Monday, July 13, 2020

The Limitation of Statues Part 2


Last week Baltimore joined the fraternity of cities that saw an angry mob take down a statue.

This was a Columbus statue erected along the Inner Harbor, near the entrance to the Little Italy district. If I hadn’t been working from home, I’d have seen it missing immediately. I walk right by it on my way from subway to office and back. I never gave it much thought before. But some other people did, didn’t they?

Protesters threw a rope around the statue on Saturday night (7/4), pulled it down, and rolled it into the Inner Harbor. City officials sent a crew in to retrieve it a few days later. After a couple days in that water, it probably looked less like a statue and more like an ordinary pillar.

Several years ago the city removed several confederate statues and renamed what had been “Robert E. Lee Park.” I thought that was the prudent thing to do under the circumstances. They just got some contractors out there one night and by the next morning, the statues were just gone. I wrote about it here.

Ol’ Columbus skated by that time but more and more people are learning about the true nature of his activities in the “New World.” And combined with the facts that he wasn’t the first one to notice a giant land mass to the west, and never even set foot on the mainland, you wonder why all the reverence?

Regardless, the Italian-American community was not happy with their guy getting rolled. I can see how it used to be a point of pride, but with what we know today? Isn’t there another noteworthy Italian we can commemorate? How about Amerigo Vespucci? Or Enrico Fermi? Or Guglielmo Marconi? Marco Polo? Hell, build a statue of Enrico Polazzo! He saved the Queen, for Chrissakes!
Enrico Polazzo, circa 1988.

I think some of these statues should come down, but not via mob hysteria. I think the local governments should be given first shot at decommissioning these things. You can always bring the mob in later if they drag their feet or put up a lot of bullshit arguments. (Example: "But we’ll lose history!"  ERRRRRRRRP, sorry, that lame-ass argument gets rolled into the Harbor too.)

I think the real sticky point is what to take down. I mean, most of our Founding Fathers were slave owners. So where does one stop? Do we celebrate none of the people who created this country? I always caution about judging historical figures by today’s criteria. People want to try to apply “woke” culture to the 1700s? Might as well apply it to Genghis Khan, Henry the 8th, and Spartacus. It’s pointless.

For me, I draw the line at the Civil War.

At our country’s outset, slave ownership was a common thing, wasn’t it? Anyone in power had slaves. I hate to say it, but it was the times. Right or wrong, it’s just how it was. Might made right.

But then our ethos evolved over time and people realized that keeping human beings as property was a travesty and just wrong. More and more people agreed and it got so contentious that we fought a war over it. And there’s the line.

On one side, those who wish to treat all humans as equals. (At least in theory.) On the other side, a group who disagreed so hard they withdrew from their new country and went to war over it. And they lost.

Years later, descendants of those same people built statues of the failed and fallen military leaders, just to let the Black folks know who was still “really” in charge. And this is what people are upset about removing? They shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

And yet we have memes showing up like this one I answered over the weekend:

So I have no problem with monuments to Washington, Franklin and Jefferson remaining in place. They were flawed men who did some great things and birthed a country out of sheer will. After all, if it wasn’t for Jefferson insisting that “we get some cool rules pronto,” we’d just be bogus too.

But a bunch of Confederate generals and soldiers? We know what they did. There’s no reason to commemorate the exploits of villains. You want to know about the history? Read a book.

What irritates me the most is realizing how much of a whitewashed education I got. I learned all the traditional shit, Columbus “discovers” America in 1492, in the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Colonists have Thanksgiving with the natives then we fight the British, we have the Civil War and then they kill Lincoln.

Do they not think we can still love a country that’s flawed? We don’t have to be perfect to feel pride in our history and people. Teach what happened and then teach what we learned from it and what we did to do better. Discuss how we can continue to improve.

