Monday, August 1, 2011

It's Like A 'Participant' Ribbon, But In Statue Form

Early last month, the town of Fushe Kruje, Albania dedicated a statue to George W. Bush. The Americans in the audience will probably wonder why in blazes someone outside of Texas would do that. After all, Bush isn't exactly Mount Rushmore material. Many would argue that Buah was in fact one of the worst Presidents of all time.

There are others that will ignore the 41 men that came before Bush and compare him exclusively to Obama- generally favorably, and while asking the question 'miss him yet?'- but these people aren't even worth the hassle. And I've gone double-barreled on some pretty stupid things in my day.

Anyway. Why Bush? Why Bush of all the Presidents? Long story short, he was the one who showed up. Bush was the one who took time out of his schedule to roll into Fushe Kruje and say hi. Albania, despite everything America has done to go out of its way to inspire people to burn our Presidents in effigy as opposed to making statues of them, has a special affection for the United States for two reasons: first, they credit us with bringing them out of the Cold War era; and second, Albanians in Kosovo were under threat of Slobodan Milosevic and his "ethnic cleansing" campaign, and when we bombed Kosovo, we saved those Albanians.

Of course, all the events of consequence happened in the period between the Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton administrations. All Bush did was go over and say hi as part of a multi-country trip. But since he did and the others didn't, he's the one that got the statue.

Bush's statue joins a rather eclectic list of foreign dedications to American presidents. Three of the others, one of which needs far more explanation than the others:

*Monrovia, Liberia, named for James Monroe in 1824, during his administration, as that is the point the country was "founded" by freed American slaves. As we've stated here, it didn't end well.

*A statue of Abraham Lincoln stands in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on a street also named for him. The statue stands as part of a trade with Mexico made in 1969, which in turn is the reason Washington DC has a statue of Benito Juarez, that city's namesake. The two were the respective heads of state during the Civil War and were on good terms with each other. Juarez is held in similarly high regard in Mexico.

*Rutherford B. Hayes has a Paraguayan soccer club named for him, called Presidente Hayes. Americans know Hayes largely as the guy who stole the Presidency from Samuel Tilden in the 1876 election.

Not long beforehand, Paraguay was being led by a man named Francisco Solano Lopez. Lopez was watching a conflict unfold between Brazil and Uruguay. Since Uruguay's 1830 independence, that nation had been seeing shaky internal relations that would eventually gel into the two major factions at the time, the Colorados and the Blancos. This conflict spilled over into Brazil, damaging Brazilian farmland. In 1864, Brazil demanded restitution. Uruguay refused.

Brazil invaded, on the side of the Colorados. Argentina was unhappy with this and joined in the war; they supported the Blancos. Brazil won and installed a Colorado government, dismaying Lopez. Uruguay was an ally of Paraguay. He at this point requested to move Paraguayan troops through Argentina so he could join in as well. Argentina told him no; the war was over and there wasn't really any point anymore.

He did it anyway. In fact, he attacked Argentina. According to the book Stupid Wars by Ed Strosser and Michael Prince, Paraguay sacked the city of Corrientes without so much as a declaration of war. This got all three countries angry at Paraguay: Argentina for blindingly obvious reasons, Brazil because he was in support of the Blancos, and Uruguay because it was now a Brazilian puppet state. Cue what became known as the War of the Triple Alliance, in which it was Paraguay against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

Paraguay, after a couple initial victories against the Argentinians, ran up against the much hardier Brazilian forces. Here, Paraguay's luck turned. It wouldn't stop turning for the next six years. Lopez's forces took battering after battering after battering, but he kept throwing more and more troops into the grinder. At one point in 1865 a draft was held, conscripting boys as young as ten years old and men as old as 60. It wasn't nearly enough to get the troops up to comparable numbers, much less comparable strength. By 1867, troops fought semi-nude for lack of supplies. And lest they not win under these conditions, Lopez would off them himself. "Conquer or die" was the motto, the threat, and the promise.

Meanwhile, what troops remained kept getting pushed north and north and north into the jungle, where in 1870 Brazilian troops finally picked off Lopez. And all it took to reach him was the death of a widely-varying estimate of Paraguay's total population that we'll peg here at 60%. Not just from war, but also food poisoning, poor adaptation to changing climates, and disease (both in general and from all the dead bodies laying around).

Argentina and Brazil spent most of the next decade squabbling over who got what parts of Paraguay. Argentina wanted to annex half of the country, Brazil wanted to leave it in place as a buffer zone and had a second standoff with Argentina to keep them from invading. Eventually, in 1878, they sought a mediator.

Namely, Rutherford B. Hayes. He gave both Argentina and Brazil chunks of land, but he permitted Paraguay to continue to exist. Paraguay was eternally grateful that they had not ceased to exist, and proceeded to plaster Hayes' name all over the country, something they still do today to the utter bewilderment of most Americans who get a good look at how Hayes is honored. As part of Hayes' Fabulous Paraguayan Hero Package, he has a soccer team named for him (which in turn managed to win a top-flight league title in 1952).

It's estimated that Hayes only spent a couple hours of his life on the matter; probably less time than I've spent on this article. The writing and vetting of the treaty were handled on the lower rungs of the diplomatic ladder and Hayes was merely handed something to look over and sign. Which largely, when you get technical, means he did only barely more than Bush did to get his statue. But he still signed a treaty nonetheless.

Either way, sometimes you just can't predict what your legacy's going to be.

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