Letter: Future uses of the Alaska Court Plaza at Fourth and Main Streets

Aside from the Capital building itself, the site of the proposed statue of U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward is probably the most visible, prominent and arguably most important piece of real estate owned by the state of Alaska. But, by their selection of an image to promote the statue, it looks like the group sponsoring this statue is still planning to show a map of the state of Alaska on the base that copies some kind of bogus, public relations version of maps used by carnival hustlers to sell patent medicines.

 

A real map of Alaska — one that is geographically accurate — will conform mathematically to a projection from global latitudes and Longitudes, and will show all of the territories purchased from Russia through Seward’s work as U.S. Secretary of State after the Civil War. In my view, the most important of these are the far westernmost islands of the Aleutian Chain: Attu, Kiska and Shemya. We Alaskans can be proud of such a map. Anything less on a permanent monument will be a source of constant embarrassment for all future generations of Alaskans.

First, as residents of Alaska’s capital city, we — as with all Alaskans — have an obligation to all past and future generations to properly represent the entire territory over which the government of the state of Alaska now exercises the full sovereignty of one of the 50 U.S. states.

In the lobby of their brand-new building, the SLAM got the map of Alaska right. The rest of us need to follow their example whenever we think about publishing state-sponsored maps that show Alaska.

Second, at the beginning of World War II, Attu, Kiska and Shemya along with Wake Island in the western Pacific Ocean were the only U.S. territories invaded and occupied by a hostile foreign army since the War of 1812. Wake Island remained occupied through the war. However, the occupation of Attu, Shemya and Kiska was finally broken by the Allied armies after a yearlong battle. In that final month long battle, there were over 5,000 Allied casualties. Among them were Alaskans, Alaska natives and allied soldiers from probably every state of the U.S. and the Canadian Provinces. To fail to show the site of that great battleground in this map of Alaska on the Court Plaza site dishonors those soldiers and all their families and descendants.

In these days of increasing international tensions, we also cannot forget that the islands of Attu, Kiska and Shemya remain foundational elements of America’s global strategies in responding to the Arctic’s rapid environmental warming, and in our constant responsibility and role in preserving the peace.

Finally, though, there is the long-term use of the Court Building Plaza site itself. I am fully in support of a statue of William Henry Seward on this site, but not in the center of it because I do not think Seward is the only important figure in Alaska’s history, nor do I think he is necessarily the most important. We have had many people who have been born in Alaska, or who have come here and stayed to live, work and raise families, and all have spent their entire lives building this great state. I believe this particular site should always be used for both quiet contemplation and public events. It should also be a place to allow us to recognize and honor these most important Alaskans.

My personal vision and list of Court Plaza Statues includes these five individuals set around the outer edge of the site, facing inward: Secretary of State William Henry Seward, Alaska Native Leader Elizabeth Peratrovich, Gov. William A. Egan, Gov. Wally Hickel and visual artist Rie Muñoz.

Jerry Smetzer,

Juneau

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