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On the destruction of statues

I’ve written before about the destruction of public statues and monuments, and I’ve supported leaving them in place — with appropriate signage added to explain their history. More recently I’ve come to believe they probably should be taken down if the majority of citizens in the area want them down. But they should be carefully removed by the proper authorities — city, county, park department, or whoever has jurisdiction — and put into storage or in a museum.

Those people out there who are defacing and/or pulling down and destroying statues they find offensive are nothing more than lawless vandals and should be treated accordingly. But they are destroying more than just statues. They are undercutting the support that peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators have gained and are gaining.

The same can be said of demonstrators — outsiders or otherwise — who resort to vandalism and violence during protest marches. Not only are they destroying property that is not theirs (and often belongs to their neighbors), they are demonstrating precisely why many observers don’t and won’t support the movement for equality.

The cartoon makes an excellent point that applies to many different situations and is too often forgotten — whether it’s right to judge eighteenth-century individuals and society by twenty-first century norms.

14 Comments »

  1. The tricky part is when people use mythologized 18th century talking points as an excuse not to move socially into the 21st century. People are still fighting the war in their heads, unfortunately, because plenty of us down here have been taught two different versions of history. Some memoirs and interviews I’d read of writers from the south (Armisted Maupin comes to mind most) had families up through the 1960s that would still proudly tell their kids about how they had the blood of southern aristocracy in their veins. Reminds me of the “blue blood” crap I’d read about regarding landed nobles in pre-revolutionary Europe. They’re stuck in the past. It’s no wonder why there’s something called a “southern culture” still flying around. Makes me wonder what the hell “northern culture” is supposed to be.

    As a history teacher in Texas, thankfully I rarely hear it, but I admit I’d get annoyed when people call it the “Lost Cause” or the “War of Northern Aggression.” The Daughters of the Confederacy did a damned good job trying to glorify the “defenders of the Lost Cause” and in some states even helped write the textbooks to reflect the “states rights” over “slavery” argument. And our education on the Reconstruction period was woefully lacking, just pinpointed a few of the amendments that came out, “40 acres and a mule,” the formation of the KKK in this time, and that’s it. No mention of the hundreds of riots and lynchings that took place. No mention that thousands of blacks were elected into public office and hundreds of thousands more could vote and would. Then the statues and the glorification of the Cause began. They successfully rewrote history for half the country, and now we’re trying to rectify it.

    Like you, I don’t care for the vandalism. Bring in context or let them be removed with a worthy explanation.. Besides, if you don’t get pros with a safety crew out there, you might kill someone with falling rubble. It just sucks that a lot of people who want those statues to stay don’t understand the fuss, because they’re just statues (but if they’re “just statues,” why are they hollering about them being taken down in the first place?). The context of most of those statues, sponsored by the DOTC, was to enshrine white supremacy. The dedication speeches I’ve been able to read have confirmed it (and given me headaches with the overly flowery, sentimental language).

    I’m all for taking the statues down and putting them in museums or the Civil War battleground sites for context and to serve as landmarks where the battle lines were. That would be useful, and some explanatory plaques could be used to commemorate the artist and where it was previously. I just don’t get what’s so appealing about statues of generals and leaders who fought against the United States, lost, and are only captured in bronze or stone because of white supremacists who didn’t want to share the pie several generations ago.

    I’d love for the folks who holler that taking those statues down is “erasing history” to crack open some primary source books and read about what the folks depicted in those statues said and thought. That’s history. The statues are glorification and explain nothing. Reading those speeches and memoirs might make some of them think hard about what they really want to glorify and why.

    • I like your idea to move the statues to appropriate Civil War sites to help teach history to today’s visitors. I read somewhere that many of the statues are too big to put in museums — at least not without considerable expense to build larger structures to house them. But let vandals get away with defacing or destroying them? Absolutely not. Those who get their kicks by destroying other people’s property should not be allowed to derail the progress being made peacefully.

      I grew up in Oklahoma City and got much the same version of history you did. The Civil War was fought over states’ rights. Period. And the huge Greenwood / Black Wall Street massacre so talked about during Trump’s Tulsa rally and the Juneteenth celebrations — I don’t recall ever hearing about it before! (But at my age, who knows what I’ve forgotten.) Mostly I learned about the Five Civilized Tribes that were relocated to Oklahoma and the land runs that opened up much of the territory.

      Those fighting for the South were heroes in the South. Fathers, sons, brothers. They were fighting for their land, their lives, and their way of life, just like Northerners. I can understand that. We condemn it today, and rightly so, but as the cartoon says, we’re judging eighteenth-century men by twenty-first century norms. Sadly, we still seem to have a lot of that eighteenth-century thinking hanging around. Those individuals need to accept that the Civil War ended in 1865. (On my bad days I imagine that some of them want to start another civil war.)

  2. I like that idea of Civil War battlefields, as well. Sure, we may be judging statues on 21st Century norms – but that is just the thing. We ARE judging on the norms we all (or most) live by now. When we look at confederate soldiers, or (here in New Mexico) someone who killed thousands of Native Americans, we see death, treason, and pain. Just overall pain they forced on who where probably peaceful people just trying to survive. I do agree with the decisions being made by the citizens of the area since those monuments are in place for them. So why not have them decide what to display. But don’t deface them, pull them down, etc. But whatever the local group is that puts them up/takes them down does need to do so immediately to keep this to a minimum. Then decide what to do.

