Pulling down or damaging historic statues troubles me. I’ve no qualms about re-writing history as we learn new facts, but the statues are our artistic history, too — like a painting. It’s sculpture of the period in which it was done.
Do we destroy a Ruebens painting because it shames fat women, or a Delacroix because it glorifies war?
In China, when people fell out with Mao Tse-tung they were daubed out of paintings and became odd blobs of new oil paint. Before the digital age, they were surgically removed from photographs. A fellow riding alongside Mao on a horse was no longer there. The old photograph was forbidden to be displayed.
American troops toppled statues of Saddam Hussein of Iraq and the successor government executed the real man and made sure no sign of him would survive his hanging. Iraqi sculptor Khaliz Ezzat did that statue. Modernist sculptor Bassem al-Dawiri did a quickie abstract called “Freedom” of painted plaster as a replacement. It’s been removed now as “not good art.”
The four presidents of Mount Rushmore probably are lucky to be in stone on a cliff, hard to deface. George Washington owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson thought blacks too ignorant to vote. Teddy Roosevelt wanted us to acquire Cuba, the Philippines and anything else in the Pacific our troops could get their hands on. Only Abe Lincoln seems to get a pass, in spite of coming very late in the war with the Emancipation Proclamation.
Hafez al-Assad, former Syrian president, had a shoe stuffed in his sculpted bronze-head mouth after he died but he had the last laugh because his son Bashar took over and was worse as a dictator.
Taking down Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is really bad juju. Lee was an honorable man who believed the South was getting short-changed by the North. Remember that both sides had slaves, so he wasn’t an outlier on that issue. It was also a war about state’s rights and the South’s poor agricultural exports vis-a-vis the North’s powerful manufacturing. After the war, Lee was a magnificent college president.
It is important for all Americans to learn the true, unfiltered past of our country, and I understand those who feel there is a difference between learning our history and celebrating our history.
They ask: Should Americans, especially African-Americans, pay taxes for the maintenance of statutes on public grounds that are symbols of white privilege?
You don’t see statues of Hitler in Germany.
But there’s that slippery slope. Might we have eventual removal of all of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves? Remove the graveyards of Confederate soldiers or those who fought and sometimes killed innocent people in Vietnam?
I guess we could temporarily remove and store statues that are momentarily sensitive in the public mind.
But whatever, we’d be blotting out important perspectives of our past. Informed citizens can use the statues as reminders to learn the positive and negative of our history. Would any Hawaii protestors, for example, tear down the statue of Robert Wilcox? He planned an aborted coup to oust King Kalakaua and install Liliuokalani as queen and then led a short shooting war against the Republic of Hawaii under Sanford Dole. Doesn’t that qualify for the Robert E. Lee statue treatment?
We should not erase any reminders of our history. One historian asks “What is next? The demolition of Monticello or the dismantling of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, officially listed as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Should we change the name St. Louis because Louis IX forced the Jewish people out of France in the thirteenth century?”
Last week, that city did remove the statue of Columbus.
We cannot change the past. Nor should we cherry pick stories to create an inoffensive narrative. By destroying elements of our nation’s history, we are depriving the future generations of the opportunity to learn from society’s mistakes.