Not much surprises me anymore, but here’s a string of words I never expected to see together in the same sentence:
“Belgium's Manneken Pis Statue Becomes Symbol of Resilience Following Attacks”
According to USA Today “the statue of a young boy urinating into a pool has been transformed into a symbol of defiance to those who carried out the terror attacks.”
You read that right. The Manneken Pis - which means exactly what you think it means - is that small bronze statue of the little boy peeing into a fountain basin. It stands a short walk from the Brussels Town Hall and it is probably Belgium’s best-known landmark, if only because a lot of young veterans brought back souvenir statuettes, as mementos after WWII.
A symbol is only worth what you put into it, and the Belgians have been creating origin stories for the Manneken Pis since the 17th Century – mostly connecting it to stories about the Belgians defeating invading armies against all odds, or the little boy named Julianske who saved Brussels by urinating on the fuse of a bomb planted against the city walls.
< “Look! A Gift from the Belgians!” Support for Belgian friends!”
As comically weird as it looks to American eyes that statue was a symbol of Belgian resilience and resistance long before today’s attack.
During WWII Belgium had the misfortune of being a convenient bypass of the French defensive line. The Nazis overran neutral Belgium's purely defensive army in 16 days and occupied the place. After that both sides stomped and bombed the place for four more years.
You've heard of the Battle of the Bulge? I'm pretty sure your father or your grandfather might have mentioned it. 450,000 German troops, supported by massive armor and artillery support, launched a surprise attack against the overstretched and outnumbered Allies. The Bulge was where the brunt of the attack hit the American forces, who incurred the highest casualties of any operation of the war.
That was in Belgium’s heavily-forested Ardennes region.
Which is why a lot of those GI souvenir statuettes looked like this:– the Manneken Pis doing his thing on a swastika. They also made them with a relief of Hitler's face on the receiving end.
A symbol is worth what you are willing to emotionally invest in it. That's what makes it so powerful.
A Flag is not just a piece of cloth. A marriage license is not just "a piece of paper." A death warrant, a hundred dollar bill, or a Picasso etching are also pieces of paper. They are worth only the meaning we invest in them.
Humans are a symbolic species. we invest our emotions and values in objects that gives them powerful meaning - no matter how strange it looks to foreign eyes.