Bullet Holes

When I travel, I have been struck by the number of times I have come upon buildings with bullet holes in them. You can see them in a wall opposite the House of Parliament in Budapest. You can see them in the façade of the Czech National Museum in Wenscelas Square in Prague. You can see them in church walls and on the sidewalks of Dubrovnik.

The bullet holes in the wall opposite the House of Parliament are there as reminders of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising by the people of Hungary against their Soviet backed government. At first the Soviets were tempted to acquiesce to a change in government. Then they changed their minds and invaded Budapest. Several thousand were killed, Hungarian citizens and Soviet soldiers.

Bullet holes in facade of Czech National Museum in
 Wenscelas Square, Prague 
The bullet holes in the Czech National Museum were put there in 1968, again by the Soviets who invaded Prague to put a stop to the political liberalization that we know as the Prague Spring. While the bullet holes in Budapest are deliberate reminders of the 1956 Uprising—they are actually spheres embedded in the wall—the bullet holes in the façade of the Czech National Museum are there because no attempt was made to match the color of the original sandstone when the holes were repaired. I don’t know it for a fact but I suspect this failure was not accidental.

The bullet holes in the pavement of the sidewalk in Dubrovnik, the Stradun, were caused when on the 6th of December 1991 Slobodan Milosevic and his Yugoslav People’s Army shelled half the houses of the town and a significant number of its monuments in an attempt to build a greater Serbia. When you walk through Dubrovnik today, you see small craters in the marble cobbles of the Placa Stradun. They were put there by mortar fire. You pass pitted walls of nearby churches. The telltale pockmarks of  machine gun fire are still there 21 years later.

I am led to think about these bullet holes because of events here at home in the past month. On July 21, 2012 12 people were shot and killed by a gunman at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. On August 5, 2012 a gunman opened fire on a Sikh Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin killing six worshippers before killing himself.  In New York City on Friday, August 24, 2012 one man was shot to death outside the Empire State Building and nine were subsequently injured in a gun battle between police and the shooter that took the life of the gunman.

Will the bullet holes left after the gun battle in New York be allowed to remain as a reminder of the killings? What about the Century 16 theater? City officials in Aurora are currently asking the people of the town their views on what should be done with it. The owners of the theater will make the final determination.

In Columbine, Colorado the library where 10 students were killed in 1999 was replaced by an atrium. The building where 32 people were killed and 17 wounded at Virginia Tech University in 2007 was re-opened. There is a memorial to the dead and a bench to the survivors nearby.

As important as memorials are, they are, in the end, abstractions. I think those who are thinking about how to remember their dead might keep in mind the bullet holes of Prague, Budapest and Dubrovnik. These are about as un-abstract as you can get.

Perhaps a display of the firearms used at each of the killing locations might do it.