During a recent trip to Nicaragua, I heard one of the most compelling arguments I’ve ever heard against heroes. (Mind you, though, people don’t run up to me every day to whisper anti-hero nasties in my ear.) A local guide explained that Nicaragua’s largest city, Managua, confuses visitors because it has no street signs. He explained,
“That means you or your taxi driver better know an important landmark near where you want to go. . .or you’re up a creek.”
My mind transported me back to visits to Russia and Japan— Moscow and Tokyo, to be exact—where I got hopelessly lost. Japanese characters and the Cyrillic alphabet that Russians use create complex street names that throw tourists for a loop: names like “東京都北区豊島” or “переулок Лаврушинский .” And woe to the visitor who’s looking for a street spelled dangerously like another one nearby.(Of course, the same confusion around our street signs greets the Japanese and those who use Cyrillic or non-Latin/English alphabets like the Arabs and the Chinese.)
“But why would a city refuse to name its streets,” I asked the Nicaraguan guide.
“Because Managuans got tired of replacing street signs every time a new political faction with new heroes took over.”
It’s true that Nicaragua has endured numerous changes to its government, especially since the 1970s. Apparently city officials in Managua replaced street signs honoring the heroes of the Somozans with those of the Sandinistas. . . and later replaced those with the heroes of the Contras and others.
However, the Nicaraguan Civil War of 1979 to overthrow the Somoza regime, and the 11-year long Contra War of the 1980s weren’t the only things to upend the capital city of Nicaragua. A major earthquake in 1931, a disastrous fire in 1936, and another quake in 1972 all devastated Managua. And Hurricane Mitch also did a number on the city in 1998.
Still, the notion that heroes might cause some locales problems got me thinking. Forget about people getting tired of paying manufacturers to make new street signs. What about the statues and monuments erected to fallen heroes?
Penn State removed the statue of football coach Joe Paterno from its pedestal outside Beaver Stadium in July of 2012. The university president, Rodney Erickson, said the 7-foot, 900-pound bronze statue had to go, because it represented “an obstacle to healing in our University and beyond.” According to Wiki, Erickson’s “decision came 10 days after a scathing report by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh found that Paterno, with three other top Penn State administrators, had concealed allegations of child sexual abuse made against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The Freeh report concluded their motive was to shield the university and its football program from negative publicity.”
How do you feel about President Erickson removing Paterno’s statue, exactly six months after the revered coach died of lung cancer? Erickson did not destroy the work—created in 2001 and currently stored in the basement of the stadium—and he left Paterno’s name on the university’s library.
Additionally, how do you feel about American forces making a big production of pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad after the US invasion of Iraq in April 2003?