The October War museum and memorial, commemorating Syria and Israel’s 1973 conflict (known in our circles as the Yom Kippur War), is a remarkable edifice of zero-context propaganda and kitsch brilliance. As befitting its stylistic dissonance, at least in comparison to the old quarter of Damascus, the memorial is pushed out to the fringes of the city. Paid for largely by the government of North Korea, the memorial boasts a series of mural paintings that are impressive in their scope and soulless in their composition, and the stern Soviet style sculptures that surround the building are much of the same. Most curious is the array of captured Israeli weaponry, simply arranged on the front lawn of the memorial like bizarre ornaments. Granted, most of the exhibits were in Arabic only, but the short film purporting to tell the story of the 1973 war was so transparent in its ideological agenda that even I could have driven a tank through it, American or Soviet made. Traveling in Vietnam I had noticed a lot of the same thing when it came to museums. When you don’t have free speech and you are brought up with only a steady diet of approved propaganda, you are presented history in a way that must be comfortably digestible and simplistic. Of course, I am not sure American school children are off any better, but at least my high school history teacher didn’t skip over the Trail of Tears or the Ludlow Massacre. I have my own issues with the question of Israel and the Palestinians, and I don’t support any group that believes they are entitled by history or some deity to a given chunk of land. That said, I am amazed at how the old, tired dichotomy of the Arab vs Israeli is beaten into the minds of people in this part of the world. This museum presents the creation of the state of Israel much like a sudden but natural travesty, an earthquake or flood. The political complexities that led up to 1948, not to mention the Holocaust and the flood of refugees it produced, are never acknowledged in Arab propaganda, because if they were they would take a lot of teeth out of the anti-Israel side of the dialectic. If we choose to be more honest about our own histories, it’s a lot harder to judge any one else’s as harshly. And hopefully it would force us to be a little more empathetic. All of us have been refugees at one time or the other, and most of us have been oppressors as well.