Scrubbing out our Nation’s missteps does a disservice to the young ones we’re trying to educate. It’s one thing to repeat history because we forgot it, but it’s worse when we never really learned it in the first place. And that’s how we end up with rednecks yelling at Native Americans and telling them to go home.

So statues up? Statues down? I don’t get too worked up about it either way. If taking down a statue that glorifies an oppressor makes someone’s life a little easier, what the hell? Maybe I should go campaign to tear down the statue of Ray Lewis by the Ravens’ stadium. That would make ME feel loads better!

But I think we had it pretty easy here in Baltimore, just getting rid of a few statues. What the hell are they going to do in Central Ohio?


6 comments:

  1. I think the real sticky point is what to take down. I mean, most of our Founding Fathers were slave owners. So where does one stop? Do we celebrate none of the people who created this country?

    And that is exactly the kind of difficult decision that elected governments need to make. You're right, it needs to be done that way -- the mobs cannot have the final say. If they do, no one will have a leg to stand on if the KKK starts tearing down monuments to Martin Luther King and the neo-Nazis start smashing up Jewish cemeteries. One mob is as good as another. Only decisions by leaders elected by the whole community have the necessary legitimacy.

    The difference between Auschwitz and the Confederate statues is that statues are built to honor and exalt people. They are not about history. Auschwitz needs to be maintained, if nothing else, for all the evidence its existence provides that the Holocaust really did happen, since some people today try to deny history. A statue of Hitler wouldn't provide much information about World War II -- it would just glorify Hitler.

    Any beneficial change needs to be balanced against costs. Renaming Columbus OH would cost a lot of money they probably have better uses for. Removing Confederate statues costs very little.

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    1. As I've been saying, there's a huge difference between history and monuments. A site is a relic of history. A statue is a monument, a glorification of the subject. Hence, the subject should be worthy of such glorification.

      I bet if they propose changing the name to Buckeyeville, the natives will gladly pony up the cost. (Speaking as a former Columbus resident.)

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  2. I agree with what was said on Sunday here - https://www.cbsnews.com/news/theodore-roosevelts-great-grandson-mark-roosevelt-says-remove-the-statue/

    As for Columbus it is long overdue in my opinion. And yes I am of Italian American Descent but I don't care for Mussolini either. C'mno. Columbus didn't discover anything. People were here. He just found out about it. But that is neither here nor there now. In my home we refused to celebrate Columbus Day because of all the reasons you'd think for over 40 yrs now.
    If we wish to have dialogue about this how about we teach the REAL history about this man or any others before him and after. If we wish to honor people with a statue that is something all together different. HONOR

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    1. It shouldn't be too much to ask that our bronzed idols be worthy of idolizing.

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  3. On any issue people are always going to take it too far because it's hard to set a real standard bearer and people are too easily inflamed. Every group seems to have beef with some other group and the the flames get fanned and the intensity roars until it gets out of control.

    It can never be left in the hands of out of control mobs to decide what statues should be removed or else not much would be left standing. In my opinion and yes, opinions do vary, one cannot judge something or someone who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago by todays standards. It was a different world. When we fought the Civil War that marked a new era. Slavery was abolished. So under those standards any person or institution supporting slavery shouldn't be glorified in this day and age. Bases should be renamed. Statues should be removed. Flags should be removed. But the removal shouldn't be by angry mobs. Our elected officials should step up and do their jobs.

    Let's start with this one thing before we move on to rectifying the issue with Native Americans, the Columbus issue and any other there may be.

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    1. Wise words.

      I think a "mob" should only be used if there is no other choice. Unfortunately, the nature of mobs means they're unpredictable regarding where they'll show up and what they intend to do.

      First option should always be to work with the controlling jurisdiction. I think that would work in many cases. Others, not so much. And then, to quote the illustrious Inspector Kemp: "A riot is an ugly sink. Und, I think that it just about time that ve had vone!"

      And I'm sorry it took me so long to post your comment. I didn't get an email notification so it was only by accident that I saw your comment pending.

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