This should not require explaining why this is wrong.”
Baseball writer Bill James once wrote that when someone says that that their proposition shouldn’t require explaining, it usually means that they have no valid arguments.
“But..but…” Wienstein sputters, if you translate the German phrase on the the headstones, they read, “HE DIED FAR FROM HOME FOR FUHRER, PEOPLE AND FATHERLAND”! I know I always enjoy translating the foreign languages on headstones over the graves of strangers just in case I can find them offensive.
The VA said in its statement that “the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 assigns stewardship responsibilities to federal agencies, including VA and the Army, to protect historic resources, including those that recognize divisive historical figures or events.” I believe the ethical principles at work here are respect, fairness, compassion, humility, responsibility, and the Golden Rule. Didn’t Weinstein and the other outraged veterans see the original version of “The Magnificent Seven”—you know, the good one? We are introduced to the gunfighter who eventually assembles his group to fight a Mexican bandit on behalf of poor farmers when he agrees to drive the hearse containing the body of “Old Sam” to be buried in a town’s Boot Hill. The town’s resident white supremacists don’t think Sam, an Indian, belongs where “decent Americans” are buried, and they are prepared to shoot anyone who tries to pollute the hallowed ground with Sam. “Chris,” played by Yul Brenner, and “Vin,” Steve McQueen, volunteer to drive the hearse because they believe that every man deserves a resting place. It’s pretty clear that the guys threatening to shoot them are bigoted fools.
Rabbi Joel R. Schwartzman, a retired Air Force colonel and chaplain, tried to come up with a reason why the VA should take down the headstones, and the best he could come up with is that “they could become a rallying point for white supremacists.” Right. Three grave markers in two states are ticking time bombs. Do people like this listen to themselves?
The three Germans are not the only POWs buried in American veteran cemeteries. Actually, there are eleven national cemeteries containing graves of German POWs from World War II, but none of the other markers include swastikas.
I bet they haven’t all been translated, though!
“There are reasons why most rational southern states are taking down their Civil War monuments,” Schwartzman wrote. “They are symbols that preserve a past no decent person would wish to see repeated or replicated.”
DINGDINGDINGDINGDINGDING! There it is! The real reason for this protest is the desire for more historical airbrushing. Even by those warped standards (which are not “rational” but the exact opposite, emotional and hysterical), this complaint is idiotic. These are grave markers, not public statues. They don’t “preserve a past,” they mark dead soldiers’ graves, and inform anyone who cares to pay attention to them who the human beings beneath them were. How do such gravestones threaten to “repeat or replicate” Nazi Germany?
They don’t. The grave markers aren’t harming anyone, nor are they advancing the causes the dead soldiers fought for. If the VA allowed this protest to succeed, the same people will be demanding that the Confederate flags on thousands of Civil War era graves be air-blasted away. I find it fascinating that German POWs are buried in some US cemeteries, but then I want to learn more about the past, not less.
Addendum: I was going to post this story early this morning, but got distracted. This allowed Ann Althouse, who is often drawn to the same stories I am, to get her post up first. Her angle was funnier, I have to admit: the Jerusalem Post headlined its story, “Rep. Wasserman Schultz calls on VA: Replace headstones with swastikas.”
I’m glad I didn’t see that story first, because it would have biased my analysis. Anything Rep. Wasserman-Schultz advocates is preemptively stupid.