All across the country and world, statues have been under attack. Statues of explorers, saints, Confederate leaders, founding fathers, generals, and pretty much any historical figure who does not meet today’s strict standards of political correctness. And occasionally statues that do not represent historical figures at all but were targeted for no apparent reason other than that someone wanted to destroy a statue. Sometimes, the attacks on statues are carried out by lawless mobs who spatter paint and graffiti all over them, tear them down, and/or set them on fire. Sometimes the attacks are carried out by state and local governments that hire work crews to remove them and put them in storage. Some of these anti-statue actions are more barbaric than others, but they are all morally wrong.
As someone who loves both history and art, I love statues. I love studying historical figures and learning cool facts about them. Statues are essentially the physical manifestation of historical figures in today’s world, and as such, I cherish them. I love to visit and photograph statues in my native Boston and everywhere I travel. Every statue represents a person who walked this earth at some point in time, a person with both positive and negative attributes. Each one is a beautiful work of art. In short, statues make the world a better place.
Like everyone in the world, I like and admire some historical figures more than others. Therefore, I like some statues more than others. I would never tear down, vandalize, or ask my local government to remove a statue depicting a historical figure I do not like, and I do not understand why so many people feel that they have the right to do this when it comes to the historical figures they do not like. Each person has his or her own opinions about what makes a historical figure admirable, or not admirable. Each person has his or her own ideas about which flaws are forgivable and which flaws make a historical figure unworthy of being celebrated or honored. What is so disturbing about the recent trend of vandalizing and removing statues is that it prioritizes one set of views above others. Those on the left-hand side of the political spectrum and those aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement are allowed to destroy statues that they dislike with relative impunity, and local officials are bending over backwards to remove any remaining offending statues that have somehow managed to escape destruction. The feelings, wishes, and opinions of those who like these statues are not taken into account at all. In other words, in today’s society, one group of people enjoys the ability to have its preferences with respect to historical figures and statues enacted into public policy, while the preferences of other people are completely ignored. To say that this is unjust is an understatement.
The mobs that destroy statues have been referred to as protesters, rioters, anarchists, and even domestic terrorists. Senator Ted Cruz called them the “American Taliban.” I don’t think any of these terms are harsh enough to fully convey how morally repugnant these attacks on statues are. The mentality of these excuses for human beings seems to be that only things that they personally like should be allowed to exist. Their goal seems to be to destroy for the sake of destroying, to obliterate everything that is beautiful or glorious, and to make the world as bad a place as possible. Those who destroy statues are bigots and bullies. They practice complete intolerance for anyone different from them. It would not be inaccurate to say that they have no souls.
Some people consider statues unimportant. They argue that statues are just stone or metal objects, and we should focus on protecting and improving people’s lives. They do not care one way or the other about whether the world and its cities and towns have beautiful statues. I do not feel this way. As someone on the autism spectrum, I tend to be drawn to inanimate objects more than to people. Because I love historical figures, I love statues. I have a visceral reaction when reading about or watching a video of the destruction of a statue, more than I do when reading about bad things happening to living people. Fighting back against the destruction of statues is incredibly important to me. Statues may not be necessary to have a functioning world. People can go about their daily lives and have their basic needs met without the existence of any statues in public spaces. But the world would be immeasurably worse. The feeling that I get when I see a statue of a brave general on a horse, or an explorer from a long-ago era, is difficult to put into words. The inherent value that statues and monuments bring to our public spaces is difficult to quantify or explain with logical reasoning, but that does not make it any less real.
Without a doubt, every time a statue is destroyed or removed, the world is made worse. Every act of destruction against a statue is disgusting, disgraceful, dishonorable, repugnant, reprehensible, and any other negative adjective that can be imagined. Every news report of a statue being vandalized, torn down, or removed is painful and heartbreaking. The videos of workers removing the statues of Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and J.E.B. Stuart from Monument Avenue in Richmond. The images of graffiti covering the magnificent statue of Robert E. Lee. The Christopher Columbus statue in Boston, a statue that I walk past almost every day, with its head brutally knocked to the ground. The footage of mobs pulling down a Columbus statue in Baltimore, causing it to smash into pieces as it hit the ground. The Junipero Serra statue in San Francisco toppled, brutalized with a jackhammer, its hands severed. The statue of philanthropist Edward Colston in Bristol, England being dragged through the streets and thrown into the harbor. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson splattered with red paint. The iconic elk statue in Portland (yes, an elk) set on fire.
I could keep listing examples until this blog post became as long as a novel, but the bottom line is that actions like these are among the most morally wrong things someone could do. Therefore, they need to be punished severely. Police departments need to prioritize arresting those who vandalize statues, and district attorneys need to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Laws should be changed to make punishments harsher; life in prison is not an excessive punishment, in my opinion. At the absolute least, cities and towns should never, ever take down statues that have been the targets of vandalism. This condones vandalism and rewards its perpetrators. Every statue that is vandalized needs to be repaired and then guarded around the clock. In some cases it will be impossible to catch the culprits who destroy statues – sometimes these acts take place in the middle of the night with no witnesses or cameras nearby – but restoring and protecting the vandalized statues punishes the culprits without even needing to know their identities. Even better, whenever a statue is vandalized, local governments should build ten more statues of the same historical figure. A message needs to be sent that intentionally damaging statues is unacceptable. Those who do this cannot be allowed to win under any circumstances.
Unfortunately, contrary to what is depicted in the above picture, statues cannot defend themselves. It is up to governments and if needed, private citizens, to protect them. One of the few pieces of good news that has happened in the world recently is that unlike most mayors and governors, President Trump is taking a stand in defense of statues. On June 26, he signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice to enforce federal laws that authorize up to 10 years in prison for anyone who vandalizes a statue or monument on federal property. On July 3, during his speech at Mt. Rushmore, he condemned the “merciless campaign to wipe out our history.” And on the same date, he signed another executive order creating a task force for building and rebuilding monuments and ordering the creation of a national statue park. It is for this reason that unless something drastically changes between now and November, I will vote for Trump. This will be the first time that I have not voted for a third-party candidate. I have considered the Libertarian Party to be the party that comes closest to matching my beliefs, and I agree with its presidential nominee, Jo Jorgensen, on most issues. However, Jorgensen has not, as far as I know, expressed any outrage about the destruction of statues. The statue issue is so important to me that I will support the candidate who most agrees with me on this topic, and right now that’s Trump.
People around the world need to take a stand against the destruction of and removal of statues. Enough is enough. Every time a statue is destroyed or removed, the world becomes a worse place. No statue should ever be removed, unless for the purpose of replacing it with an even more magnificent statue of the same historical figure. If there are concerns about the racial and gender diversity of statues, the way to address those concerns is to build additional statues, not to take down existing ones.
Statues matter. All statues.