The water near the shore of river Danube in Vienna may be a strange place for a monument, but when it is for Hans Hass, diver, biologist and filmmaker, Viennese, it makes perfect sense, don’t you think so? And besides, the glittering sun shining through the canvas is nothing but beautiful.
This is the great obelisk on Praça dos Restauradores, a monument celebrating the victory in the Portuguese Restoration War, a war fought against Spain. Portugal had been Spanish for 60 years, and the series of victories culminating in the peace treaty of 1668 made Portugal independent again.
Like all such monuments, it celebrates the victors. It does not mourn the victims. They are “Heroes of the Nation” or someting worthless like that. We think in categories of armies led, in name but never in person, by kings and leaders. We don’t think of individuals with individual lives, histories, dreams, families and friends. “Soldier” is a category, no more.
Still, there are differences. Western democracies tend to value the lives of their soldiers. This is not because our politicians are any better than the dictators who do not, it is because power in a democracy needs to gently coerce. Think of Vietnam: the war was lost not only because of the distance, because of the impossibility to fight a guerilla army, it was lost to a good deal because the caskets coming home undermined public support.
Totalitarian dictatorships don’t need those considerations. Stalin could throw masses of badly equipped Red Army soldiers against a technically superior German force, and it gets worse when Gods get involved.
The attackers in Paris came to die. They knew they would die, but not in the sense how a soldier in the first line knows that it is hardly possible to survive, no, their plan was to die and to take as many victims with them. For their God.
There is no way to argue with that kind of fanatics. This is the most de-humanized kind of warfare possible, and the leaders who exploit young, misled people in such a way, sending them to certain death for a price they can never claim, those leaders are the most despicable scum imaginable.