    • It seems to me that if people don’t like a particular statue, they should just petition to have it removed. Of course, that’s not nearly as exciting or fun as sneaking in during the night and pulling it down or defacing it. But vandalism is vandalism no matter what the target is.

  3. He tried to make her understand. ‘This was an exceptional case. It wasn’t just a question of somebody being killed. Do you realize that the past, starting from yesterday, has been actually abolished? If it survives anywhere, it’s in a few solid objects with no words attached to them, like that lump of glass there. Already we know almost literally nothing about the Revolution and the years before the Revolution. Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. I know, of course, that the past is falsified, but it would never be possible for me to prove it, even when I did the falsification myself. After the thing is done, no evidence ever remains. The only evidence is inside my own mind, and I don’t know with any certainty that any other human being shares my memories. Just in that one instance, in my whole life, I did possess actual concrete evidence after the event—years after it.’

    1984 – George Orwell

    • Now that’s just plain scary. And to think it was published in 1949! We can’t learn from the past if there’s no record of it, and “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

  4. Well said.
    Not at all about Floyd – or even improving life for people.
    This is a destructive movement that started years ago – and has gained ground from so many young people who have not been taught or challenged to think – and practiced it with great “heavy” ideas in high school and college – they can parrot and have become fodder – valueless foot soldiers for those with plans and firm purpose to grab power.
    Like they used to say in SciFi movies, “They eat the blonds (stereotyped dumb people) first” It will surprise these children who are operating only with crowd think ( as they have been trained by public schools…”Kids in the future will all work on teams. We must teach social skills and team work!” said in the ’80’s by Edu “experts” – they got snookered, too.
    Those who read, studied in both HS English classes and political science classes recognize what is happening. Shiver.
    I think part of the problem – besides and before the COVID isolation – is that these kids have had an easy life – they are entitled compared to the rest/real world, they are used to having so much and if they don’t they whine until is given – it’s created an empty spot in them. They long to be part of something – to connect to something big – to build something…but they are only sheep ripe for leaders they do not vet or understand motive. Lost and naive- and very dangerous without knowledge of history or universal themes/hidden motivations.
    Unlike Occupy Wall Street, I doubt they will return to schools once fall arrives…(maybe new clothing and shoes will lure?) Occupy taught lessons and those have been honed – it’s working.
    1984
    Animal Farm
    Lord of the Rings
    Taught in unison
    It may be too late

    • I can think of several different groups who might be doing this — entitled snowflakes, bored teens, out-of-work and angry adults. It doesn’t really matter what their motives or excuses are. It’s vandalism; it’s illegal. And even most idiots know the difference between right and wrong. Around here I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are the same people who get their kicks shooting off illegal fireworks.

      • And destruction of public property, vandalism, blocking roads, assault – all against the law….yet…I think those in charge may be the idiots if the laws aren’t enforced and people arrested and charged harshly. Consequences for actions.
        (Right and wrong has long been not taught…might hurt someone’s feelings if “NO” is said to them…they say “unacceptable” instead which means something different and is vague)
        Laws applied equally to everyone.
        Mob thought must not rule over laws.
        Of course civilization only works if everyone agrees to follow the rules….the trick is the “agrees”…jail time.

        • That’s a big part of the problem — lack of consequences. That, and what seems to be a growing willingness to flout and break the law rather than trying to change it in a peaceful, legal manner.

        • Some sort of madness..like Salem with trials (they used to study that as group hypnosis…)
          If you pretend, it’s real. “We take truth over facts” as one candidate says
          No wonder people are angry.
          You’ll love this: the county judge (who is quarantined) is livid that the Med Center CEOs and docs are contradicting her…She has a new chart showing COVID levels of concern and she has hers at #5 RED “we’re all going to die” now – which motivated the Big Med Center complex to put up their own COVID information website as they said “she was misinforming the public and terrifying people when there was unnecessary. We have this” Their informational charts have the Big City at level 1 still (lowest level: plenty of beds, staff and stuff system wide.) They have exact plans to accommodate any surge and anticipate going to level 2 maybe after July 4th (which means opening up the 500+ more COVID beds/adding ICU bed capacity) They said they had expected to have to do that after Spring Break or the marches, but cases never got to that level. The third level is manageable panic time (with 350+ more beds) but none of them think that will happen. The county judge says “the Med center is giving out misinformation”…we know she is stomping her little feet in anger. How dare they oppose her (she wants another complete lock down, but can’t do it without governor. People have stopped listening to her anyway. It’s all politics and stupid. They want to run her for bigger office. She’s way over her head with this…hope the consequences only affect her.
          The chaos of those supposed to be leading the way is making people even more nervous about everything .

        • I make no apology for listening to and believing doctors and scientists, not politicians. And I think anyone who believes the politicians over the doctors and scientists is deluding themselves.

"Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." ~ Mark Twain

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